exposing the dark side of adoption
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Davis Family's webpage FOC warning

What Really Happened
We have had several families email and ask why the Focus On Children disclaimer was added to our website. The following is the reply that is sent back with just some of our reasons....

Approx 4/2004 or earlier

It is a reoccurring theme with the Focus On Children families I have contact with that FOC's communication with their clients is much to be desired. If you would like information throughout your process, you will find yourself very frustrated with the amount of details and current information you receive from FOC. An example about FOC's lack of communication: A FOC family I met during my adoption decided this past June to switch agencies. They chose not to notify FOC about their decision to switch agencies since FOC failed to communicate any information to them. Since their decision, Focus on Children has not tried to contact them about their adoption with FOC.

We started our adoption in Sept 01. Dellory Matthews made contact with me and answered some questions I posted on a public IA board. She said all of the things I wanted to hear and most importantly said that we could complete a Ukrainian adoption within 7 months start to finish.

My husband is in the Army and he was to start school in May 2002. While in school for 2 years, he would not be able to travel or take any sort of long leave. So we knew we had to complete an adoption quickly or have to wait until he was finished with school.

Dellory said this would be no problem, but we might have to expedite some of our paperwork. We signed up with FOC and had all of our paperwork expedited and completed in less than 3.5 months. We were told in the beginning that after submission of our paperwork, we would travel to Ukraine within 3 months. Our paperwork was FedEx'd to FOC in early January, so we were counting on traveling sometime in late March.

The dossier paperwork FOC sent us was also VERY unprofessional. We couldn't believe we paid them for these documents. Most of the forms were copies of copies, with the lettering slanted on the paper. The FOC paperwork had misspellings in them and throughout our Ukraine documents, FOC had "The Ukraine" which is insulting to Ukrainian citizens. (Our translator actually got onto us when we were in country because some of the government officials noticed it and were unhappy with it.) Several of the government forms were very outdated and I felt uncomfortable using them. So I downloaded the current INS forms off the internet. In the end, I retyped the documents I could retype before we had them signed and notarized.

We were told the Focus On Children facilitator in country had wonderful relationships with the women at the Adoption Center. It was explained to us that the facilitator, Yuri, would be able to find out what children were coming available and schedule our travel time when children in our age range were coming available. Preselection is illegal in Ukraine, but we felt his connections and know-how would increase our chances of having a successful adoption. We heard wonderful things about Yuri and overlooked the problems we were having with FOC here in country. We knew once we were in Ukraine, Yuri would take care of us and that was why we were paying FOC… to be able to use Yuri and his wife, Lena.

Unfortunately, March came and went and FOC had one excuse after another for our delays. We kept reminding them we were on a deadline and they assure us I would be a mother on Mother's Day. (Very cruel since they knew it wouldn't happen!) Scott, my husband, had earlier pulled some strings and got his school date changed from May to August, so we were not yet pulling our hair out, but still a little nervous.

We were finally told in April that we had a travel date of May 23rd. We were very disappointed with this date and asked why so far in the future. Scott Banks told us that Yuri had worked it out with the Adoption Center and if we waited until this date, we would be "guaranteed" one healthy boy 18-24mo and one girl possibly a little older than we had originally planned. He said if we traveled earlier, it would make the Adoption Center angry and we would not get good service. Of course, we decided to wait and figured if things were already laid out for us, the process would go much faster and we would be home within three weeks.

One week before we traveled, we were told in an email sent to all Ukraine PAPs that Yuri was moving to Canada immediately and would no longer be in country to help with adoptions. Focus On Chidren didn't even have the regard to call and tell us personally that the facilitator we had our hopes on and were to meet in less than one week had left the country. We were horrified! (We later found out FOC had known for months about Yuri's upcoming move, but failed to warn their clients.) The new team was just that… new to facilitating adoptions. We knew hardly anything about them, but what could we do at this point? Scott Banks still told us Yuri had already paid (or bribed) the Adoption Center and when we arrived they would help us with open arms. We had a week of sleepless nights, but held on to the promise of our children already waiting for us. (We were told we had to mail Yuri $1,000 for his fee in dealing with our dossier and to compensate him for his monetary bribe to the Adoption Center.)

When we arrived in Ukraine, the new team had no idea what age group or gender of children we were wanting. After several days of miscommunication we finally found out Yuri never paid the Adoption Center and no children were waiting for us. It was one miscommunication after another and we spent endless hours on the phone with Scott Banks.

One of the hardest parts of our first week there was trying to convince the translator that we did not travel thousands of miles to adopt a child over 7. She would not listen and continued to get frustrated that we wanted a child under three. At one point during a very stressful situation, she looked at us and asked us how long we had been married. We answered "7 years" and she grinned and said "then you can be parents to a 7 year old". We were speechless!

Before we left for Ukraine, we enlisted the help of a world renowned IA specialist, Dr. Patrick Mason. We had met with him on several occasions and he got to know us and get a feel for what children we were prepared to parent. His services were to look over children's medicals and give us his opinion on their future outlook. I also became very active on many of the Ukraine internet boards and IA boards and had made many friends both locally and around the country who had adopted from Ukraine. We felt we were very prepared for our journey emotionally, financially and knowledgably.

As you read on our site, we looked at many sick children. We will never forget their little faces or the smells and circumstances they live in. In our phone calls with Scott Banks, he kept telling us we would know when we saw the child. We thought he was being sincere and trying to help us. We did not find out until after we returned home that FOC was telling other PAPs awful things about us and our attitude while in country. I was told that Dana Thornock described our problems in Ukraine as the Davis family was just "being too picky and were counting too much on their IA doctor." Dana also stated we didn't know what we were getting into and we went to Ukraine thinking we would get a "perfect child". I honestly couldn't believe it when I heard this. How can someone say a parent is being "too picky" in choosing their child? Or trusting "too much" on their IA doctor? Who else were we to trust at this point?

Also, after we were in Ukraine for almost 5 weeks, we received a Ukraine update email from Dana that was addressed to all of the prospective Ukraine families. In this email, she first told how the Davis family had found a child and then proceeded (without naming us, but with everyone knowing our situation, everyone knew who she was describing) to inform families not to take credit for their own adoptions that others had a part in them, to not treat the facilitators like slaves, and to have respect for the country and its people. She said that their adoptions would go smoother if they did these things. I have to tell you, I lost it at this point! As if our attitude caused all of our problems! We had been nothing but nice to our team and treated them like family while we were there. We paid for their meals, shared whatever we had to give them, and treated them like they were our equals and our friends. We emailed Dana back and told her she had no right to say those things about us especially since she had no idea what was going on in Ukraine or with our adoption. Dana responded by only saying she was not speaking about us and if she had been, she would not have sent us the email. We never received another Ukraine update from Dana again.

I later spoke honestly with our translator about the email Dana had sent and told her the things Dana had said about treating the team like slaves. The translator told me she had never been closer to any other family and she enjoyed our company. She did not know why Dana would have said those things.

We did finally adopt our wonderful son, but Focus On Children had NOTHING to do with it. If it were up to them, we would not have been "picky" and adopted the first beautiful little girl we saw… who sadly happened to be mentally retarded. Actually our team didn't even help us find our son. They told us, if we wanted to adopt during this trip, we had to speak for ourselves in front of the Adoption Center director and plead our case and tell Mrs. Kunko we would be "extremely grateful" if she would help us…. i.e. pay her money. We did this and Mrs. Kunko agreed to help us. We also ended up paying about $5,000 more than we planned.

We had taken over enough money to come home with two children and have extra left over for souvenirs, but we came home with only $100 in our pockets and thankfully one healthy child. It will be several years before we again have enough money to travel to find the second child we always dreamed of.

Once we got home, we had to move less than two weeks later. During our move, we stopped over for two weeks in Dallas to introduce our friends and family to our son. When we FINALLY moved into our new home and settled down, we received a post placement notice from Focus on Children. I called FOC and spoke with Dellory Matthews. She was very ugly with me and told me I was required to call them and let them know of all our moves and any address changes. She said we did not do this in a timely manner. I was very put off with her attitude and did not feel I deserved her treatment or owed them anything. During this conversation, she asked for all of our son's birth and adoption information. Information they should have had already! She told me we were contracted to 6, 12, amd 24 month post placement reports. This was the first time I had heard of this and was thrown off guard. She belittled me again by saying they had told me about them, but I had forgotten. Then not two sentences later, she stated "FOC did not discuss post placement requirements with families prior to their adoptions because country and state requirements often changed". I will spare you the details of this part of the story, but know we have had to hire an attorney to take care of our situation with FOC and keep their threats to just that…. threats. (FOC has threatened clients that they would call social service if post placements were not turned in on time. Dellory's words, "you do not want a file at DYFS".)

I know this has been long and probably choppy and confusing. It was a nightmare for us. We were misled from the beginning and unfortunately, we found out we have not been the only ones. Since returning, I have met at least 12 families who have been lied to and had their money and dreams taken by Focus On Children. One family was told by FOC that their dossier was lost in country and their travel would be delayed more months, but when they offered money to the facilitator to find it, he miraculously had it in his possession. Others had paperwork that was wrong or about to expire and ended up switching agencies and completing their adoptions within just a few short months. Another family was told over and over the child they were waiting to adopt "was not their son, just a child they seek to adopt". In my opinion a statement which is completely heartless. The stories I have heard are sad and senseless. Of course, there are many families who have adopted with no problem and sing FOC praises. But I truly believe it is the way an agency handles the problems that define their character… So what does this say about Focus on Children's character?

Client Testimonies
While I was checking into agencies, I received from Focus on Children a photo and glowing verbal info about a 3 year old available in Bulgaria, and a promise of a video and medical report confirming the verbal info. Everything sounded so great that I sent them the $1700 that they required to "hold" this little one for me, and went forward with preparing a Dossier (@$800 at that time) per their instructions. When the video and medical arrived, they showed a very different situation than what I had been told. The FOC representative told me that what I saw in the video was just a bad case of "stage fright" and that a new video would be forthcoming, showing me the true picture of the child. Many months and many broken promises later, a new video finally arrived and confirmed my worst fears (with the help of medical reviews) that this child could well have needs that were beyond what I could manage, and that the verbal info I had been given about this child's development was totally false. I finally had to decide not to go forward with adopting this precious girl, who I had believed for all those months would be mine. It was the most painful, heartwrenching experience. In addition to having put me through all that, FOC kept my money even though their rep previously promised to return it to me. ~ Susan
Our recommendation is that you stay FAR AWAY from Focus on Children, and ANY AGENCY that uses FOC's Pavlodar [Kazakhstan] coordinator Yackov. True, FOC makes a very good first impression. But, when it is too late, you'll realize that they have horrible customer service, do not respond to e-mail/phone calls for days at a time, are very sloppy, make mistakes that cost you time/money, and are often heartless. To make matters worse, the US office staff can't make a move without checking first with the in-country facilitator Yackov, and Yackov has other priorities than seeing that your adoption happens according to your wishes. Yackov, by various reports, used to be very good. But, based on our experience and those of the several other families, he has grown self centered, caring more about $$ than parents/children, and will lie to you when the truth will inconvenience him or when he does not know an answer. Some examples: While we were in Pavlodar, Yackov repeatedly told us that we could not visit the orphanage on weekends because the children were sick, the orphanage staff would not allow it, etc. However, towards the end, we met in Pavlodar families working with other agencies and they had 7 days per week access. Note that Yackov is on very good terms with all the orphanage staff, and so, the logical conclusion is that he just did not want to bother with weekend visits. Yackov is, in theory, supposed to be the family's translator, but he does a terrible job at it -- on your behalf, he'll ask the orphanage staff about a child's behavior, and after a conversation in Russian spanning minutes, he'll turn around and say something useless like "she said he is a good child". We were told for months by the US office staff that the orphanage director would not allow Yackov to take pictures of the waiting children. Yet, during the same period of time, we know other agencies who had referral pictures, some of which were for the same children that FOC was trying to place. Further, once in Pavlodar, it became immediately clear that Yackov was on very good terms with the orphanage staff and members of the city government. Despite having our names in writing, when FOC's travel coordinator bought our tickets, the week before we were to leave, with one of our names were spelled wrong. This error took about 8 hours to fix during an otherwise stressful time, and FOC provided minimal assistance. A bad scene all around. ~ T. in California
This agency is unethical and has a bad track record of poor communication. They lied to us during our process from start to finish and when we questioned or complained, we were threatened with the outcome of our adoption. They were rude, insensitive and hateful. Our Program director "quit" our adoption twice because we called him on lies, they asked us to remove anything negative we have said in regards to our experience from online resources, and 2 days before we got on the plane, they tried to use a known medical condition as a way to stop us from going to Samoa. We went and WE completed our adoption without their help. THEY even cancelled our Consulate Appt for our son's Visa. They made no effort to contact us while in country or since our return. It has been 6 weeks since last correspondance. I guess all that money doesn't even buy you a "Congratulations!" It appears to not buy Humanitarian Aid either, as families who just paid thousands were hit up for much needed aid in Samoa recently. I guess none of the thousands paid for the 23 children that left the island in 4 months bought Humanitarian Aid as our invoice stated it did. We have a fabulous son, and can honestly credit the Foster Mom, Julie, who loved him as if he were her own and prepared him for his new life and family and allowed us to have a relationship with him during the many months of waiting. When you are dealing with a 9 year old, you dont' play games, as FOC did. Julie had the heart and common sense to allow us to get to know him and he about us. Julie is responsible for helping us adopt our son, NOT FOC, Focus On Cash ~ Jen in Texas
Never heard back from this agency afer paying them $7000.00. Would not return calls, e-mails, no contact at all since 6-02. Many lies and deceptions and gave us the WRONG guidelines for our dossier, which we had to re-do at our own expense. Original dossier got "lost" and we had to bribe their contact in Ukraine, Yuri York, with $500.00 to "find" it. This man and his wife, Lena, now live in Canada and I understand are trying to do Ukrainian adoptions from there. Yuri has changed his name to William York. Among the biggest lies, Focus told us from the beginning that they could "pre-select" 2-3 children for us, which we now know is highly illegal in Ukraine. Very unprofessional, ill prepared, corrupt individuals define this agency run by Scott and Karen Banks, Dellory Mathews, Danalee Thornock and Amy Thornock. Completed our adoption independently 11-02. ~ The Brandons in Texas

Kaz is a great country to adopt from, but I would not use this agency. ~ B. & M. in Texas
We waited 16 months for a referral. We had be told our wait would be 4 to 6 months. We were told we'd get full medical reports, pictures and video. After 16 months all they could give us was a name and birth date. We NEVER would have signed up with them for this kind of service! They misrepresented their capabilties, and then refused to refund our money. ~ Texas Family
I can't believe I stumbled on to your site through FRUA. I too am a FOC client and would never use them again. Lies on top of lies. We adopted [from Country]. One of our [children] was taken to a cardiac hospital two weeks before our arrival and then returned a week before us arriving. To make a long story short, [the child] had a cardiac problem and we were never informed. We didn't find out until we were at the embassy in Almaty. We were shocked. I was so angry that we were not told. Our attorney "The Famous Yackov" left us in Pavlodar while he went on a trip to Azerbajan (sp?) to bring home his new car. We were told he might not make it back for court, but not to worry because everything was under control. I was not a happy camper to say the least.

When I contacted Scott about finding out more medical information on the birthmother or hospital records, Scott said he would call me back, but never did. Surprise Surprise. ~ An Unhappy FOC Client
...Although we did have a number of issues, they always blamed AMREX. We felt that at times we were mis informed and we ended up spending more money because of this. Our interpreter in [country] had not heard great things about Focus either.

Most of our problems were with the lady we were given to work with. I found her rude at times and she rarely returned phone calls or emails. I have a trail of emails that we sent asking specific questions and it became very frustrating at times.

Unfortunately with bringing a child home you at their mercy and it is truly very difficult to know who to blame, Focus or Amrex? We went on our first trip to, 3 months after accepting our referral. (We were told it would be 30 days) On our first trip we left the US blind...We did not know what flights we were on when we arrived in [country], we did not even know what hotel we were staying at! We also were never told who would be meeting us at the airport. We managed to laugh in the end, however, my husband and I are both experienced travelers so we thought we would just deal with it when we got there.

There were many things that happened throughout the adoption which we felt caused us to spend more money. Not thousands of dollars but definitely enough to be upsetting.

Basically my husband and I have said that if we adopt again we would just not use them. ... I truly felt at times that Focus did not have a good relationship with Amrex and that is what caused all of our problems.

The lady I originally spoke with at Focus was awesome, she was so helpful in answering questions, etc., and sold me on using them.

The most unfortunate part of this was that once we chose our country we could not work with the lady we originally spoke to as she did not work with Russia. So we then got passed onto this other lady who was useless. We ended up doing all of our own paperwork, with little guidance. ... However, we had many times where we duplicated efforts and we were asked to do things at the last minute. Many trips down to [state capital] and all of course costing more money for us not to mention the emotional rollacoaster we were on!

I feel stronger than my husband about complaining because I was the one who had to do most of the paperwork, although he was also pretty upset and felt that we were paying alot of money that seemed to go nowhere. We really did feel like we were the first people to adopt from Russia through Focus, which I know not to be the case at all. ~ Anonymous FOC Client
2004 Apr 1