exposing the dark side of adoption
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St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


Author: EMILY GURNON, Pioneer Press

Dateline: NEW HOPE

An international adoption agency that took families' money but didn't always deliver a child has had its license revoked.

Reaching Arms International

of New Hope came under fire in January by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the attorney general's office after a number of adoptive families complained.

Licensing staff say it has been more than 20 years since an order of revocation against an adoption agency has been issued.

Families said they were not kept in the loop on the status of their adoptions despite repeated attempts to get information, were threatened with disruption of their adoption if they complained and, in some cases, were told to repent their allegiance to Satan.

Reaching Arms President

Nila Hilton

could not be reached Thursday for comment. The telephone voice mailbox at the agency was full, and an e-mail came back undeliverable.

Following an investigation that lasted from September through March, the Department of Human Services examined the files of 34 adoptive families and made the following findings in a March 30 investigation memorandum. The adoption agency:

-- forged adoptive family members' signatures and provided them false documents;

-- asked families for fees that had not been previously disclosed;

-- conducted home studies by staff not authorized to perform them;

-- contracted with a family to arrange an adoption from Kenya even though the agency was not authorized to perform Kenya adoptions;

-- threatened families who complained;

-- failed to complete adoptions within estimated timeframes and failed to provide adequate information to families about the status of their adoption;

-- failed to operate under a board of directors.

The forgery allegations were referred to law enforcement as a possible criminal matter, the department said.

"Based on the number of families affected and the serious nature of the licensing violations by Reaching Arms International, Inc., continued licensure as a child-placing agency poses an unacceptable risk of harm to adoptive families that would be served by your agency and warrants revocation of your license ...," wrote Karen Erickson, supervisor of the division of licensing in the Department of Human Services, in the revocation letter to Hilton.

Kathleen Gora and her husband, who live in Cottage Grove, said earlier this year that they had tried to adopt a Guatemalan baby through Reaching Arms but for months were denied basic documentation about the status of the process. They finally got their daughter but not the amended birth certificate necessary to finalize the adoption in Minnesota.

Reaching Arms was licensed in 1993. As of 2004, it had 10 employees in New Hope and 49 abroad.

The agency's revocation is subject to appeal. If it does not appeal, Reaching Arms is required to transfer open cases to other adoption agencies.

Attorney General Lori Swanson announced in January she would seek a court-ordered audit of Reaching Arms. That audit is in process, her office said Thursday.

Reaching Arms International is one of 53 licensed child placement agencies in the state, the Department of Human Services said.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at egurnon@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5522.

2007 Apr 6