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Adoptions Associates challenges allegations it improperly charged prospective parents


Kyla King

The Grand Rapids Press

GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP -- The state is investigating allegations that a local private adoption agency illegally asked prospective parents for donations to cover budget shortfalls, did not clearly explain its fees, and handled grievances improperly.

The allegations against Adoptions Associates Inc. are outlined in a special report done by a state licensing consultant and provided to The Press by the Michigan Department of Human Services.

The findings have been challenged in writing by officials at the Georgetown Township-based agency, who call the accusations "seriously flawed" and "inaccurate."

DHS spokeswoman Colleen Steinman said officials are reviewing the state licensing consultant's report and the agency's response and will decide what, if any, action to take.

"We are looking at and weighing the evidence," Steinman said.

Jane Bareman

Jane Bareman, executive director of the not-for-profit Adoption Associates, said she has disputed the findings "line by line."

"It's very unfortunate the report has (been made public) because it is not in its complete stages," Bareman said.

The consultant's report alleges prospective parents were told the agency had a $500,000 budget shortfall because of economic conditions and might close, suspend work on adoptions, and be unable to offer refunds if clients did not pay an additional amount ranging from $1,250 and $2,500. The report alleges the agency solicited and accepted the fees as contributions, which is illegal.

But Bareman said the agency was forced to raise its fees after layoffs and salary and benefit cuts did not cover budget shortfalls.

"The amount of money we requested ... that was a fee for the services we are performing for our client ... it is not a contribution," Bareman said. "Yes, we added a fee, however, our fee schedule ... always states fees are subject to change at any time."

Bareman said the agency, which has been in business since 1991, has been struggling because many of the countries they work with, especially China, have been restricting adoptions and the faltering economy has kept new clients from signing up.

"Agencies across the country are struggling. I know of 82 that have closed their doors," Bareman said.

The consultant's report also alleges the agency did not clearly spell out fees or handle grievances properly. Bareman said the agency was accused of similar violations in 2002 and 2003, and those allegations were not upheld by the state.

Bareman's agency assists prospective parents with domestic and international adoptions. State law -- and many foreign countries -- requires adoptive parents to use a licensed private or public agency.

The state investigation was initiated after several clients complained, Steinman said.

Bareman believes the complaints came from parents who were "unhappy" with delays in adoptions from China, a country that has drastically reduced its number of adoptions.

Bareman said the agency currently has about 400 clients and has placed 200 children this year, including 28 with special needs.

E-mail Kyla King: kking@grpress.com

2009 Aug 10