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South Carolina's Booming Baby Business

The relationship between the between Friend of Children and the South Carolina the South Carolina Children's Bureau is far from friendly-- the two make their case in a storm of correspondence and in pending legal proceed.

By Margaret N. O’Shea

The State (Columbia, SC)

When 1984 telephone directories where issues in Columbia, the head of South Carolina Children's Bureau office saw red in the Yellow Pages- and advertisement 30 inches square for Friend of Children, an Atlanta-based adoption agency that has been sparring with the bureau for the past two years.

The black-bordered ad, which costs an estimated $9,000 a year for the Columbia directoies alone, is only one of many. Friend of Children advertises in Yellow Pages in several states as well as in the international edition of the Chicago Tribune, which circulates primarily in Europe.

The ad that angered Children’s Bureau Director Frank Lewis is in the form of an open letter to "mothers-in-need," and is supplemented by a smaller one-column advertisement above in the regular Yellow Page listings offering "adoption of children to families in Georgia and throughout the U.S.A."

Lewis said he was perturbed not only by the contrast between his state agency’s one-line listing and the attention-grabbing ad, but also by the notation at the bottom of the advertisement: "Friends of Children, Inc. (Licensed Adoption Agency)." His reaction was to report the ad to the state Consumer Affairs Commission, which includes investigation of fraud among its services.

Friends of Children is licensed in Georgia. but not in South Carolina. Georgia authorities refused to renew the agency’s license there in 1981, but state courts have ruled that such licenses remain in effect until revoked. Since licensure regulations are undergoing revision, revocation has not been attempted.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, licensure proceedings are dragging along, and last November Stanley Kohn, legal counsel for the state Department of Social Services, notified Friends of Children:

"I have been receiving copies of your correspondence with Mr. Francis E. Lewis regarding your agency. I do not find your agency to be licensed as a child-placing agency according to the laws and regulations of this state. Thus, it follows that all of those things you have done and that are proposed to be done with regard to placing a child for adoption with a family in this state are, in fact, unlawful.

DSS and the Children's Bureau have enforced strict compliance with all their regulations in this case because Friends of Children is operated by lawyer Seymour Kurtz of Chicago and Atlanta. Kurtz is nationally known for his adoption practice, and his fees are high enough to cause critics to say he sells children.

Kurtz has had difficulty with Illinois licensure for Easter House, his Chicago agency, in the wake of adverse publicity that began in 1976 when the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigative series. Babies for Sale.

Those articles-which said Kurtz Jacked up costs of adoption through an intricate system of related international corporations he controlled—were followed by Kurtz s inclusion in two books. "Baby Selling by free-lance Journalist Nancy Baker, and "The Baby Brokers" by New York reporter Lynne McTaggart.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has been trying for two years to revoke the Easter House license in Chicago: and Kurts is fighting the revocation. His Easter House operations also face lawsuits in New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois for improper placement of children, and the state of Florida has attempted unsuccessfully to prevent Friends of Children from placing babies in Florida.

According to an in-house memorandum at the Florida Children, Youth and Families Program Office in the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Services, Friends of Children has applied for licenses in all the Southeastern states and in several Midwest states, all of whom have concern regarding the ethical practices of his agency.

"However," the memorandum states, "none of the states have been able to prove that Friends of Children has violated the law. If`Florida is able to prove Friends of Children is operating illegally in our state, it will provide a basis on which many other states can deny this agency a license to operate.

Such communiques are evidence in Kurtzs opinion that he is the victim of a vast interstate public agency conspiracy to clamp down on private adoptions, particularly his. The biggest difference between Kurtz s adoption business and those handled on a large scale by other lawyers around the country is that he operates out of agencies, not just A law office.

The allegation that Kurtz sells babies has been based largely on his adoption fees, which have risen at Friend of Children to $l4,000, triple the Easter House charges criticized by the Chicago newspapers as excessive in 1976 and double the charges questioned by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in 1981. The $14,000 does not include legal fees and any other expenses to meet individual state requirements.

Kurtz first sought South Carolina licensure around l976, when he began organizing the Adoption Foundation of the Americas in Greenville with the assistance of local lawyer Lehman Moseley. Moseley says he and Kurtz were introduced about 25 years ago by Circuit Judge Frank Eppes, when Eppes was in the Legislature, Eppes met the Chicago lawyer at a legal convention.

The Adoption Foundation of the Americas never materialized, partly because Kurtz was heavily involved in Internal Revenue Service audits of his adoption enterprises, including operations in the Netherlands and Mexico. He was also tussling with the Illinois license authorities.

Several Greenville area citizens, who initially agreed to serve on the foundation's board of directors, also changed their minds after they were contacted by a retired social worker who had heard of Kurtz.

The latest licensure effort in South Carolina is tied to Friends of Children, which Kurtz said he hopes will eventually be licensed in all 50 states. It was an established agency in Georgia when Kurtz assumed control of it.

The biggest problem Friends of Children has encountered wit other states is alleged violations of the Inter-state_Compact on Children.

The Children's Bureau administers the Compact in South Carolina, and director Lewis said personnel at Friends of Children have been “difficult, to say the least, when we have tried to enforce the compact with regard to babies they have placed with families in South Carolina. These families are all being led to believe that we are the ‘big. bad agency’ that is holding up their adoption proceedings, when the truth is the type of cooperation we are able to obtain from Friends of Children is the real problem."

Lewis is convinced that Friends of Children has made unwilling pawns out of adoptive families in its strategy to obtain a license to place children in South Carolina.

Several South Carolina families have had problems getting final adoption papers and—in some cases-getting the babies they were promised they could adopt because of differences of opinion about the legal requirements involved.

The biggest argument involves who will do the home studies on South Carolina families who adopt Georgia-born babies through Friends of Children.

1984 Feb 26