Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adoption agencies break rules, escape punishment

AJC investigation: Weak oversight on private adoption agencies 

[After the personal "agony" of would-be adopters is moaned and groaned about...]

....Early last year, the Kentucky couple agreed to adopt the California woman’s infant through a Georgia adoption agency. Like many modern private adoptions, this was to be a complex multi-state transaction, conducted mostly through e-mails and cellphones, Web sites and text messages — not to mention wire transfers involving thousands of dollars.

And the way it unraveled sheds light on the state’s weak oversight of the 336 private agencies that arrange adoptions and foster care and operate group homes in Georgia, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

Just three times since 2008, the Journal-Constitution found, has the state imposed penalties against agencies that exclusively handle adoptions: two fines and one license revocation.

The newspaper’s review of more than 1,500 reports of inspections and investigations found that regulators repeatedly forgave violations of rules fundamental to safe adoptions: failing to check parents’ criminal records, for instance, or not documenting safe environments in adoptive homes.

Several agencies received citations for failing to show that payments to birth mothers covered only legitimate medical or living expenses. At least one agency — Valley of Hope Adoption Inc. of Woodstock, with which the Arduzes worked — was cited for having money for a birth mother’s expenses deposited into its executive director’s personal bank account.

None of those violations resulted in penalties.

State law allows fines as high as $25,000. But officials say they prefer to persuade agencies to comply with the rules than impose harsh penalties.

“We try to work with as many agencies as possible so there are viable options for Georgia’s children,” said Keith Bostick, director of the Office of Residential Child Care, which regulates adoption and foster care agencies.

“It is a balancing act,” Bostick said. “Often it’s not black, it’s not white — it’s gray.”

Valley of Hope is one of many agencies that existed in the gray area.

The agency eluded punishment for almost two years, even though state officials knew it was violating adoption rules. But the state didn’t share information about the agency with the public until late 2009. 

Erin Chaffee, Valley of Hope’s founder and executive director, declined repeated requests for an interview. In an e-mail to a reporter late Friday, she said, “Adoption is a highly personal and confidential business and for those reasons it is not appropriate for me to engage in a discussion with you.” In another e-mail Saturday, she added, “We have helped over 100 clients adopt successfully and only a handful of clients have had failed adoptions.”

The Arduzes knew nothing about Valley of Hope’s regulatory history when they made the first of several payments that were to total more than $31,000. Neither did Brea and Jonathan Freeman, a Nashville-area couple whose own attempt to adopt through Valley of Hope overlapped the Arduzes’.
In late 2008, the Freemans decided to expand their family of three biological children and one adopted child. They considered several adoption agencies before settling on one that had only recently gone into business: Valley of Hope.

“We found them on the Internet,” Brea Freeman said recently. “I could find nothing bad about them, at the time.”

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