An Adoption Gone Wrong

Second of a four-part series.

Bhagya Smolin was reunited with her birth mother in a rural village in Andhra Pradesh, India in December 2006. Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin hide caption

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itoggle caption Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin

An Adoption Agency Checklist

The Adoption Agency Checklist Web site offers advice for prospective adoptive families on how to reduce their chances of becoming victims of adoption fraud.

Smolin family photo i i

This photo was taken in 1999, a few months after Manjula and Bhagya joined the Smolin family. Desiree (clockwise, from top left), David, Joseph (in David's arms), Justin, Ben, Nathan, Levi and Bhagya. Manjula is in the center. Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin
Smolin family photo

This photo was taken in 1999, a few months after Manjula and Bhagya joined the Smolin family. Desiree (clockwise, from top left), David, Joseph (in David's arms), Justin, Ben, Nathan, Levi and Bhagya. Manjula is in the center.

Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin
Manjula Smolin and her birth mother. i i

Manjula Smolin (left) was reunited with her birth mother in December 2005 in a rural village in Andhra Pradesh, India. Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin
Manjula Smolin and her birth mother.

Manjula Smolin (center, in blue) was reunited with her birth mother (center, in yellow) in December 2005 in a rural village in Andhra Pradesh, India. Her adoptive father, David Smolin (wearing glasses) stands in the back row.

Courtesy David & Desiree Smolin

A Series Overview

An adopted child changes a family forever. Families and adoptees have learned that it's not just family photos that change — but entire family trees, family traditions and family stories.

One day in 1998, David and Desiree Smolin traveled to the airport in Atlanta. They were adopting two adolescent girls, and on that day, the girls got off the plane from India.

"We expected that there would be some shyness at the beginning, but we expected that they would be happy to see us at least after they got over the initial shock of being here," Desiree Smolin says.

"Instead, when we met the girls they were clearly very upset. They were very avoidant of us and then eventually they became very emotionally disturbed .... I've never seen anyone — and I hope to never, ever see anyone again — as upset as those girls were in the first nine months that they were in our home."

In an interview with Steve Inskeep, the Smolins say that an adoption agency described Manjula and Bhagya as two girls who had been waiting a long time for a home. But the girls insisted they had been stolen — kidnapped from their mother.

The Indian mother was poor. She placed the children temporarily in an orphanage, and the orphanage essentially sold them.

"We read about infanticide in India and that got us thinking about whether those children were sometimes adopted out," Desiree Smolin says. With a house full of sons and no daughters, the Smolins sought to adopt girls.

David Smolin says they worked with an experienced U.S. adoption agency and were told that the girls had been waiting a long time and were eager to be adopted.

"We asked that the girls be interviewed to see whether they wanted to be adopted, what was their family background, what was their story," he says. "Unfortunately, almost all of the information that we got back turned out to be false. They had been stolen from their birth family."

"Of course, we didn't know that," Desiree adds.

But within weeks of their arrival, the couple realized something was wrong. The girls, speaking through a translator, angrily denied that they had asked to be adopted.

David says that the girls' birth mother had been told that the girls were going to be placed temporarily in a boarding school. "And she went back for them, and they said to her, 'No, you can look at them through this one-way mirror, but they can't be permitted to see you.' And so she was turned away."

An Adoption Agency Checklist

The Adoption Agency Checklist Web site offers advice for prospective adoptive families on how to choose an adoption agency and reduce their chances of becoming victims of adoption fraud. Below are some tips from the checklist.

• Get and contact references who are at different stages in the process and who have completed adoptions at different times. This is important to detect any changes in treatment as the process progresses and any changes in the agency/facilitator/attorney. Try to get references of people who had problems along the way but were able to overcome them and complete a successful adoption so you can see how the agency responds to and handles problems.

• Join local and Internet adoptive parent support groups. Network as much as you possibly can. Listen, learn and ask questions. Listservs and Internet bulletin boards are invaluable. Use search engines to find information on any agency you are considering. Search for complaints. Search the names of agency principals, workers and facilitators.

• Check an adoption professional or agency out with the licensing authority in its home state. Ask for a record of complaints. The authority is usually the state's Department of Social Services or Department of Health and Human Services. In the case of an adoption agency operating under a lawyer's license, the authority is the state's Bar Association. Facilitators are usually unlicensed, unregulated and even illegal in some states. A good source for this and other state-specific information is StateInformation.com.

• Check an adoption professional or agency with its home state's Attorney General's office. Ask if there are any criminal actions or complaints.

• Check Web sites, such as AdoptaChild.org, where to see how clients rate agencies and their experiences. Additionally, Ethica, which promotes ethical adoptions, has an information-packed site and many features geared towards consumer protection.

• Check with the foreign country's U.S. consulate. They may be aware of any problems with the professionals you are considering.

• Check with the U.S. consulate in the foreign country. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer there is the one responsible for issuing orphan visas and should be very attuned to which adoption agencies, facilitators and attorneys have a history of problems.

• Consider hiring or consulting an experienced and reputable adoption attorney in your area to protect your emotional and financial interests. While some may view this as an unnecessary additional expense, spending a few thousand dollars here can sometimes save you from losing tens of thousands of dollars to adoption fraud or scams. The promise of a desperately desired child or the bond to a photograph or video of one can often blind you to any red flags that crop up. A less costly measure of protection is to have any contracts reviewed by a contract attorney before signing. Remember, any contract can be amended or negotiated to better protect and serve your interests.

• Use the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department Web sites to stay up-to-date on all the rules, regulations and situations in whatever country you are considering. In programs where you are allowed to visit the referred child prior to finalizing the adoption, take all possible measures to insure that the adoption will, in fact, be finalized, prior to visiting.

• Be cautious if you are offered a referral before you have a completed and approved homestudy.

• Be wary if you are asked to sign a blank Power of Attorney.

• If the agency networks with another party (agency, facilitator or attorney) for the program you select, make sure that is disclosed to you, along with the identity of the other party, before you pay any non-refundable fees, in case this other party is one with whom you prefer not to work.

• In cases and countries where the biological mother is identified, ask the agency what kind of counseling and support their program offers to biological mothers. The answer may help reveal the agency's commitment to fair and ethical practices.

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