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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Can You Trust Your Adoption Agency?



Trust is such a relative word in the field of adoption.  Can you trust your agency?  Hmmm…. Would that be “trust them to take your money and run?” or “trust them to kick you when you’re halfway around the world and up the creek with several severely sick referrals?” or “trust them to renege on their promises?”

If those are the questions, then I would say yes.

You’ve heard of those who are unlucky in love.  While we don’t fit into that category, instead, I see that we have not made the best choices in picking adoption agencies through the years. Why we keep coming back for more abuse is anyone’s guess.  The two of us do plenty of research and ask around for references, yet still I think we’d fare better if we were spun around, blindfolded, and throwing a dart backwards over our shoulder at an adoption agency name.

We started out with an agency that displayed a distinct unwillingness to work with us.  Of course, that was after we signed on the line and plunked down a big chunk of cash.  It was back in the day when Russian referrals happened fast and furious.  Yet, our case languished for two years, unheard-of.  The only time we got a call from said agency was when they had a change in our caseworker, which was about once every six months. There was no end in sight.

It was then that we heard about our older son, a Russian child waiting for a home.  We checked with Agency #1 if we could pursue him while still waiting in line for our “any day” referral.

“Sure, no problem,” said the caseworker. “I’ll let you know if there’s any problem.”

Never heard from her again.  We traveled to see our son-to-be, accepted his referral, and made plans for court.  By the time we were ready to make our second trip with Agency #2 six months later, lo and behold, Agency #1 called.  They had a referral that we were to see in the next month or so.

“Perfect,” we enthused.  “Before we pick up our son on trip two, that could work as trip one for this referral.”

“Sounds good,” the caseworker agreed.

But in the next week, all turned to doom and gloom.  They called back and insisted on a group conference call.  We, the clients, suddenly were scheming, conniving no-goodniks.  They claimed that we were very deceptive people.  The Director, holed-up in her offshore, island hacienda, made a three-way telephone call to tell us as much.

“How dare you try to do something like this!  You think that we are going to proceed with any referral?!  You have just made your contract null and void, trying to deceive us-!” she shrieked in her British accent.

“Deceive you?”  we wondered.  “We called your caseworker and asked if this would be possible.  She gave us permission.  The go-ahead came from your people.  How have we been deceptive?  There has been virtually no communication from your agency for the past two years concerning our situation and now you yell at us-?”

“I have every phone call listed before me,” the Director threatened.  “What exactly are you saying?”  She rattled off dates that amounted to about four calls a year and included communication initiated by us, or a return phone call to find that yet another staff member had left.  “And besides, the caseworker had a death in her extended family when she spoke with you.  How do you expect her to be held accountable for such things?”

Gee, I don’t know, maybe because she works for your agency, and death or no death, she needs to be giving accurate info about adoption.

Long story short, they kept our money, we took them to court, and they never even showed up.  Benedetto called them despicable.  The judge called their actions deplorable.  That’s what happens when you get creative with other folks’ money.

I recently checked the Russian Databank for Orphans.  Do you know that the same child we were referred–cute, bubbly, smiling–is still in an orphanage, years later, in this distant region?  Now the young person appears sullen with character traits listed as anti-social, aggressive, and argumentative.  I wonder if this could be the same child, but the name and facial features are so distinctive that I don’t see how it could be any other.  Perhaps we were saved by the agency’s ugliness, perhaps the child was left too long in the system and turned out this way due to their imperiousness.

Shortly after bringing our son home from Russia, the owner of our Agency #2 fled the US.  Seems he did a number of adoption deals that were not on the up-and-up.  We had no problem with alleged bait-and-switch techniques, but others did.  He ended up in the slammer in Russia, charged with child trafficking.  I’m not sure what happened to the Rolls Royce he drove there, while the US office was auctioned off.

Our next foray into adoption involved using an unscrupulous facilitator, a Ukrainian fast-talker who operated her sham of a scam from a p.o. box in California, one of those mailbox places that has a street address to throw off the unsuspecting.  She promised to get us an appointment with the Ministry of Education in a region where independent adoptions were not allowed.

“How can you help us?” we questioned.  “The Ministry says that they will not work with independents, only with licensed agencies.”

“Oh, they always say that,” she said.

Yes, that’s because it was the truth.  We learned that fact months later, after the FBI contacted us, the police told us that the Russian and Ukrainian mafia worked in the area where she was located, and she absconded with many thousands of our greenbacks in return for nothing.

Prior to that, I sent her an e-mail detailing the many supposed travel dates that she had lined up for us, how “any day” something was supposed to happen for months on end.  Lie after lie she used to string us along.

Red flag.

“I do not appreciate your tone nor your insinuations,” Ms. Shyster began. At the same time, she had sent an acquaintance on a wild goose chase, saying it was time to travel on trip one, while an appointment had never been scheduled with the Ministry of Education official.  Multi-continent travel at last minute’s notice ($$$), all for nothing.  Not to mention she kept their money already paid… for no services.

We cancelled our contract, and she kept our money, too, saying that it might be difficult to get such sums returned from Russia.  (Do you see a pattern emerging here?  I need to open my own adoption agency–little regulation, little follow-up, easier than holding someone up on the street with a gun and coming away with $10-20-30-40-50K+….)

Checking our own sources, we found that our Dossier had indeed been sent to Russia to be translated, but she had never even paid the translator something in the range of $350 that they had agreed upon.  Those were the total “expenses”, that apparently were never expenses in her mind, nor paid from her pocket.

When we demanded our Dossier be returned, Russia sent it immediately, but Ms. Shyster did not.  We got it a number of months later, minus any translation that we “paid for”, and only when the District Attorney reminded her that this was considered Grand Theft.  The documents did us no good as they were now expiring.  The state barred her from ever working in adoptions again because there were so many complaints compiling against her–but details, details– she’s starting up again, we see.

The two of us felt that it might be smart to go with an agency that had higher standards in terms of ethics.  Maybe if “Christian” appeared in the name, we might get somewhere.  After making simple inquiries about their Russian adoption program and being told that we were not “allowed” to ask questions of a Russian program director, that all questions must go through the know-nothing-but-the-basics intake person, we were yelled at once again.  All I can imagine is that there is a lot of anger and aggression building up in international adoption, or these agencies are all having a collective set of “bad days”.  I never envisioned myself paying tens of thousands of dollars to someone to be their whipping boy….

We turned to another agency that insisted we pay their application fee in order to find out any information at all. We declined.  They then said we should speak with their social worker and we agreed, ready to ask our specific questions.  She kept us on the phone for about 30 minutes, reading from a prepared script, “International adoption can be said to be a rollercoaster.  If you follow instructions and take special care to submit paperwork in a timely fashion, your adoption will go quickly and smoothly.  Children of all ages are available for adoption, and often the children will not speak English….”

Really. I never would have imagined.  We never got to ask any of our questions.

Then they billed us.

Our third agency was incompetency plus.  Their comedy of errors would have been funny, if it didn’t involve us.  Again, we were trying to get back to a difficult region for a specific purpose.  These folks said they would help us, though they didn’t really have agency reps in the area, and though they didn’t have a clue what in the world they were doing.  A SWAT team they were not.

Somehow we all pulled it off, though the Director quit or was fired mid-way through the process (depends on whose story you believe), we got stuck in the country and our appointment cancelled three times, we had to get a new visa by going to a different republic and having a drunk physician sign-off on some dubious paperwork, we were not allowed to see the children we were supposed to see which was one major mix-up on the agency’s part, the Russian owner of the agency called us in region using the foulest, most vile curse words that one can imagine, and somehow we were granted a visit with one boy that lasted all of ten minutes when we were expecting to visit the child for several hours on several days.

Agency #3’s Russian team that was not from that region rose to the occasion, though one could not use the term “smooth” to describe the process.  The battle was uphill all the way and they would be happy enough to have our adoption finished.  In less than a year’s time, the adoption agency owner was being chased by the feds and ended up committing suicide, or so it’s reported.  After we had our second child home, we really didn’t attend any group picnics, shall we say.

Our third and fourth adoptions happened simultaneously, sisters from Agency #4.  We were cast in the role of advising this group on procedural issues regarding Russia and some new regulations.  Try as we might to be sweet and helpful to them, their Director still got on the phone screaming at me.  Seems like I knew more about the Russian process in our particular region than they did, procuring lots of inside information that they didn’t appreciate me knowing.  Plus, they didn’t like the fact that their local facilitators took it upon themselves to e-mail to my husband photos of myself visiting the girls.

“There is to be NO contact between your family and the Russian workers, without the communication first coming to us!”  the Director screamed, as though we had initiated such contact.

Bunch of nutcases.  I had just taken trip one, ostensibly they wanted to call to find out how the trip went, but then she went off on her tirade that came straight out of nowhere.  I got the distinct impression that she didn’t like educated clients who also spoke some Russian.  I knew a bit too much about their odd little operation.

“Well, I just feel sorry that you have children from Russia, that they ever allowed you to adopt in the first place,” she sneered.

“Um, excuse me?”

“It’s obvious that you’re unfit,” she ranted in some crazed state of mind.  Our caseworker, also on the line, fell silent.  If you knew me, you would know that I, Alexandra, am the most gracious of souls, but really, there’s only so much one can take.

Unfit?

“Now that’s interesting, you telephone me, one hour after our set appointment time, to learn more about my first trip to see the girls.  You ask me nothing about them, but attack my character.  After five minutes of speaking with me, you imagine you know more about us than our social worker who has interviewed us and followed up on previous adoptions over the course of the past five years-?  If that’s the case, and you feel us to be so unfit for some strange reason of your own, perhaps we should just end this adoption process right now.”

Ah, the threat of cold, hard cash being ripped from her hands made her end the conversation post haste.  The caseworker thereafter refused to discuss The Incident, telling us that we would need to take it up further with the Director if we were interested.  Yeah.

The Director e-mailed a couple of times after that, but we ignored her.  These were the strongarm tactics of a former Soviet citizen and we were not in her gulag.  We found out later that she was after our social worker who had a family disrupting because one child kept abusing the other and both came through the Director’s agency.  I guess we were guilty, too, by association.

“You Americans are so sensitive about these abuse matters,” she snarled.

True, I mean, what’s the big deal if one of your kids is forcing sex on another?  That’s the kind of warm and fuzzy agency Director everyone should want to have, putting together your “forever family” full of predators and perverts.  Made one wonder….

Well, if she fancied herself floating in a little ark saving children from the crazy Americans who were unfit like me, or thrusting abusive children upon the unsuspecting like the other clients who were disrupting, it appeared that her ship might be about to sink.  After we got the girls home, so many more negative reports surfaced about this agency from numerous disgruntled clients.  For us, we had been treated poorly, scolded upon numerous occasions such as when we wondered why we should allocate 7-10 days in Moscow to take care of business that should take anywhere from 2-4 days at the end of our second trip.  They didn’t care one iota about our time, nor our money, nor many of their assurances to us.

In our contract, for instance, we did not agree to their use of the girls’ photo for any of the agency’s promotional purposes, and then we saw their pictures plastered front and center in a newsletter.  When we complained, the newsletters to us stopped, not necessarily their behavior.  Next, the agency wanted to know why we wouldn’t send them update photos “just for us, to keep the goal always before us”-?  How sweet.

Frame a one dollar bill.  There’s your goal.  We’re done.  Prison, suicide, those wanted by the law, scammers and schemers, we’ve had enough of the touchy-feely world of adoption for now.

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