13 INVESTIGATES: Overseas Adoption Dangers - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: Overseas Adoption Dangers

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For months now, I've been looking into Lifeline Children's Services after coming across a complaint by one of its families. I later learned Lifeline is under investigation by the agency which stamps a seal of approval on international adoption agencies.  Lifeline's executive director talked to us to explain how international adoptions work and don't work in some cases.

Withdrew Adoption, Ashley Scott said, "I'm not a fluke and our situation is unfortunately common."

According to Ashley Scott - her situation - discovering false records in the files of 14 year old twin boys she wanted to adopt from China. Ashley and her husband Dave were using Lifeline claiming Lifeline should have verified the information in the boys’ file.

Scott said: "And when I asked about what the ethics could be, could you call it an ethical adoption if you know that there are lies in the file. And they said, as long as the Chinese government signs off on it, we're good."

Ashley believes the family of the twins may have been coerced by an overseas agency to put the boys up for adoption. While she doesn't have proof of that, a private investigator she hired, made the discovery that some of the information in the boys file was false. Ashley and her husband withdrew their petition to adopt. Their fee was returned. Her dreams of becoming an international adoptive mom are on hold but she hopes to help others by sharing her story.

Scott said, "What we are trying to do is find some recourse for some of these families, find some relief for some of the other families, and then really be a voice, to say this really is happening."

That's why Ashley filed her complaint against Lifeline. According to this letter, Ashley's complaint has led to an investigation of Lifeline by the Council on Accreditation. It has an agreement with the State Department to approve agencies for international adoptions. Back in 2007, Lifeline was one of the first in the country to be accredited under the strict international guidelines called the Hague Convention.

With regard to the investigation, Lifeline provided the following statement:

"Lifeline operates in full submission to those established authorities, and we believe that a proper investigation will validate our stated commitment to ethics and principled practices ".

While unable to speak on specific cases, Lifeline's Executive Director Herbie Newell did talk to us about international adoptions in general.

Lifeline CEO & Executive Director Herbie Newell said, "At the end of the day Lifeline is about helping orphans around the world, find stability, find the hope, find the future and find permanence. We're called to do that because the gospel, Jesus Christ is living in us and we want to help kids around the world."

I repeatedly asked Newell about due diligence and if his agency had dealt with an overseas agency's lack of it. He would only say Lifeline relies heavily on the State Department for that - and is instructed not to investigate a child's background. That's the task of the overseas agency or government authority overseeing adoptions. Newell says if there are problems with accuracy of files, it's up to the State Department to pursue action on what he calls irregularities.

Linda asks "So based on what you just told me you say you're not trying to be elusive, have you ever had irregularities in the countries that you've worked in and reported them to state? Newell answers: “Certainly we've had challenges in countries that we worked in and informed the State Department about."

According to Newell, if Lifeline experiences what he calls an irregularity with a particular government authority or agency, besides reporting it, the agency acts, and makes changes internally.

Newell said, "I would say that any time you have an irregularity you take it extremely seriously and you obviously, you very much evaluate what you're going to do and how going to continue. It's not going to be multiple, one time you see it, you take it very seriously, and look at it."

Lifeline introduced us to the Taunton family who adopted 15 year old Sasha from Ukraine when she was 10. They spoke candidly about their love for Sasha, becoming a family and the level of bribery on the part of a foreign government that went on during their adoption.

They spoke highly of Lifeline but as for the corruption overseas... their final stop in the adoption process in Ukraine was with a judge who threatened to postpone their meeting when flights had already been booked to return home to the U.S.

Adoptive Parent, Larry Taunton said, "They say she can't meet with you, she can meet you in a couple of weeks. I say I can't afford to be here for a couple more weeks and then they say for $1,500 she can meet with you tomorrow."

Linda asks, “Did you pay the 1500?” Taunton answers, “We did and I would say to anybody if you're not willing to pay to get the child than you don't want the child bad enough."

Taunton went on to say the $1,500 came out of the fee he paid to Lifeline.

Lifeline's executive director explained it this way.

Newell said, "It's more of a service charge for what you get people to do.” Linda question: “So would you say bribes or expedition fees built into the fee that Lifeline charges families?” Newell answer: Umm no. I wouldn't."

Research-China.org, Brian Stuy said, "The majority of players on the international adoption side on the United States side are ethical people."

Stuy operates "Research China" - an organization which specifically helps families who've adopted from China research their children. As a result he's become a go-to guy on international adoptions and knows there are deeper issues with international adoptions that need to be addressed. Stuy understands that Lifeline and other US international adoption agencies' hands are tied when it comes to investigating the accuracy of a child's file.

He believes the adoption program as a whole could be more transparent.

Stuy said, "From basically start to finish there is a complete lack of transparency in the adoption program, and that fosters an atmosphere where abuses can occur and corruption can come into play."

We asked the State Department, the Council on Accreditation and Lifeline to share with us complaints against Lifeline. Our requests by all three parties were denied, in part, based on confidentiality.

For a variety of reasons, including baby-selling in some cases and falsified documents in others, the State Department has closed adoptions to Cambodia, Cabo Verde, Fiji, Montenegro and Vietnam. Adoptions to China, the number one country for international adoptions where Ashley was going to adopt, continue.
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