Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Chasing the Rainbow

Around the world, sitting in orphanages (and sometimes foster homes or other facilities) are children who, it seems, nobody wants. Here in the U.S are a growing number of families who have come forward to say, "We do. We want that child! This is not scary to us. These are just children, not diseases and disorders to be feared. We will go get them!"

These families have answered the call and moved forward. They have taken on the monumental task of addressing mountains of paperwork, answering a zillion personal questions, and spending tens of thousands of dollars to do whatever they must to bring these children home. God said, "Go!" and they have.

How have they found these children? Often by seeing their picture posted on adoption photo listing websites, or from other families who have met them on their own trips to the other side of the world to bring a child home. Once learning of a child, they must inquire where the child is from in order to determine if they are eligible to adopt from that particular country, and what the country's requirements are.

And that is where a problem can arise. Recently families, mine included, have had questions or reservations about working with certain organizations, but have seen a child listed with them who they are interested in. One organization claims to want to see these children get into homes. Nothing more. Yet when families have contacted them for information about a specific child, they cannot get it without paying a fee...a commitment fee to work directly with that organization. A $250 "Hope Trust" donation, along with a $1,000 "Promise Trust" (some of which goes into the child's grant fund which you get back when you complete your adoption.) must be sent before getting any information on the child you're interested in, other than the country where the child is located. This is *slighty* understandable. They have an expensive website to maintain, and staff to pay, and they are overseeing the donated funds for hundreds of children. But, it does not make sense to have to pay nearly $1300 per child to get the information on the child so that you can use an agency of your choice, or do an independent adoption if the country allows it.

Recently the process has changed a bit, and you must have completed your homestudy, and be nearly ready to submit your dossier before getting specific information about the child. By this time you are locked in with the facilitation team of the organizaton's choice. Your ability to make choices for yourself has just been removed from you. I can tell you from experience, you NEED to be able to make choices!

Any time an organization tells you, "You must use adoption agency "x" to adopt this child." You need to start asking a lot of questions. Check into the organization's Conflict of Interest policy, and check into whether or not there are issues in this area. (for example, are board members of the non-profit also employees of the adoption agency you're required to use?)

A friend of mine recently said, "These adoption facilitators don't make much money." I beg to differ! I'm sure there are some who do not, but they're also charging significantly less than other facilitators. The facilitator we worked with in Serbia made a pittance at her job as pediatrician in the orphanage she worked in, yet drove a car much better nicer than the average car in the country. Yet for the 10 or so adoptions to U.S. families she did in 2010, she was paid nearly $50,000. Transportation and translation fees came out of that, along with bribes I'm sure. Even if she only had $30K left after that, it's still what was earned from U.S adoptions, and there are at least two other countries who's adoptions she handled. (Knowing how much time each adoption takes, makes me wonder how she had time to work her state job as doctor of that orphanage!)

Serbia costs significantly less to adopt from than, say...Ukraine. (It currently costs $13,000 to adopt from Serbia, and most of that money is spent on the U.S. side of the process.) According to the Department of State's website, In 2010 there were were 450 adoptions from Ukraine to U.S. families. Most of the families I know paid somewhere around $11,000 to their facilitator. That is $4.9 million dollars, just from U.S. families. If one organization finds homes for 310 children, and the facilitation fee's from various countries are averaged to $10,000, that is $3.1 million dollars JUST in facilitation fees...paid directly to the facilitator in country....IN CASH....with NO RECEIPTS!  There is only ONE reason to pay in cash and not get a receipt.

If you choose to adopt internationally, you MUST ask lots of questions. If you are working with a U.S. based non-profit organization, you need to look closely at their numbers. Their tax forms are public information and should be FREE of charge (although it's ok to charge reasonable fees for copies and mailing.) You should also request to see copies of their outside audit (a requirement for non-profits) along with their financial statement. You should also ask to see their Conflict of Interest statement. (which should be included on their tax forms.)

Just this week, the Department of State issued a warning for those attempting to adopt from Haiti. I expect before too long there will be similar warnings issued for other countries as many things come to light.

I am NOT against international adoption. We have done it once, and will do it again. We have plans to do it again, and the necessary paperwork is already completed and submitted. What I AM against is people doing what I did. Jumping in head first without really looking at all that is involved, really looking closely before working with ANY organization. Just because I found a couple "positive feedback" posts in various places means nothing. It's pretty rare that there is never a problem, and I should have checked to see what those problems were.


Shea said...

Except Estonia. There is only one usa agency licensed to be used in Estonia. It is of course a small country with a small program though and only one facilitator, but he is good and honest. On his part, I trust him completely, and when we asked for a receipt, he wrote one out for us.

Leah S. said...

Yes, but a licensed agency is an entirely different issue. Ukraine, Serbia, those countries allow for independent adoptions. Everyone trusted our facilitator too, and she was the ONLY option for facilitator at the time. Serbia is also a small country (about the size of the state of MN.) And only had one facilitator. That has now changed! Also, in some countries there are US citizens working as facilitators, and taking money in Ukraine, in cash. That is tax evasion, and nothing less. If they're a US citizen they should be paid into a US bank account so it is traceable.

Shea said...

Plain sad. I'm sorry but hague cuts a lot of this crap out. I hated hague, but at least I had my info before we traveled and that included a birth certificate too. There are certain countries I will NOT adopt from because of what a I KNOW goes on. I am quiet about it, but we all know what goes on. However, it gives good countries and facilitators a bad name. That's why I mention our experience. Our facilitator was honest.

Ellie said...

Well said!
What's worse, this organization seems to be accepting money for kids who are actually unavailable for adoption or deceased!!

I know of several families who have been in-country or just about to travel, only to discover that their child is A) not available for adoption after all, or B) deceased (and in at least two cases, the child had been deceased at the time of commitment!!)

So, in other words, they're selling information about kids who aren't actually available for adoption!!

They don't return your fees, even when you've been "sold" information about an unadoptable or deceased child.

Shame on this "colorful" organization.
I'm glad someone is finally holding them accountable.

-An adoptive parent

Michelle Z said...

We adopted from Ukraine, through Reece's Rainbow.

The $1000 Promise Trust donation is JUST for families who adopt through Ukraine, since they don't have to pay an agency to get started -- it shows you're serious about adopting. AND you get the whole $1000 back.

There is a $25 application fee for RR, and a requested (not required) gift of $250 (which we paid, no hesitation at all! Glad to donate to them, for finding & posting pics of our Lil)

We paid our facilitators $8600 -- but this was a year ago, it may have gone up slightly. I do not know any families who have paid $11,000 to their facilitators, but there could be families paying that much. Different facilitation teams charge different rates, I'm sure.

Michelle Z said...

And, as a person who volunteers for RR, I can safely say Promise Trust funds would absolutely be returned to a family if a child was found to be unavailable! We've unfortunately had to do that recently.

Typically, though, most families choose to move forward with another child.

I'm happy to explain any of the other policies, if people have specific questions. Information is not "being sold" in my opinion -- the $25 application fee is a great deal, for the amount of paperwork & setting up & tracking grant funds that goes on behind the scenes. Plus, RR covers the PayPal fees for all the donations that are made in to families -- 100% of donations go to the families. That's where that $250 gift comes in so helpful.

I'm sorry you're not a fan of RR anymore, Leah, but that doesn't mean the people behind it are monsters. Oversights happen, children become unavailable, and we all certainly do our best to make everyone happy. It's a case by case basis.

The number one goal is, still, to find families for these children.

Michelle Z said...

Oh -- and just for information, the "expensive website" was created and is run by volunteers, and really isn't expensive at all -- just basically web-hosting fees.

But it sure LOOKS expensive, doesn't it?! It's quite impressive.

Leah S. said...

Michelle, is the board aware that although the website points people to Guidestar for the tax information, that guidestar charges $125 for the 2010 reports? Also, the outside audit information is not available, nor is RR's financial statement nor conflict of interest statement. Yes, the new website is great! The overhaul was much needed and makes the site much easier to use. About undadoptable kids: I'm not talking about kids who's status has changed, I'm talking about kids who were NEVER legally available for adoption to begin with! Parental rights that were never terminated, children who are not legal orphans according to U.S. immigration guidelines etc. THOSE children did not have their status change...they were NEVER available, yet they were/are pictured on the site.

Michelle Z said...

We had an extension to file late this year, so it's likely just not all entered in to Guidestar yet. I was curious, so I created an account, and I was able to see the full 990 for 2010 -- for free. So, that's there, and I'm sure the rest will follow! :)

I'll say it again -- we're not monsters, Leah. We're just people trying to help orphans. I'm not sure what conflict of interest you're looking for -- ?? We're not getting kick backs from agencies or facilitators. It's not shady.

We've been friends a long time, Leah -- you know I've got nothing to hide. I'm really dismayed at how far your impression of RR has fallen.

Leah S. said...

My impression has fallen based on several things that have happened. 100% silence from the organization when I had problems while in Serbia, and with the subsequent issues. Ukraine families who have run into MAJOR problems with facilitators, and brought those problems to the attention of admin, and admin not only looked the other way, but continues to send families to the same facilitation teams. An organization that is not an adoption agency has no business telling families they have to use certain facilitation teams. And yet, when families have stepped out on their own to use different teams, their adoptions have been made MISERABLE. Funny how that works. It's not even done quietly or in secret!

Families who have been harassed to hurry up and finish paper work when the problems have not been due to their own negligence, but of the homestudy agencies, USCIS dragging their feet, etc.

Conflict of interest: When an organization requires a family to work with a specific adoption agency, but an employee of that agency sits on the board of the organization, that is conflict of interest. No, it's not illegal, but it raises many questions about ethical practices, which is why Conflict of Interest statements are recommended by the IRS and the Attorney General's office. I was required to work with a specific agency because "Serbia now requires families to work with an agency". Ummmm "Serbia" did not require any such thing. The FACILITATOR did. SERBIA doesn't have an agreement with a single U.S. adoption agency (as of May 9th, I don't know if that's changed since then.)

If the 2010 information is available on Guidestar now, that's GREAT!!!! It wasn't as of last week.

I didn't say everyone working for/with the organization is monsters. I have brought up questions, that everyone SHOULD be asking, and they can find out their own answers. I am not the only one with these same questions! I'm just one voice among many. Many of those who've had problems have stopped blogging, or are flat out AFRAID to say anything. Why? Because they wanted the post adoption support and didn't want to get ostracized like I was BECAUSE I asked questions. I have been accused of LYING about what happened in Serbia, that I fabricated all of it. Really??? The only people who could make that stuff up are Hollywood writers!

Explain to me how I could possibly still have a good impression of the organization, and recommend others to them in good conscience? YES, the ultimate goal is to get the kids OUT and into FAMILIES!!! That I agree with 100%. But somewhere along the line things have changed. Families should NOT be coming home AFRAID to speak up, yet they are, and for good reason.

Michelle Z said...

"100% silence from the organization" -- From RR? You can't mean RR. I talked to you while you were in Serbia -- we even Skyped so I could meet Axel! (and he was so cute, already learning to sign!) You talked to Shelley often, if not daily -- how is that silence? Unless I'm misinterpreting and you mean the adoption agency? I don't know them at all. But I don't think you can fairly say you had 100% silence from RR.

And I don't know any of our board members who are also on the board of anywhere else ... but I'm still pretty new. I don't know all the board members that well.

Families in Ukraine right now are using at least 4 different facilitation teams that I know of. True, most use the same team, but there's no rule stating they HAVE to use this team. That's the team we used for our adoption, and I plan to use them again if we ever adopt again.

Who's harassing families about paper work? Please, tell them to email me if that's happening, I'd gladly help them sort things out.

Linnea said...

You are not going to make friends with this post, but some times the truth hurts. :)

Thank you for speaking up about something you feel passionate about.

Be blessed


Stephanie @ Ralphcrew said...

If you have a problem with your Ukrainian facilitator two things will happen.

#1. If you complain to RR, they (Andrea in particular) will absolutely NOT back you up. They are not an agency, remember? They have no contractual obligation to you. How convenient.

Better not blog about it, you will be asked to sanitize what you've shared.

#2. If you complain to RR, your facilitator can make the rest of your trip a living hell. Threats, intimidation, extra trips for paperwork (more $$), padding the cost of passports (cha-ching again) have all been reported by multiple families.

Nance said...

We just returned TODAY from Ukraine. RR KNEW we were adopting Inna, I have the email to prove it, and they continued to advocate for her!!! They wanted a family to come rescue her when they knew we were working hard trying to get her home. They would NOT give me any information on Inna when they knew I was not going to use their facilitation team. Nor did they offer the grant money as they have for other families not using "their" facilitator team. They gave me NO INFO on Inna because we had our own facilitator!!! I knew they wouldn't and that is why we received all the information on her BEFORE we left her baby house in 2010 from the caretakers.......OH, OH Serge, better get the director to reprimand those mean old caretakers!!! Serge, since he along with RR knew we were "rescuing" Inna made threats to our facilitator and said VERY HORRIBLE things about Ken and our family!! I also have proof of that ladies! He knew she was transferred and yet he never passed that info on to RR?!? Well, maybe he did and RR never updated it?!?! Oh, and by the way, we paid Serge 21,000 dollars in CASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I know, I will be hated now and will get some nasty comments on my blog and maybe even an email or two but this HAS TO STOP! The money we spent to bring Inna home opened our eyes even more as to what things REALLY cost in Ukraine! Passports, Court costs, defenders if need be. I know every region is different but please 100% mark up is a little shameful!!!!!! Inna was in the same region as we were in last year! Very, very SAD!

Michelle Z said...

Hi Nance!! Congratulations on Inna :) I just heard a couple days ago that you were adopting Inna -- if you had done the RR grant paperwork, I could've given you any grant money that might have been available for older girls at that time. Grants are NOT tied to specific facilitators! I'm so sorry I didn't know earlier you were adopting, or I would have been happy to explain that.

Congrats! Inna is a beautiful girl!

Leah S. said...

Michelle, I don't know that a board member of the organization is also on the board of another. But a board member IS a paid employee of one of the adoption agencies that the organization refers to. When I was communicating to her while I was in country, it was as a representative of the adoption agency, not the organization. This is where conflict of interest comes into play. Just like when I talked to you via skype, were you talking to me as my friend (my understanding) or as a representative of the organization? I don't remember discussing anything related to the organization. Just general post adoption stuff, and comparing notes about our kids, etc.

Nance: Were you ever given the opportunity to fill out the grant paperwork? Even if you weren't, and the organization knew you were adopting her, I wonder why she was kept up on the "available child" page? I think I remember having seen other kids who's adoptions were happening outside of the organization, and it seems like there was a notation about them being in process, just not with a family in the organization.

Michelle: I consider you a friend. Just because I have had issues with the organization in general does not mean I have a problem with everyone in it. You said yourself you don't know everything that goes on in the organization, and that is evident by your responses here. That is why people didn't come to you with certain questions. They are questions for the organization director, which have been left unanswered. When that happens, people stop trusting. Those who've had problems have either stopped blogging, or haven't said A WORD publicly. Several have come to me, or to other families because they've learned the hard way that the organization is not going to stand behind them. People should not be fearful in country. They should not be coming home fearful, but that is EXACTLY what his happening, and it isn't news to the organization director.

Marianne said...

Hi Leah, I just wanted to clarify some things you said in your post which are not quite accurate. I have been volunteering with RR for a few months now as the new family liaison. No one is "sold" the information for a child! The $1000 is a promise trust deposit which is fully refundable and is only for families adopting from Ukraine. Other families go through adoption agencies pay a non-refundable deposit (for countries other than Ukraine). RR does not keep it if a child become unavailable for adoption. If the family chooses not to adopt for whatever reason after committing, then the money would likely remain with the child as a grant for the next family. The only "fee" is the $25 grant application fee, which is also to set up FSPs. The $250 is not a fee but a donation RR asks for that helps with operational expenses; families are told this is a donation and not required. I know that sometimes it is very sad that a child becomes unavailable for adoption, but I also wanted to say the same thing happens here in the States! I met a mom recently who had their daughter for 6 months (through the foster system), then somehow she had grandparents who were never notified about her birth and who want custody of her. Things unfortunately happen abroad and also here in the States to a child's eligibility. I know not every family has been happy with the facilitators, but I did want to say that there are also many, many families who were very pleased with them and do use the same teams again. We used Serge for our adoption last year and I have no complaints. We were never asked for a dime more than our facilitation fees. Also, we were able to get a receipt for the facilitation fees as were any other family who asked so they could have for taxes.

Marianne said...

I also wanted to say that I truly am sorry for your experience with your facilitator and any others who have had not-so-pleasant experiences with their facilitators! I only know of my own experience that we had no issues and of many others who have had great experiences, too. But I know that is not always the case and I really am sorry :-(

Stephanie @ Ralphcrew said...

Ladies, I love you hearts and your loyalty, but the truth is that if the information is not explicitly sold then the sale of that information is implied by the fact that if you wish to you a different facilitation team you will not get the information needed to pursue that child.

Nance absolutely could NOT have filled out grant paperwork with RR. Their whole adoption had to be completely secret for fear that Serge would sabbotage it, which in fact, he did try to do. RR should offer them their child's grant as they have done in the past for other families who adopted RR-listed children outside of RR.

I'm glad that you other ladies had a great experience, but would you feel comfortable referring families to a man who has made death threats and more?

Michelle Z said...

Steph, I would use Serge and his team again in a heartbeat. I have NO knowledge of his doing anything worse than yelling at people -- and frankly, that's a cultural difference, for the most part. Everyone was yelling at each other all the time!

Like I said earlier, we have families in country right now (or recently home) using at LEAST 4 different facilitation teams -- and they all have the information for their child.

Inna didn't have a grant, and I don't know what older child funds were available at that time. We've had families adopt that choose to stay anonymous for various reasons, that would not have been anything unusual.

I'm not sure when Serge became the boogeyman, but I don't think everything that goes wrong in the country can be blamed on him.

Michelle Z said...

I understand people can and do become disenchanted with an organization -- but to vilify an organization hurts the people behind it.

You can say this doesn't involve me, but it really does. There's only a handful of people IN the organization, and I've been behind the scenes for almost a year.

It would be different to say, "I don't like this person" or "I don't agree with this policy" but that's not what's happening in. It's broad strokes of anger against RR as a whole.

J Sam said...

Has anybody thought of contacting the media? The CBC (Canadian network) recently did a series on successes/problems/etc in international adoption, as did Foreign Affairs magazine (EJ Graff was the author) last year, etc.

Stephanie @ Ralphcrew said...


The organization is aware of the problems with it's facilitators and it's system of committment and has not been responsive. Things are not right. You can keep defending the status quo and be part of the problem or, as a representative of the organization, you can lobby for some much needed changes.

Nance said...

Inna DID have grant money. Twice in fact. When I had a conversation with RR telling them that we were going back for Inna, which they already knew before I told them (long story) the older girls grant was over 5000.00. And Michelle, thank you for your congratulations on us bringing Inna home. You are the FIRST person that I know of from RR that told us this!!! Seriously, thank you!!! I did not know who you were to contact you asking about her grant money. I only talked with Andrea and she told us that as long as I didn't get any information on Inna from RR then we could go ahead and use our own facilitator. I would have thought the director would have offered me the grant money at that time?!?! And please don't tell me she doesn't know who has grant money and who doesn't. I understand she is a busy women but please, She is the director. RR knew we were going to go back for Inna WHILE we were still in Ukraine last year. Then once we came home is when WE officially told them.
I am very pleased and happy that families had a good/great experience with Serge and the team. I am NOT saying you did not. What I, along with other families are saying is that WE DID NOT! Please respect our experience as we respect yours. There would be no reason what so ever for any of us to lie or make up things about how we were treated or what was asked for us to "pay". I know that Ken just paid $18.75 to have Inna's passport expedited from the same exact region, same place that we were at last year and were asked to pay 200 dollars per passport - three kids, 600 cash, not paid to the passport workers but to the facilitation team?!?! There is so much more to our story but that will be for my blog not poor Leah's!!! Sorry about this Leah.
I guess the thing that upsets me the most is the way Serge talked to our 15 year old on our second to last day in Ukraine of last year! It was how he was screaming at her and what he said to her while Ken and I were at the Delta office in Kiev. It's terrible to treat and threaten adults this way but it is just plain SICK to do it to a 15 year old girl and scare the hell out of her!!!!!!!!!!! I will tell my story to whoever will listen on how we were treated.
One more thing, if RR were to pay me anything (hahahahaha) I would tell them to make the check out to TLC!!!!!!