Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Makes Me Nervous

This is about that guy who flew around the world with TB:

Health officials worry about "multidrug-resistant" TB, which can withstand the mainline antibiotics isoniazid and rifampin. The man was infected with something even worse — "extensively drug-resistant" TB, also called XDR-TB, which resists many drugs used to treat the infection.

There have been 17 U.S. XDR-TB cases since 2000, according to CDC statistics.

The highly dangerous form is "expanding around the world," particularly in South Africa, eastern Europe and the former states of the Soviet Union, he said.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A good thought to start the holiday weekend

"The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss but that it is too low and we achieve it"

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own, even if she never wants to or needs to.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE something perfect to wear if the employer, or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a youth she's content to leave behind.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to retelling it in her old age.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE one friend who always makes her laugh and one who lets her cry.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal, that will make her guests feel honored.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a feeling of control over her destiny.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW how to fall in love without losing herself.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW when to try harder and when to walk away.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW that she can't change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW that her childhood may not have been perfect but it's over.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW what she would and wouldn't do for love or more.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW how to live alone even if she doesn't like it.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW whom she can trust, whom she can't, and why she shouldn't take it personally.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW where to go - be it to her best friend's kitchen table or a charming inn in the woods when her soul needs soothing.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW what she can and can't accomplish in a day, a month, and a year.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Running Together Across a Field

When Agencies Go Bad (warning... long)

Reaching Arms International claimed to specialize in placing European orphans. But prospective parents say they've been left heartbroken.

The Adoption Scam


Chad and Julia Sandstrom had two biological children of their own, but they wanted to adopt a third. Julia was drawn to the idea because her father was adopted, while Chad thought it was a good way to avoid contributing to the overpopulation problem.

Unlike many adoptive parents who have their hearts set on an infant, the Sandstroms wanted an older orphan. "I wanted to give a child a family," says Julia Sandstrom.

After family friends played host to an orphan visiting from Russia, the couple knew their time had come. In January 2005, they went to a party hosted by the local adoption agency their friends had used. Located in New Hope, Reaching Arms International specialized in placing Eastern European children. The Sandstroms came away impressed by the passion of RAI's founder, Nila Hilton, who had dedicated her life to working with orphans. Julia Sandstrom checked out other agencies on the internet, but they liked the fact that Reaching Arms was just 30 miles from their Stillwater home.

"We could drive to do business there," she says. "It felt more real and safe."

So in February 2005, the Sandstroms visited the office to meet their caseworker and hear about Reaching Arms' programs in Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia. They chose Armenia. It was cheaper than Russia, and easier than the Ukraine. The Sandstroms came through their home study with flying colors and quickly won the Armenian government's approval.But then months came and went. The following January, their caseworker told them the delay was because older children were harder to find. The Sandstroms asked Reaching Arms to broaden its search to include any healthy female children under the age of four.

In May 2006, they got news that a four-month-old girl had been found. Because Eastern European orphans are at high risk for retardation and fetal alcohol syndrome, the Sandstroms asked the University of Minnesota's International Adoption Clinic to look at their prospective daughter's case file. It offered precious little information—the pictures were blurry and the only medical information was that the baby was born 10 weeks premature.

The Sandstroms asked the caseworker for help getting more details. A week later, Nila Hilton called. Hilton told Julia Sandstrom that the clinic had misdiagnosed other orphans and could not be trusted, the Sandstroms say. Hilton also warned that Armenian officials would be offended if the Sandstroms turned down the baby.

"Mrs. Hilton's telling us we have to make a decision right away," Julia recalls. "Meanwhile, the U is saying this could potentially be a very serious medical issue."

The couple stood their ground, and a checkup with an outside doctor and new pictures proved the girl healthy. Then the family got another shock: They had been told the fees for the Armenian part of the process would come to $8,000, but now Hilton said they'd have to pay $17,000-$20, 000. When the Sandstroms questioned her about the increase, Hilton said adopting an infant was more expensive than an older child.

"At that point, we had no bargaining room," says Julia. "Her room was ready, her clothes had been purchased, her picture had been shown to family."

Two weeks before the Sandstroms were supposed to go to Armenia, their caseworker called and said she'd left the agency. Julia couldn't get Hilton on the phone, so she drove to Reaching Arms. The building had been put up for sale.

"It looked like they were ready to cut and run," she says. "We were left high and dry."

In 1991, Nila and Bill Neumiller went on a church trip to Russia and toured a number of orphanages."She came back a changed person," recalls Bill Neumiller (now her ex-husband).

"She went to minister to orphans, and saw the conditions in which they lived and saw the hollowness in their eyes. And it really affected her."

Both Neumillers were deeply religious, and both were sure Nila was being called to save orphans. Back in Minnesota, she quit her job, enrolled in ministerial training at her Charismatic church, and started looking into opening an adoption agency.

The Neumillers installed a drafting table and a second phone line in their basement, and Nila got to work. To get a state license to place children, she would need to be supervised by a licensed social worker. She met one at lunch a few days later, and the woman agreed to help for free. Nila Neumiller also stumbled upon several Russian immigrants who had good contacts back in the home country.

In 1995, Reaching Arms placed its first orphans, three Russian sisters. Before long, the agency was placing 60 children a year. After homes had been found for 100 children, the Neumillers organized a reunion picnic. The memory still makes Bill Neumiller choke up.

"We noticed how many of the children came from the same orphanage and knew each other," he says. "They ran up and hugged each other and then pointed out their parents."

Over the next decade, the agency placed some 800 to 900 children, Bill Neumiller says. Its newsletters were peppered with stories of families moved to accept not chubby-cheeked infants, but children who are notoriously difficult to place: older kids, children with serious disabilities, and groups of siblings.

"Nila was the visionary," Bill Neumiller says. "She would see things and I would say, 'What do you see?' And then we would work together to establish bricks and mortar."

Her passion was contagious, agrees a former employee who asked to be identified by only her first name, Angela.

"She made a lot of dreams come true for a lot of people," Angela says. "Plenty of times she would put her own money, her reputation, and her energy on the line to get into a country. I think it was because she had a blind faith she would get into these countries."

In 1996, the Neumillers adopted a fifth child, a six-year-old Russian girl. Ten months earlier, Reaching Arms had placed the girl with a New Jersey family who now wanted to send the girl back."

Our hearts were broken," Bill Neumiller says. "Because of this situation, we didn't have to choose, we just had to react."

In 1999, Reaching Arms opened an orphanage in Ukraine. Friends from the Neumillers' church sent blankets, clothes, and toys and then traveled to the Ukrainian home. Back home, Nila Neumiller spoke frequently about her work to Rotary clubs and other groups.

"The word 'charisma' always comes up with her," Angela says. "Nila naturally attracted people who are energetic and fun-loving, who like to take life seriously, people who don't just blend in."

But she had no patience for the details, according to Angela and another former employee interviewed as a part of the state investigations. According to their sworn statements, and to City Pages' interview with Bill Neumiller, both donations and fees paid by adopting families got deposited into a single bank account. Families' payments for future services paid for the most pressing bills, regardless of which adoption they were for.

It was a constant struggle to pay the bills, Bill Neumiller says. "There was hardly any money to begin with," he says. Add to that the difficulty of working in many countries. "If the process wasn't changing, the government was changing."

"I think Nila tried to hold everything together by a very thin thread," Angela adds. "I think her vision was strong and good and I think she got misdirected by her own weaknesses."

Today, Reaching Arms is out of business. In March, the state Department of Human Services, which oversees adoption agencies, revoked its license after finding dozens of violations of Minnesota's adoption rules. At the state attorney general's request, the agency's books are undergoing a court-ordered audit. According to investigations conducted by both state agencies, Reaching Arms asked for tens of thousands of dollars from families even before determining they were qualified to adopt. Human Services investigators also concluded that the agency charged fees that weren't disclosed up front, increased fees months into the adoptions, falsified documents, and threatened to halt the adoptions of families who complained.

According to affidavits on file in the attorney general's case, several families were ordered to undergo spiritual and psychological counseling with the husband of the agency's director and founder, who is not a licensed psychologist. One family was given a contract to adopt a child from Kenya, even though Reaching Arms was not authorized to perform Kenyan adoptions. Another family had its credit card charged without its knowledge.

Some of the families eventually managed to adopt the children they were offered, albeit through different agencies and at the cost of additional tens of thousands of dollars. Others never got their children.

Nila Hilton—she has been divorced and remarried and was running Reaching Arms with her new husband, Tom Hilton, before it was shut down—declined to be interviewed for this story, as did Tom Hilton. Their attorney didn't return several calls requesting comment. The Hiltons did provide a written statement saying the agency has been wrongly portrayed."Part of the reason [Reaching Arms] has remained silent to this point is to protect the confidentiality of our clients," the statement reads. "If we were free to openly discuss the facts involved we strongly believe the negative publicity would not have painted such an ugly picture."

Ann and Andrew Spurbeck live in a yellow farmhouse on top of a ridge overlooking a thick swath of topsoil that's rotated between corn and soybeans. There's a picturesque horse farm across the road, complete with whitewashed split-rail fences, and not far beyond that, pristine Lake Waconia.

The couple's three biological children, ages 11, 13, and 15, sweep in and out of French doors that lead onto a wide wrap-around porch, trailed by a gaggle of friends. They're chasing the dog, which is fetching muddy golf balls knocked into the yard from a golf course on the other side of the ridge.

The Spurbecks don't have as much money as the spread suggests. Ann is a stay-at-home mom and Andrew works in tech support at SuperValu. They're frugal, and the land under the house has been in the family for years.Still, they feel blessed. And that sense of gratitude is why they wanted to bring an orphan to live in the sprawling, sunny farmhouse.

In February 2005, the Spurbecks began checking into several adoption agencies. Reaching Arms placed the kind of kids they wanted—Eastern European children between the ages of four and seven—but it also appealed to them for other, more spiritual reasons.

"They promoted themselves as a Christian and humanitarian agency, and that meant a lot to me," Ann says.

So the couple borrowed $25,000 against their home equity and began the complicated process. The Spurbecks spent six months getting approved, but then a shakeup in the Ukrainian government put a stop to all foreign adoptions. When the country finally began allowing adoptions again 13 months later, the Spurbecks scrambled to update their immigration documents.

Last fall, the Spurbecks were finally told to get ready. They went to the Reaching Arms offices and paid $4,100 to cover their fees and expenses in Ukraine. Nila Hilton took their check and left, promising to wire it to Reaching Arms' Ukrainian intermediary right away, the Spurbecks say.

Their caseworker told them the money would pay for a number of expenses in Ukraine, including the intermediary who would serve as their guide and translator. The guide would first take them to the government adoption bureau, where they would see pictures of available girls, then to orphanages to meet the kids they were most interested in.

The caseworker told the Spurbecks to take their time deciding, Ann recalls. They shouldn't take on a child with whom they didn't feel a bond, and under no circumstances should they pay a bribe.Ann had heard the same thing over and over from families who'd been through the adoption process: You get a picture, or meet a child, and you just know. The tens of thousands of dollars, the months of forms and checklists and snafus recede, replaced by the certainty that this child should join your family.

But when the Spurbecks arrived in Kyiv last December, they felt like characters in a Kafka novel. For starters, their money never arrived. At the state Department of Adoption, they were shown into a bare room where three women sat at desks. A woman in her late 20s showed them pictures of sibling groups, then of four individual girls—the only orphans in the country eligible for adoption, she insisted. The Spurbecks were told they had one hour to choose a child.

When the couple pressed to see more files, the woman jumped up and grabbed a three-ring binder from the top of a filing cabinet. She stabbed a finger at the photos and hissed, "Has cerebral palsy. Invalid. Can't eat. Can't sit up." Then she looked up at the couple and sneered: "You must not be ready to adopt if you cannot make a decision."

Feeling like they had no choice, the Spurbecks agreed to meet the girl the officials were pushing the hardest. A 12-hour train trip brought them to Tourez, where the orphanage was located. An old coal-mining city, it was desolate. When Ann asked to use a bathroom at the orphanage, a cleaning lady led her to a tiny room that contained a toilet with no seat. The tub was filled with brackish water and the cleaning woman was washing clothes in it.

The Spurbecks had been told they'd see their prospective daughter as part of a larger group of children, to keep her expectations down in case the couple decided not to adopt her. Instead, the orphanage staff brought a single girl into the office. "Daddy, Mommy," she cried, jumping into Andrew's lap and throwing her arms around his neck.

The Spurbecks stayed for several hours, waiting to feel a bond with the girl, but it never materialized. As the Spurbecks were leaving, the orphanage director told their translator they should give him $600 cash and wire an additional $1,000 to his bank account if they wanted to complete the adoption. They refused.

Back in Kyiv, the guide went back to the Department of Adoption and argued for another chance. The officials claimed to be insulted, but eventually said the Spurbecks could come back in 12 days and look at more pictures. But Andrew was already almost out of vacation time, and back home in Waconia, relatives were caring for their three biological children with Christmas just days away.

They called Nila Hilton for guidance. But when they finally got through to her, Ann says, Hilton didn't offer any suggestions, just told them she hoped they would choose a child.

"She said, 'Well, I hope you can open your hearts to an orphan,'" Ann recalls.

When the Spurbecks arrived back home, Ann called Hilton and asked her to return the $4,100 that was never sent to Ukraine. They arranged to meet, but when the Spurbecks showed up at Reaching Arms, the lights were off and the only person there was a secretary.

"I said, 'Do you even know who we are?'" Ann recalls. The secretary was apologetic, and looked shocked as the Spurbecks explained the reason for their appointment.The couple stopped for dinner on their way home. While they were eating, Hilton called and accused Ann of abusing her staff.

"She said, 'I'm not going to take this verbal abuse from you,'" Ann recalls. "She said I needed to deal with my emotional outbursts before we could talk about returning the money."

The Spurbecks never heard from Hilton again.

"It's taken a toll on us," Ann says. "I was imagining a little one, you know?"

At their first meeting with Reaching Arms, Beth and Brad Kantor were offered a baby boy from Guatemala, they say. The couple hadn't filled out a single form before Nila Hilton stuck her head into the meeting and showed them a picture of a three-month- old boy.

They had two biological children and wanted another, but Beth wasn't anxious to go through another pregnancy. Besides, they liked the idea of taking in a child that might not otherwise find a good home.

"The thought of children out there with no one, no parent to love them, breaks my heart," Beth Kantor says. "That's not the case in our family, we find it so easy to love them."

By the summer of 2005, the Kantors finally had the money to begin the adoption process. They wanted to adopt from Guatemala because the children are relatively healthy, alcoholism rates are low, and the money they sent to the country would go toward taking care of orphans. Beth drove back to Reaching Arms with the completed paperwork and a check for $15,300. They were told the baby would be home by Christmas.

They quickly realized it wouldn't be that simple. For the first month after they signed the contract, the Kantors' caseworker wouldn't return Beth's calls. When the couple finally reached her, she blew up, saying that they asked too many questions and needed to "stay in line."

Nila and Bill Neumiller had separated earlier in the year, and Nila had remarried. Her new husband, Tom Hilton, started working at Reaching Arms. In October 2005, the agency sent a letter to current and former clients offering Tom Hilton's counseling services."Families may continue to need counsel and support in dealing with difficult issues long after the adoption," the letter stated, according to the state licensing investigation. "You may be in relationship to RAI through ways other than adoption. We welcome you and your family to also benefit from [Tom Hilton's] counsel."

Tom Hilton was a licensed drug and alcohol addiction counselor, but not a psychologist. But Beth Kantor knew none of this when she called Nila Hilton to complain about her calls not being returned. Tom Hilton called Beth back and asked her to come in for a meeting. When she got to the agency, Beth says, Tom Hilton grilled her.

"He asked about my sex life with my husband, my sexual history," she says. "Did I believe in Jesus? Yes. Did I believe in the devil? I said I had some problems with the devil. He said, 'You're going to have problems with your adopted child if you don't cast the devil out of your family.'"

The devil's hold on them was the reason she couldn't get pregnant, Tom Hilton continued. Beth didn't bother setting him straight about their biological kids. Instead, she tried to get out of the meeting without upsetting him.

"We were repeatedly told that if we were difficult, they would disrupt our adoption," Beth says. "We decided to lay low, to not ask so many questions."

A few weeks later, Tom Hilton again told the Kantors to undergo "mandatory spiritual counseling" with him, the couple says. Beth asked if they could see their own minister or counselor. Tom Hilton replied that the agency could put their adoption on hold if they didn't come to counseling.One day, Beth went to Reaching Arms' New Hope office to turn in some paperwork. The caseworker needed her husband's signature on several different Guatemalan powers of attorney. Beth said she'd drive back with the signed form, but the caseworker said not to bother, Beth recalls.

"She said, 'Just hold it up against a window [and trace the signature], that's what I do.'"

In February, the Kantors received a form letter from Nila Hilton asking for donations. Reaching Arms was on "the brink of ruin," she wrote, because of "uncertainties that come with international adoptions."

Terrified, the couple hired an attorney, who advised them to immediately terminate their contract with the agency. When they tried, the Hiltons again threatened to stop their adoption, Beth says. This time, the couple ignored the threat: They were already talking to Reaching Arms' Guatemalan agent, who agreed to take their paperwork to another agency.

But Reaching Arms had one more surprise for the Kantors: The agency withheld their home study and sent a letter to the Department of Human Services saying the pair had refused to attend the mandatory counseling sessions, Beth says. And because their tempers had been called into question on the record, the Kantors' second home study was extremely thorough.

"We had to pay for a new home study and make sure it was ironclad," Beth says. "We had to spend extra time proving we didn't have anger issues."

It was another six months before their adopted son, who was then 17 months old, finally came home.

Rick Spaulding and Tinia Moulder thought it was strange that Reaching Arms offered them a baby just days after they signed a contract with the agency in November 2005.

The couple didn't take that first child, but two months later Reaching Arms offered them another. This time, Spaulding and Moulder agreed to take the girl, and handed over their first big payment: $15,250. In celebration, their friends surprised them with a trip to Guatemala to visit the child.

Soon after the couple arrived there in February 2006, Spaulding started to suspect there were problems. The baby was lovely and healthy, but paperwork that Reaching Arms was supposed to send weeks ago had just arrived. They knew they were a few months from being able to take the girl home, but the first steps, like the process of making sure the baby was legally adoptable, hadn't even begun.

Back home, they started asking questions but got few answers.

"We kept hearing, 'Oh, we're going to do that,' and, 'We'll do that,'" Spaulding says. "Over a five-month period, we were told 15 times that they were on top if it."

Reaching Arms' staff came and went with alarming speed. The couple went through two caseworkers. After the second left, Nila Hilton took over the case.

In September, the couple visited Guatemala again to see the baby they planned to adopt. Their caseworker was no longer with the agency, so Spaulding called Nila Hilton to ask for a translator and a contact person to set up a meeting with the child's foster mother. She told him that the agency didn't provide this service. Spaulding countered that the agency had provided the service the first time they visited Guatemala.Tempers flared.

After Spaulding told Nila Hilton it didn't sound like she "had a thorough understanding of the Guatemala process," she hung up on him, Spaulding says. She called back 10 minutes later, accused Spaulding of having "anger issues," and threatened to quash the adoption. Hours later, Tom Hilton called and said that if the couple still wanted to adopt, Spaulding and Moulder would have to agree to counseling with him at a rate of $40 a session.

While reading an online adoption forum, the couple discovered that they weren't the only people who had questioned the Hiltons only to be accused of having anger issues that could derail the adoption.

The families all felt the same way, Spaulding says: "We could not question the Hiltons or complain at the risk of losing our daughter."

Ten months into the process, Spaulding and Moulder concluded that playing nice wouldn't bring the baby home. So they started lodging complaints. They called the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the state Attorney General's Office, and a private attorney. They prodded the angry families they'd met online to do the same, and they kept calling until they were sure investigations were underway.

"The people at DHS and the Attorney General's Office who are pursuing this are doing a great job," says Spaulding. "It was horrible watching families get dragged in during the six months the investigation has gone on. I called DHS once a month. I kept asking, 'What are you going to do? Why are you letting them get new families?'"

The investigation took seven months because new families kept calling to complain, making it larger and more complex, a DHS spokeswoman says. Investigators ultimately interviewed more than 30 families. State officials can't stop agencies from doing business until their license is revoked, something that's never before happened in Minnesota.

In March, the state finally revoked Reaching Arms' license. Earlier this month, the Children's Home Society took over its unfinished cases. Two weeks ago, Spaulding and Moulder learned that their adoption had entered its final phase. They hope to bring their girl home in a few weeks, but they also know that because their case involved Reaching Arms, it's getting extra scrutiny at every step.

"We're just angry we've been put in this situation," says Spaulding. "We thought the kind of scrutiny we went through to become adoptive parents would apply to the whole process, and we were wrong."

Shortly after the new agency called them with the news, Spaulding's cell phone rang. Nila Hilton's number came up on the display. He couldn't bring himself to answer, but he did listen to the message she left. It said she was calling because she had "good news."

When the Sandstroms finally realized Reaching Arms wasn't going to help them finish adopting a baby girl, Julia Sandstrom swung into action. She got her paperwork from the agency's social worker and called a friend who had twice used the agency to adopt from Armenia.

The two set up a command post at the Sandstroms' kitchen table. They found a translator, as well as the email address for Reaching Arms' Armenian contact.

Their Armenian hosts turned out to be charming, efficient, and prepared to spend the month showing the Sandstroms around the country and teaching them about the culture.

"They were nice and kind and honest. They really made sure everything on their end went well," Julia says. "We saw the entire country. We saw every hot spot, all the major historical sites."

It felt like a vacation, except at the end, in October, they brought their baby home. People adopting from Armenia have to promise the government there they will raise the child in the Armenian culture, so the Sandstroms found Minnesota's Armenian community.

"It's opened our family to a whole new world," Julia says. "We have a whole new set of friends."

Best of all, their daughter is 15 months old and everything they ever dreamed she would be.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Karma's a Bitch

I've become superstitious so to speak.

I figured that for every (well, most) bad, unethical, immoral thing I've ever done has had its payback.

"I get it, I get it..." I told my karma witch. "I didn't get that bloody awesome job a few months back because I lied to an old boss and said that I had the flu when I really was getting a pedicure."

Since I don't want anything to curse my adoption, I'm going out of my way to make sure not a single thing, thought, word or action can come back and bite me in the ass.

When something happens in my favor such as a grocery clerk gives me back a fricking nickle over what is owed, I make sure I return it. (Mind you, I never would have before.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pressure Cooker (this is why I grind my teeth)

10 Things Your Adoption Agency Won't Tell You

By Michele Marchetti (
March 17, 2004

1. "Want to adopt? You're on your own."
Adoption may seem an altruistic endeavor, but it's also a big business — and a loosely regulated one. "Nobody's watching for cheaters," says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of Adoption Nation.

Adoption has always been a local, not federal, issue, and statutes governing it vary from state to state. Few states, Pertman says, go far enough in monitoring and enforcing standards that would prevent adoption agencies from pressuring pregnant women and lying to adoptive parents. So buyer beware.

How can you start the process with confidence? Avoid searching the Web blindly; the Internet is replete with agencies that lack a physical location — a major red flag. Instead, check out the National Adoption Directory, a database funded by the Department of Health and Human Services that lists licensed agencies by state. You can research an agency's history of complaints by contacting the licensing specialist — also listed on the site — in the state where your adoption will take place. Finally, the directory can point you to support groups that offer independent references for an agency.

2. "We have no idea how long this will take."
When prospective parents ask how long an adoption will take, agencies often quote an average of one to two years. But the process can take months longer.

First, a social worker conducts a home study to gauge your ability to become an adoptive parent. It includes essays, counseling, home visits and FBI clearance. Agencies typically don't include time for the home study in their estimates, so be sure to factor in the four months it often takes.
International adoptions, in which the children often come from orphanages, can get slowed down by the country of origin's political problems or red tape.

3. "Speed now can mean heartache later."
Although domestic adoptions are very rarely contested in court, experts estimate that about half of birth moms decide to keep the child at some point between the initial verbal commitment to adoption and the official termination of legal rights after the birth.

If an agency promises brisker-than-average results, take it as a warning that it may not be adequately investigating who else in the birth mother's family is involved. Ask if the agency has ruled out the possibility of any biological relatives trying to claim the child.

4. "You make a lot of money? Oops, our fee just went up."
Using an agency for an adoption usually costs between $15,000 and $30,000, according to Pertman. Your out-of-pocket costs can include a home study, the process of identifying a child, placement fees and postplacement visits by a social worker. For international adoptions, they may also include the cost of visas, document translation and a contribution to the orphanage. The precise fee you'll pay for each service varies from one agency to the next. To comparison-shop, ask agencies for an itemized list of charges, and consider dropping any firm that won't cooperate.

Be wary of any agency that asks for your financial information before providing an itemized list of charges. A home study, required for all adoptions, usually runs between $1,000 and $3,000, but lobbyist Hogan recently came across an agency that was charging consumers 10 percent of their annual income. Other agencies have inflated charges when consumers are eligible for the adoption tax credit. If your 2003 income is below $192,390, you can claim all or a portion of the $10,130 credit. "If the agency knows a family will be eligible, they may increase the cost of the adoption because, after all, the family will get it back in their taxes," Hogan says.

5. "Our quoted fee is only a fraction of what you'll spend."
Besides checking the breakdown of an agency's fees, you'll need to ask about extra costs that often aren't listed at all. In an international adoption, many parents find that once they arrive in the particular country, they are asked to pay bribes to grease the wheels with government officials.

6. "We'll apply more pressure than a car salesman."
Preadoptive parents are understandably hesitant to question the kinds of activities that would in other circumstances send them running. Every adoption agency understands this insecurity; the worst firms exploit it with pressure tactics more commonly seen in an automobile dealership. There's even the adoption world's version of the bait and switch — you arrive in a foreign country to find a child who is much older than the one you thought you were adopting or has serious medical problems.

Another tactic in international adoptions: ratcheting up the pressure after the parents have received the medical history and a photo of the child and must decide if they want to adopt him. Some agencies will call the couple on a Friday and give them the weekend to decide. Or they're told that other families or agencies are considering the child, and whoever decides first gets him.
Of course, it would be irresponsible to allow a child to languish in an orphanage while a couple takes six months to decide. The best agencies balance these factors by giving the prospective parents about a week to turn down the referral or to make a tentative verbal commitment with the caveat that they can ask for additional information.

7. "The people we work with overseas are unreliable."
When evaluating a U.S. agency that does international adoptions, ask about the people the agency works with overseas. Often called "agents" or "facilitators," they act as liaisons between the agency and the orphanages.

Many agencies have every intention of working with reputable facilitators, but in too many cases, the go-betweens have sketchy qualifications, as a Michigan family learned after adopting a child from Russia. In the course of a wrongful-adoption suit alleging that the agency failed to disclose the child's multiple congenital anomalies, the parents discovered that the facilitator had no social-work training; he was a furniture refinisher and didn't even speak Russian.

Before committing to an agency, ask about its overseas liaisons. Are they trained child-welfare professionals? To what degree does the agency assume responsibility for the acts of employees and facilitators abroad? How are facilitators paid? Some receive salaries, which is a good sign, while others are paid for each successful find, which encourages unethical players who just want fast cash. Finally, ask your agency if it's insured; if it isn't, you'll have little recourse in a potential lawsuit.

8. "Children adopted overseas have serious health risks."
Many agencies would have you believe that children adopted overseas are healthy kids in need of nothing more than love. But many of these children arrive in the U.S. with problems that are as great as or greater than those faced by children in domestic foster care.

Many children adopted overseas have spent time in institutions. As a result, there is a possibility of medical and developmental issues that should be explored before you bring a child home. For example, fetal alcohol syndrome is common among children adopted from Eastern Europe. Research has also shown that some institutionalized children have difficulty forming close relationships.

The good news is that even the most severe problems can be tackled with early intervention. Some of the best agencies offer classes that cover these issues, but to learn more on your own, check out, which offers a comprehensive online education program entitled With Eyes Wide Open: A Preparation Guide to International Adoption for $25. Also, the list of adoption experts at www. includes relevant articles and studies.

9. "Our medical information is incomplete."
Once you know the potential for health problems, you'll face another hurdle: getting specific medical information about your prospective child overseas. Record keeping in the birth country might have been slipshod, or the child may have been abandoned. Even in such cases, however, some helpful information is usually available — if your agency bothers to get it. According to a survey conducted by the Adoption Institute, 15 percent of the 1,600 responding families adopting overseas reported that their agency withheld details or gave them inaccurate information about the child.

At a minimum, the agency should have material on what the child looked like the day he was brought in — how much he weighed, whether he was responsive — and his current physical and mental health. Typically, the agency will give you a photo or videotape of the child and will hire a translator to provide a summary of his medical report. As soon as you receive the information, ask a pediatrician who specializes in international adoptees to review it. Find one on the directory at the American Academy of Pediatrics' Web site.

You should also request the original documentation so your pediatrician can compare it with the translation, checking for missing pages. Ann Arbor, Mich., pediatrician Jerri Jenista once saw two different medical reports from two different agencies about the same child. One agency failed to translate a critical sentence: "The mother was an alcoholic and murdered the child's sibling."

10. "You got your child . . . See ya!"
The best adoption agencies offer postadoption services that guide parents through a range of problems, from explaining adoption to the child to dealing with their own "postadoption depression," surprisingly common among these parents.

If a child develops a medical condition, parents should be able to call the agency to ask whether it runs in the birth parents' families. One top adoption agency even arranges to have social workers meet with the child's teachers to help them understand any problems. And many parents return to their agency when the child is old enough to consider getting in touch with the birth mother. Many agencies, however, end their services the day you bring your child home.
To evaluate the level of service, ask the agency to give you names and phone numbers of three clients whose adoptions were completed at least three years ago. Ask those adoptive parents how the agency handled both postadoption services and the adoption process itself.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Oops.. won't be 12 months

Under FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) as long as you are a full time employee and have been employed with your current place of employment for the past 12 months, you are guaranteed 12 weeks off for adoption.This is a federal law and ALL employers must abide by it. Now peoplemay not be able to afford 12 weeks off and that is another issue, butagain under federal law you are allowed to take 12 weeks for an adoption.

So far I've been here for one month.