26 Jul 2011

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Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.

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Is Celebrate Children International’s License Suspended in Ethiopia?

UPDATE 7/27/2011, 8:53 am: The Embassy is now saying  that CCI’s is in fact still licensed.  Breaking news this morning: according to the US Embassy, the Ethiopian government has suspended Celebrate Children International’s operating license.   According to Celebrate Children International, this is untrue.

Subject: FW: adoption/ orphanage closure
Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 15:24:29 +0300
From: ConsAdoptionAddis@state.gov
To: [redacted]

Dear [redacted]

It is our understanding that at this time Celebrate Children is suspended by the government of Ethiopia. We do not have current information on which orphanages adoption agencies are working with. This information is not ours to give out nor do we have a reliable way of obtaining it. We also have not received an official list of orphanages that are closing. When we do we will post an adoption alert to adoption.state.gov.

Regards,

Adoption Unit

Privacy/PII

This email is UNCLASSIFIED.

The email was forwarded to me from one of my sources, whose name has been redacted. I’ve reached out to the Department of State, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC, and Celebrate Children International for more information.

When I spoke with Sue Hedberg this morning, through CCI’s online live chat feature, she told me that her agency’s license has never been suspended, and that the Embassy information was incorrect. She also mentioned that nine Ethiopian children had “passed court” yesterday, saying “They would not have passed if we did not have a license!” She seemed surprised by my questions, and asked me to forward the Embassy email. I did, and then asked her why the Embassy would release such a statement. “I have told you that our license is in good standing in Ethiopia and there is no need for continued discussion about this,” she replied. “I am sorry you have received inaccurate information and I cannot say why you have received such information… I guess you would need to go to the source.”

So what’s the real story? Is the US Embassy in Ethiopia telling the truth, or is CCI director Sue Hedberg?

“If you’re getting this from our Embassy in Addis, they’re probably relaying as much as they know,” said Ruth Lincoln from the Adoption Unit at the Department of State. She advised me to call Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) and also the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC for more information. No one answered the phones at either.

When I found a direct line to the Ethiopian Embassy’s Public Relations & Public Diplomacy department, I spoke with a man named Tesfaye Yilma there. “Only in Addis can you find out what happened,” he said. “Most likely, there would be a good reason to suspend a license. The government has been tightening oversight and control over agencies in Ethiopia.” He couldn’t provide any specific details about CCI’s license, but offered to try to find out more about the situation by calling MOWA to ask about the alleged suspension.

A peek at the rest of Celebrate Children International’s website reveals no sign of trouble. “CCI’s Ethiopian program continues to be a success,” the home page reads. “…This is an excellent program for families open to adopting children of all ages.” Online, the agency states that their Ethiopian license is “valid through December 24, 2012.”

I’ll post updates about this news as I receive them. If anyone has information, please drop me an email!

UPDATE 7/27/2011:

An email from the Adoption Unit at the US Embassy in Ethiopia this morning says the following:

‘This is in response to your email dated July 26, 2011 concerning Celebrate Children.  We are unable to provide any specific information regarding investigations. Celebrate Children is currently licensed as an adoption provider in Ethiopia.”

This morning, I also received a call back from Erin Stott, a staffer in the Adoptions Unit at the Department of State who deals specifically with Ethiopia. She said:

“Regarding Celebrate Children International, we don’t have any information from the government of Ethiopia that would confirm what you heard about a suspension. That is something we would make note of, if it were official.  However, in this case, I would probably guide you to either Celebrate Children International themselves, or the government of Ethiopia. Because we don’t have any information on this, there’s no way for us to be able to confirm that particular rumor.”

It’s a pretty big error on the part of the US Embassy in Ethiopia to say that an adoption agency’s license was suspended. I’ve been unable to get anyone to say why this confusion occurred. I’ll post more as any new details come to light.

1 Comment
1 Comments
  1. Now why would she admit that the agency is suspended? How else is she going to dupe families into signing up (AND paying the .. $1300 or is it $1500 fee) to switch programs?? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this one out.. only wish FL dept could follow the A-B-C pattern. ;-)

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