02 Aug 2011

The Author

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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A State Investigation of the State Investigations into CCI?

Carrie Hoeppner, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families, has been dealing with my numerous public records requests since January 2009. She’s  somehow managed to be professional and helpful, no matter how much I ask for. Last week, I contacted DCF to inquire about the standing of Celebrate Children International’s operating license in Ethiopia. When we finally caught up by phone, there seemed to be three interesting developments of note:

1. Sue Hedberg sent an email to the Florida Department of Children and Families, dated July 16, 2011, saying CCI was facing “difficulty due to closure of orphanages” in Ethiopia. Sue told DCF that 40 orphanages in Ethiopia had been closed, and that out of 84 Ethiopian adoptions currently being handled by Celebrate Children International, a total of 18 would be affected. Apparently, Sue didn’t say why the orphanages were shut down. The agency director expressed relief that CCI had started a Congo program to act as a” backup.” I’ll be writing more about Congolese adoptions later this week as soon as I find time. If you’re adopting from the Congo, I’d love to hear about your experience. Send me an email at erinsiegal (at) gmail.com.

2. The Florida Department of Children and Families has handed their investigations into Celebrate Children International up the chain of command to the Florida Office of the Inspector General for review. “We want to make sure we did everything right,” DCF’s spokesperson told me. “There were some pretty serious issues, like Ms. Urban and Ms. Emanuel’s complaints.”

3. Last but not least, DCF says Sue Hedberg recently asked Florida DCF about becoming licensed to operate in domestic adoptions. The DCF spokesperson said she was a little surprised at the request, since she’d been under the impression that Celebrate Children International might be closing in the next few years. Indeed, an email from Sue Hedberg in the most recent batch of public records I received from Florida DCF said the same: in one email dated January 6, 2011, Sue writes, “I expect to close my agency within the next few years.”

Or maybe not?

After getting off the phone with DCF, I called the Florida Office of the Inspector General to make another public records request into their investigation of the DCF investigation. The staffer who answered the phone said that they’d be able to get me documents this week– and I received an email with electronic records just hours later.  They explained that the Audit Section of the Office of the Inspector General was handling part of the review, and so I also called the Audit Section, placing yet another records request.

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