04 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.


Florida DCF: “There is no clear policy on… allegations of human trafficking or harvesting.”

Last week, the Florida Department of Children and Families sent their multiple investigations into the adoption agency Celebrate Children International to the Florida Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for review. After filing a public records request with the OIG, they sent me seven pages of information the same day. Florida’s public records laws are the best in the country– the sunshine state is no joke!

Last year, on November 30, 2010, DCF spokesperson Carrie Hoeppner filed a request with the OIG. Here’s what it said (red highlights are my own):

“Management review is being requested by DCF Central Region in regards to Celebrate Children Incorporated. There have been ongoing complaints since 2004. The Region has found that: Administrative codes governing the licensure of international adoptions have not been updated in approximately 20 years. The State of Florida has not adopted the model or standards (Hague Accreditation) set forth within the Hague Treaty, which has become the accepted accreditation that many host countries now require an agency to obtain in order to participate in the adoption process with that country. CCI was denied a Hague Accreditation and therefore may only work with specific host countries who do not participate in the Hague Treaty. There are questions of whether the Department and the State of Florida should require Hague Accreditation for licensure as a Child Placing Agency. There is no clear policy on who Department personnel should contact or direct clients with concerns outside the licensing scope of the Department, especially with allegations of international human trafficking or harvesting. Locally, licensing staff request additional training to best help them navigate though the various concerns often reported by discouraged clients, which may be outside the jurisdiction of the Department regarding licensing compliance.”

By December 3, 2010, the request had been passed over to the Internal Audit section of the Florida OIG. Here’s the breakdown related to Celebrate Children International provided to the OIG by DCF:

That’s pretty much all that was in the records, since the matter has been passed over to the Internal Audit section. I’m still waiting on them to provide documents to me, after filing a separate records request earlier this week.

On the very last page of this batch of documents, I found something that warmed my heart as an investigative journalist committed to work in the public service. Here it is:

  1. Interesting material Erin. It is really about time for Florida to update its laws and licensing standards.

  2. It really is about time that the state of Florida take the many complaints against CCI seriously and realize that this many complaints about not one, but several different programs administered by CCI is no coincidence! Seriously, FL DCF what will it take for you to open your eyes. For almost 10 years Sue Hedberg has been allowed to operate with highly questionable business practices in the state of Florida, raking in millions of dollars without any significant accountability. FL DCF ask yourself “why would the Council on Accreditation refuse to approve CCI’s accreditation application not once but twice!” They must know something that you apparently refuse to acknowledge! Take off the blinders!

  3. Very glad to see this. It’s a baby step in the right direction for the state of FL. It is my opinion that there is enough in question regarding this agency, to refer at least some of the complaints to the Attorney’s General office for true investigation that goes past just asking the agency director a few questions and reporting her answers as ‘findings’. I think an 8th grader could have done that!
    I hope to see actions rather than words, concerning the out-dated codes in FL. I have been told for ‘years’ now, that they are ‘working’ on it…. all the while, the same behaviors seem to continue in country, after country…. where will it end?

  4. Our complaint was referred to the local sheriff’s department by FL DCF because they found it “unsubstantiated” based on their codes that have nothing to do with international adoption (despite overseeing agencies that do international adoptions). FL DCF then never followed up with the Sheriff, which is detailed in emails that were later FOIA’d. The sheriff’s department referred the fraud case around to several other “investigators” internally in their office. People retired, went of vacations and leaves of absence, all without ever really seeming to get out of their office to investigate a damn thing. Needless to say, nothing happened after 3 years, and I was even fed the line, “maybe the children are better off here in the US”.

    We were told to refer our complaint of fraud to the FL Attorney General by both FL DCF and this same sheriff’s department. We did, and the response we got was the FL AG couldn’t do anything because the agency was registered as non-profit (?)

    We filed complaint with the Office of Children’s Issues at the US Dept of State. They said it was Florida that had to handle most of the complaint (it was “out of their federal scope”), and then threw out any complaint we had that involved DNA fraud for immigration, which clearly is a federal issue ( I’ll never understand that excuse). What I do understand, is that federal authorities don’t want to touch the DNA fraud for immigration issue with a 10 foot pole, so they just ignore it, or pass it onto another agency to wear out the complainant.

    We later filed a complaint with the Council on Accreditation when several of our former agency employees started working for another agency in another state (the oldest trick in the book when an agency wants to re-organize under a shiny new name). True to form, our complaint was “unsubstantiated” and all the same former agency staff continue to work placing children from foreign countries to US households, probably using all the same old tricks. Other staff continue to claim these people’s innocence and lack of complicity in these crimes because “they’re so nice”. But I’ve learned the nicest people are the ones that get away with the meanest crimes, and the adoption industry is full of “nice people”.

    I think David Smolin once said international adoption fraud is the “perfect crime”, in that any accountability is completely unenforceable, because there are simply no laws (or codes) to enforce. In short, international child trafficking is 100% legal, as long as it’s done for “adoption”. A US citizen can essentially go and purchase a child in another country (for whatever purpose) using adoption paperwork, and there is no crime. There was a petition going around recently to expand the definition of human trafficking to include illegal adoptions, an idea I hope gathers steam.

    What needs to be exposed is how pathetically horrid any of the so-called “safeguards” are, and how filing complaints, lawsuits or other actions are completely useless for those that have lived through a similar nightmare. It’s a free for all…. with the US government’s blessings. But it’s all “for the children”, right?

  5. they should hire outside private investigative agencies to conduct independent investigations into these organizations. OIG is just another state-run agency that cannot be unbiased; another arm of the state. i’m a private investigator and i would love to get hired to investigate these organizations; these children deserve better.

  6. I would like open investigation on the adpotion on my daughter.I need to know who I need to speak with.

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