13 Sep 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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Lawsuit: Saint Mary International Adoptions v. the Council on Accreditation

On Friday, September 9, 2011, Charlotte Observer reporter Gavin Off wrote an article about a lawsuit filed by St. Mary’s International Adoptions against the Council on Accreditation. The piece is called “Adoption agency sues to stay open: Saint Mary fears it won’t be able to get children for families.”

“A Charlotte international adoption agency has filed a federal lawsuit against a national accreditation firm to prevent it from temporarily shuttering the adoption agency,” Off writes. “…The suit asks for a temporary restraining order against the New York-based Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services.”

The lawsuit comes from a decision posted to the US Department of State’s Intercountry Adoption website, announcing the following:

“On September 2, 2011, the Council on Accreditation made the decision to temporarily suspend Saint Mary’s International Adoption for failing to maintain substantial compliance with the Hague accreditation standards. Saint Mary’s International Adoption is a Hague accredited adoption service provider; however, they are authorized to operate in both Hague and non-Hague countries. This agency operates in Bulgaria, Poland, and Ukraine. During this suspension, Saint Mary’s International Adoption must cease to provide all adoption services in connection with cases covered under the Hague Convention. If you have an open case with this agency, please contact the adoption service provider directly to find out how this will affect your case. This suspension does not prohibit the adoption service provider from providing adoption services in connection with cases involving non-Hague countries.

The suspension will begin on September 2, 2011 and conclude when the accrediting entity has determined that the adoption service provider has completed the corrective action. Updated information will be provided on the adoption.state.gov website.”

So what happened?

According to Don Brown, an attorney for Saint Mary International Adoptions quoted in the Charlotte Observer article, the agency hasn’t fielded a complaint in 10 years. He says that the agency and the Council on Accreditation are “working on a settlement.”

As of today, the description of the adoption agency’s Facebook group says, “We are a Non Profit, HAGUE Accredited International Adoption Agency specializing in adoption from Poland, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.”

Nothing about the suit or the loss of accreditation is mentioned on their website. The agency  describes themselves as “..a Christian based agency that operates on pure Christian principles in the way we conduct business.  We see our work as a mission to serve God in bringing families together through international adoption.”

I placed a call to Richard Klarberg over at the Council on Accreditation, and left him a voicemail.

A quick PACER search found a few documents related to the suit, including the text of the adoption agency’s complaint (see below).

9/15/2011 UPDATE: Richard Klarberg sent me a note, saying the following:  ”Because this matter is still in  court, I don’t think it appropriate to discuss details. Suffice to say, however, we stand by our action.” He says that this is the first time the COA has been sued, though it’s not the first time they’ve been threatened with lawsuits.

10/5/2011 UPDATE: The State Department has released a notice saying that the temporary suspension has been lifted for St. Mary’s:

“The Council on Accreditation (COA) has announced that effective October 2, 2011 it has terminated the suspension of the Hague accreditation of Saint Mary International Adoption that was imposed effective August 27, 2011. Saint Mary International Adoption completed its corrective action plan to COA’s satisfaction and COA has determined that Saint Mary International Adoption is now in substantial compliance with applicable U.S. accreditation standards. Saint Mary International Adoption may resume providing adoption services in Hague Adoption Convention cases as of October 2, 2011.”

You can read the full announcement here: http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/suspension_saint_mary_lifted.php

To read all of the legal documents filed as of today in court, click below to download a 66-page .pdf. The email correspondence between Mr. Klarberg and Mr. Brown is included:

Read the full Charlotte Observer article by Gavin Off by clicking here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/09/09/2591088/adoption-agency-sues-to-stay-open.html

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