News Local

Imagine bankruptcy leaves couple stranded

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Peterborough resident Gary Sellars was channel-surfing Tuesday evening before turning in for the night, when he heard the word "adoption."

As a prospective adoptive parent, he stopped and paid attention. He almost wishes he hadn't.

Sellars and his wife Mary were in the process of adopting a Panamanian child through Imagine Adoption -- whose bankruptcy was being reported on the news.

Cobourg adoption practitioner Sandra Webb has worked with couples who worked with Imagine on their adoptions.

She'd heard no adverse comments about Imagine. Even their staff were not aware a bankruptcy was looming. She'd never even heard of an adoption agency going bankrupt.

She has clients who only arrived home with their new son from Ethiopia six weeks ago. Then there are the Sellarses. Their problem is that, while Imagine was licensed for adoptions in Ethiopia, Ghana and Ecuador, it had obtained a temporary special license for them and one other couple to adopt from Panama.

Kids Link International Adoption Agency merged with the St. Ann Adoption Centre to form Imagine, Sellars said. It was licensed.

"I am assuming, because it was licensed, that it met all the regulations and rules. That's what the government is there to do -- to protect their citizens, supposedly."

Yesterday its website had only three lines:

* No further payments or donations can be made.

* A bankruptcy occurred effective July 14, 2009

* Please go to www.bdo.ca/imagineadoption for further information.

The Peterborough couple worked with Imagine for three years, spending more than $20,000 in the process (not counting that heartbreaking investment in baby furniture and equipment).

They had wanted to adopt from Honduras, but it fell through. Imagine did get a temporary special license for the Panamanian adoptions.

"I just don't want this to fall through the cracks," he said.

"I have called everybody today to see if I can get anywhere."

The Sellarses' MP and MPP are trying to find him some contact. There is no way to contact anyone at Imagine. The website is useless and the phone number only leads to a full voice-mail box.

"The other problem we are addressing is, everybody knows who you're dealing with in Ethiopia. I don't know who our contact is in Panama. I can't direct them to other agencies (other than Imagine).

"Two weeks ago, our agency in Panama was actually physically going to the orphanages looking for a child -- that's how close we are. Everything has been finalized except for the actual 'Here is your child'."

In international adoptions, you have to deal with licensed agencies that also have a licence for the country you're adopting from, he explained. A licensed home-study worker -- in this case, Webb -- assesses a couple's fitness for adoption. Then there are other hoops to go through, like the international police checks.

To say he feels stranded is an understatement.

Ben Walters and Alison Elliott of Bewdley find themselves stranded in an earlier stage of adoption from Ethiopia.

They retained Imagine last October and have only spent $6,000 to date, which finds them at the point that they have been assessed for their Ontario Ministry approval, which they expect to receive at any time. If they start over again with another agency, at least their loss is less.

"We are not as bad off as other people -- we feel awful for those people. We are not in the situation where we were matched with a child who now is left in the lurch," Walters said.

"It's very sad," Webb said in another understatement.

"At this point, we have no idea what's going to happen. There have been e-mails back and forth from some of the other professionals, but I've heard nothing from the Ministry yet."

Webb would like to refute the myth that only rich people adopt.

"That's so untrue. Most of the families I work with are average every-day families.

"It's huge for them. They have waited for years. The process is complex and difficult. This is crushing for these families," she stated.

As hard as it is on the prospective parents, Walters thinks the real victims are the children.

Once Imagine matched a child with a family, he or she would be moved into a transition home owned and run by Imagine. They would be there three to six months as the adoption is finalized.

"There are all these children who have been taken from a government-run orphanage to an orphanage run by a bankrupt agency," he pointed out.

He has heard that the home only has enough cash on hand to keep it running for eight days. After that, he said, "who knows what's going to happen to the kids? That's probably the worst part of it all."

While Webb expects the government may step in to help the families get the children who have been matched with them in Ethiopia, she hasn't heard anything about Panama.

"Hopefully they will release their files," she said of the Sellars case.

"I don't know what's going to happen to their money."