Adoption agency's bankruptcy strands families
Sandie Benitah, ctvtoronto.ca
Published Tuesday, July 14, 2009 8:22PM EDT
An Ontario agency specializing in adoptions from Africa has gone bankrupt, leaving scores of families across Canada disappointed and in financial debt.
Kids Link, which operates as the Imagine adoption agency in Cambridge, put up a bankruptcy notice on their website on Monday to inform their roster of more than 200 clients of their financial difficulties.
"The Board of Directors met on Friday, July 10 to discuss the financial situation of Kids Link," said a notice written by Susan E. Taves, the senior vice president of financial recovery company BDO Dunwoody Ltd.
"It was clear that the funds in the bank accounts are not sufficient to service the families in the Kids Link program."
The notice also said that Kids Link affairs would be reviewed and will include some information on St. Anne's Adoption and Global Reach.
Taves said BDO is in contact with the agency's executive director Susan Heyhow and Andrew Morrow with the Global Reach Children's Fund who travelled to Africa on July 13.
The Imagine agency also arranges adoptions for children from Ecuador and Ghana, according to their website.
A call to the agency went unanswered and no answering machine or service was available to leave a message.
'Devastation is huge'
Robyn Bertucci said she has spent the last six years of her life trying to become a mom. The 38-year-old and her husband tried years of fertility treatments before deciding to adopt.
She said she has spent more than $15,000 since signing up with Imagine agency last November.
The last time she made a payment was June 4 and she was told her file was being sent to Ethiopia for referral. Bertucci and her husband were looking to adopt a pair of siblings.
"We were so happy," she told ctvtoronto.ca in a telephone interview from her Burlington home on Tuesday.
"After years of fertility treatments we decided we would adopt because from what we understood, it would be a sure thing -- no more gambling," she said. "We trusted these people with our lives, our dreams...Right now I'm just holding on to hope that this will be fixed. It has to."
Bertucci said that she and her husband can't afford to go through the adoption process again. They had to hold a fundraiser last year to raise enough money to go through the process with the Imagine agency. The entire adoption process costs about $25,000.
"My house is full of things in preparation for these kids," she said. "I have books on Africa, books on transracial adoption and we were planning to take the kids back to Ethiopia when they were older.
"Everyone in our family was so excited," she said. "Everyone was so invested in this. The devastation is huge."
Matt Garside, a parent of two twin boys adopted from Ethiopia, said he was waiting for a court date to adopt his sons' biological younger brother. He has already been to court three times and was in the final steps of the adoption process.
He said he heard rumblings last week that Imagine was in trouble but was shocked when he saw the bankruptcy notice on the organization's website late Monday.
"I, like everyone else, have no idea what's going to happen," he said. "I truly don't want to believe it's the end of the process. How can I really? I don't want to accept it."
He said he feels like the young boy in Africa is a part of his family. He has a picture of him but is refusing to share it with the media.
When he adopted the boy's brothers in 2007, Garside was one of Imagine's first clients. Now, ironically, he is also one of their last.
"We still can't believe this is happening."
Fears for orphanage
The agency runs two orphanages in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where children stay until they are paired up with a Canadian family.
Clients of the agency are being urged to contact their provincial representatives and ask them to look into the situation.
An official with Alberta's child and youth services has responded to Imagine's clients by posting a note on a Facebook page created to support the families.
"I wanted to assure you that the Alberta government is currently working with our provincial and federal counterparts to gather information on all options available to families impacted by this closure," said Anne Scully, senior manager with the ministry's adoption and permanency services department.
In the meantime, there are concerns that a bankruptcy filing by Imagine might limit resources at the African orphanages the company runs.
There are already rampant rumours within the adoption community of food shortages and unpaid staff at the facilities. The rumours have not been officially confirmed.
David Cotter, an Imagine client who adopted twin girls from Ethiopia last year, said he will travel to Africa himself if he learns that conditions at the orphanage have suffered because of the bankruptcy.
He said he was saddened by news of the bankruptcy but angry at the agency because of the "poor management" and "poor communication" they showed while he was going through the adoption process.
"If we adopted again there was no way we would have used Imagine," he said.
However, a staff member who worked with Imagine up until they were given notice of the company's closure on Friday evening, said she was proud to work for the agency.
"The goal, the mood and the passion behind our work has always been to do good for the children and to pair them up with good homes here in Canada," she said on condition of anonymity.
She said that staff members were "completely blind-sided" when they were told of the company's closure and that all thoughts were immediately with the families.
"Sure my job is one thing but we thought about the families, I can say that with 125 per cent certainty," she said. "I know that people were very clear, all of us wanted to know what we could do even without getting paid."
She said the company had big plans to expand their support services to families and was looking to help fund a village in Ethiopia with Child Reach. That was the motive behind the executive director's trip to Africa this week.
When she was asked how the executive director could travel to Africa days after the company went bankrupt the staff member said, "I don't understand it at all."
An official with the Waterloo Regional Police fraud department told ctvtoronto.ca that he has received many calls from clients of the agency who are worried that their money was stolen.
"I can tell you it's not a criminal investigation," said Sgt. Robert Zensner. "We are not investigating anyone in the company or anyone linked to the agency."
He said that could change once BDO completes their review of the agency's books.
"If they find any criminality than they would contact us but we have to wait for their review," he said. "At this point, we're hands off."