Letters

Child's Pay
Michelle Dally Johnston's April 25 story, "Adopting an Attitude," was disconcerting to read, for three reasons:

1. If not for private adoption agencies, some of which are highly ethical and caring agencies, the only options left for Coloradans would be Social Services adoptions or attorney-led private adoptions. Social Services adoption workers are often overwhelmed with very damaged children needing homes, or they are so poorly trained that their poor choices and sloppy practice hurt children and adoptive families. The negative image of private attorneys doing this work requires no further examination.

2. Many adoption agencies show practice of the highest caliber and are careful to be sensitive and supportive to every person in the adoption triad. It is a shame to have them all lumped together. As a longtime "veteran" of work with both Social Services and a private agency, I have been witness to good, solid practices displayed by the skilled and empathic staff at Adoption Alliance.

3. Most important, potential adoptive parents who complain about unfair treatment need to look within themselves for some of the solutions. The abiding principle surrounding adoption should be that any practice with high standards considers itself a conduit for locating the best home for a child and not a means through which children are found for adults. The most important question one can ask when worrying about a children's system that doesn't seem to be working is: "What would be best to do for the child?"

I am hopeful that the article did not scare away potential parents for children who very much need a good home. Many fine, caring people within adoption agencies have helped build families that positively enhanced many children's lives.

Adoree Blair
Littleton

I am writing on behalf of the staff at the Adoption Option. We are a nonprofit adoption agency, licensed since 1981, with a staff of sixteen covering the whole of Colorado. We have placed almost 800 children during the past fifteen years. Our salaried professional staff of seven has over 83 years of combined adoption experience! (Amy Diller is not a rarity in the adoption community.)

We are extremely saddened by your article. Not only was it peppered with factual inaccuracies, but it promoted the involvement of attorneys in adoption, negated all adoption agencies (along with a few poor ones) and failed miserably to consider the best interests of the children. It is likely that you have raised the anxiety of many adoptive families through your desire for sensationalist reporting rather than accurate, factual reporting.

Two absolute inaccuracies are worthy of note: There is nothing in the statute that says "a birth mother cannot relinquish until two weeks after giving birth." Some of our clients choose to go to court in less than two weeks, if the court schedule can accommodate them, because they want the baby to be placed with the adoptive family, free of legal risk. It is their choice.

A further and more serious inaccuracy: The statute in Colorado does not allow a "six-month window after adoption during which the birth mother can change her mind about giving up the child." Once a birth parent has relinquished rights or had them terminated by the court, it is final. There is no "change of mind" legislation in Colorado.

The increase in expenses to birth parents and the expectations of these birth parents to be "paid for their trouble" has been fueled by the involvement of attorneys, not by the involvement of the adoption agencies. Out-of-state attorneys advertising in Colorado, in particular, are offering large sums of money to birth parents--and few of these "expenses" are, strictly speaking, pregnancy-related. Attorneys are making large sums of money as "brokers"--they consider little of the needs of the birth parents and even less of the needs of the child. There are, by comparison, few social workers in the adoption field making large sums of money!

Nonprofit agencies that are concerned about good practice, ethical standards and professional oversight are members of the Colorado Association of Families and Children's Agencies. While there are some isolated for-profit and nonprofit agencies whose practice is questionable, whose fees are too high and whose ways border on the unethical, there are many that, like our agency, work to maintain high standards of practice and professionalism.

Your article, sadly, has done a disservice to good agencies. Moreover, it has done a tremendous disservice to children.

Carol Holliday, executive director
The Adoption Option

We are concerned about the many factual errors in Michelle Dally Johnston's article "Adopting an Attitude," which certainly seems to reinforce the "child as property" mentality.

Johnston first relates "Joley Cole's" sad experience with adoption agencies and states that the Denver woman and her husband spent more than $12,000 in order to adopt. In reality, the CAFCA member agency with which they worked charged them only $2,450 for homestudy, interstate processing and post-placement services. Where did the other $10,000 go? To attorneys? We wish Johnston had clarified this in her article rather than implying that the agency charged in excess of $12,000.

Johnston states, "Almost all of the agencies require adoptive parents to be under age forty." This is blatantly false. Most licensed agencies are very flexible in their age requirements.

Johnston relates the story of "Laura Reed" and states that Reed and her husband sent the agency their W-2 forms, their marriage license, copies of fertility testing, even a copy of Laura's Pap smear--and that the agency "turned them down." A CAFCA member agency has spoken with Laura, who is distressed that she was misquoted. She never sent these items to the agency, nor did she and her husband follow through with their application. Consequently, they were not "turned down."

Johnston refers to one agency director with a great deal of education and experience as a "rarity in the industry." If Johnston had bothered to interview other members of CAFCA, she would have found that this is untrue. There are many experienced individuals working for licensed adoption agencies in the state of Colorado.

Even more disturbing than the errors mentioned above are the factual errors in Johnston's article concerning Colorado law. Johnston quotes attorney Pamela Gordon as stating, "According to Colorado law, the birth mother can't relinquish until two weeks after giving birth." This is untrue. Nowhere in the statutes does it state that a birth mother must wait two weeks. Johnston further states that "by law, relinquishment counseling must include at least three face-to-face meetings with the birth parents." Nowhere in Colorado law is this stated. Johnston also makes the astonishing assertion that "the law establishes a six-month window after adoption during which the birth mother can change her mind about giving up her child." This is blatantly false. The birth mother cannot change her mind after she has gone to court and legally relinquished her rights. This generally occurs two to four weeks after the birth of the child.

We have addressed only a few of the errors in Johnston's article. We feel that it is vital to provide the public with accurate information about adoption, rather than a misinformed, distorted and incomplete picture.

Margaret Booker, adoption committee chair
Colorado Association of Family and
Children's Agencies

The major accomplishment of Michelle Johnston's "Adopting an Attitude" was to induct Westword into the ranks of those daytime talk-show hosts, screenwriters and national weeklies who bathe daily in the stench of yellow journalism. The inaccuracies, exaggerations and overall lack of integrity of this article were extensive.

The article laments the fact that private agencies handle most adoptions in Colorado and suggests that a system of attorneys and social workers is better. Well, that system existed for more than a century in this country. Does anyone remember the orphan trains? Do you remember when unplanned pregnancies resulted in banishment from hometowns to "unwed mothers' homes"? Do you recall the myriad stories of abuse because there were too many children and too few adoptive parents? That was the system that existed under the guidance of lawyers and county agencies, in the absence of private adoption agencies.

In its effort to malign private agencies, the article inaccurately reported that Small Miracles charges $15,000, when in fact its average fee is far less and its sliding-scale fees begin at $3,800. The article also stated that Small Miracles had "high preapplication and application fees" which were the subject of a complaint. Had the author inquired, she would have learned that Small Miracles' pre-application fee is $25 and the application fee is $390.

As your article correctly states, Small Miracles is the fastest-growing private child-placement agency in Colorado. What the article missed, however, was why. Had your author asked to review copies of agency evaluations by our birth parent and adoptive-parent clients, you would have seen a favorable rating in excess of 94 percent.

We are skeptical of the article's suggestion that state qualifications for leadership roles in child-placement agencies are too lenient. For example, the article failed to report that Small Miracles' executive director, an adoptive parent, holds more than thirty credit hours in behavioral science and practiced law for sixteen years with a focus on domestic relations and adoption. The article also failed to report that Small Miracles' child-placement supervisor is a licensed professional counselor with a master's degree in psychology and more than twenty years' experience in teen pregnancy counseling and education.

Incidentally, our disruption-reclaiming rate is not even close to the 15 percent you reported. Our rate of 3.1 percent is one of the lowest among larger agencies.

Clearly, as with most privatization of governmental functions, Colorado's system of child-placement agencies works more effectively, efficiently and fairly than the alternative. We don't have the Baby Jessica or Baby Richard cases here, and no one wants them. We have few problems, because the private system works well for Colorado.

Jeff Lavenhar, executive director
Small Miracles

Editor's note: The letters from Adoption Option, the Colorado Association of Family and Children's Agencies and Small Miracles raise a number of issues, several of which merit either response or clarification.

--Joley Cole told Westword that more than $10,000 of the $12,000 it cost her to adopt went to her adoption agency, not to lawyers.

--According to the latest edition of How to Adopt in Colorado, a handbook published by Colorado Parents for All Children, most--not, admittedly, "almost all"--Colorado agencies cite an age cutoff of forty years. While many agencies say they are flexible in age requirements, people familiar with the process say older parents often end up at the bottom of the waiting list, making adoptions a practical impossibility.

--Laura Reed tells Westword that she is not "distressed" by the story. Reed does say she may have inadvertently given Johnston the impression that she had sent her Pap smear and W-2 forms to the adoption agency. Actually, says Reed, while she was told to send those items, she never followed through on that request because it became clear to her that she had little chance of being accepted.

--Regarding the story's description of Colorado adoption law: The law states that a birth mother cannot relinquish her child until after birth but, as CAFCA and Adoption Option correctly note, doesn't require the woman to wait two weeks (although, as CAFCA acknowledges, it usually takes at least that long for her to do so). CAFCA is also correct when it states that the law does not require three face-to-face meetings with birth parents (lawmakers voted down that proposed addition to the statute in the last legislative session). And CAFCA is correct in noting that the law does not formally establish a six-month window during which a birth mother can "change her mind." However, in Colorado, adoptions are not finalized until six months after the birth mother gives up her child. And the statute specifically establishes a three-month time frame following relinquishment during which birth parents can file suit claiming they gave up their baby under fraudulent circumstances, which would include making a decision under duress. Once an adoption is finalized, the law establishes a ninety-day period during which birth parents can legally challenge an adoption based on procedural errors and a full year during which they can challenge an adoption on the grounds of fraud.

--According to its own handouts, Small Miracles does charge a flat fee of just under $15,000 for adoptions involving healthy white children. However, according to that handout, the agency has a different fee system for minority children, charging lower base amounts and then tacking on a charge equivalent to 5 percent of the adoptive parent's total household income. How much those adoptions cost would depend entirely on the gross income of the couple seeking to adopt.

--Information regarding Small Miracles' 15 percent disruption rate was provided to Westword during an in-person interview with Brenda Retrum, that agency's director of adoption services.

Out of the Lupe
In her May 2 article, "Hasta la Vista, Lupe," Karen Bowers reported on the overdue resignation of Guadalupe "Lupe" Salinas, the Social Security Administration's embattled commissioner for the six-state Denver region.

A thorough housecleaning should now be done of the senior staff he's leaving behind--including lieutenants who have also been a source of embarrassment.

It's a well-kept secret that SSA's chain of command keeps breaking down. Recently, Utah senator Orrin Hatch required Lupe to meet personally with angry employees in Ogden who are vehemently protesting a director of field operations.

This senior official was implicated in a telephone eavesdropping scandal at another field office last fall. He is also the subject of an investigation requested by Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder into the potential misuse of cellular phones by SSA executives. Such acrimony between manage- ment and labor, unprecedented under other commissioners, has become a constant drumbeat.

Lupe claims that allegations of misconduct, preferential hiring, hostile work environment and other charges originate with employees unwilling to change. Well, finally, they have changed! They've successfully brought attention to complaints of discrimination, union-busting tactics and intimidation by overzealous managers. The commissioner's bad decisions have ultimately come back to haunt him.

In his brief farewell speech to the Denver Regional Office, Lupe said that a fact-finding mission investigating the flurry of grievances and lawsuits against him found no blame. But according to Phil Gambino, SSA's national spokesman, this report has not even been issued, nor have its findings been discussed with anyone, including Lupe!

The truth is, we've finally had enough of the commissioner's brand of Teflon-coated politics.

Current and former employees
Denver Social Security Administration

A World of Hurt
I read with great interest Stuart Steers's article "Still Hurting," in the March 28 issue of Westword, concerning workers' compensation. It was sent to me by my son, Stephen Cramer of Denver, who also has been caught up in this terrible injustice.

His injuries were massive when he fell from a high-rise and included a broken neck and a right-side brain injury--short-term memory loss. This misfortune happened in December of 1991; he still cannot function normally. He must also write everything down, and because his wish is to bring about reform in workers' compensation in Colorado, his writing has resulted in a book about this very inhumane law.

He just recently settled in the amount of 80 percent of $3,000. And because he is trying to work, even SSA has been terminated. Fortunately, the management at the restaurant where he now washes dishes is understanding when he just can't perform even that duty. He was among a group that filed a class-action lawsuit back in 1992; all dropped out except him, and the case is stagnating in court.

Flora Cramer
Manchester, GA

Letters policy: Westword wants to hear from you, whether you have a complaint or compliment about what we write from week to week. Letters should be no more than 200 words; we reserve the right to edit for libel, length and clarity. Although we'll occasionally withhold an author's name on request, all letters must include your name, address and telephone number.

Write to:
Letters Editor
Westword
PO Box 5970
Denver, CO 80217
or e-mail to:
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