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Adopting an Attitude

Every time Joley Cole hears one of her neighbors say "Joley did it the easy way--she adopted," she wants to spit. Four years ago the Denver woman and her husband spent more than $12,000 and what felt like a lifetime answering personal questions and being examined in order to adopt a baby boy from Nebraska. They started out thinking they were doing a good thing--helping out a pregnant teenage girl, putting everything they had into their commitment to love and nurture a child. Then the trouble started.

What turned the Coles' dream into a nightmare is Colorado's "privatized" adoption system. Unlike close to 90 percent of the states in the U.S., Colorado requires virtually everyone who adopts a child to do so through one of a handful of state-licensed but privately owned adoption agencies. While the state created the monopoly these agencies hold on adoptions, however, it maintains little control over their activities.

That combination of unchecked and unchallenged power has given rise to an industry that charges sky-high prices for services required by law; has a financial stake in the outcome of the parental evaluations and counseling it provides; uses no set standard of criteria for judging adoptive parents; engages in aggressive recruiting tactics to ensure pregnant women give up their children to specific agencies; and can legally accept thousands of dollars from desperate couples and then place a child with a different, competing couple.

In all but six states in the country, "independent" infant adoptions--those that don't require an adoption agency's participation--are the rule rather than the exception. Get an attorney, hire a counselor, find a pregnant mom who wants to give up her child and plead your case before the judge. Judicial oversight is the check and balance. Not so in Colorado. Here state statute requires anyone seeking to adopt a child to first pay for both a homestudy, in order to determine their fitness as parents, and for "relinquishment counseling"--a series of one-on-one sessions in which advisors are supposed to make sure that birth parents grasp the ramifications of their decision to give up their child. And the only place a would-be parent can get those two services is an adoption agency.

Years ago, both the homestudy and the counseling could be done by any licensed mental-health professional: social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or adoption agency. But after statutory changes in 1986, only county social services departments or licensed private adoption agencies retained that privilege. Since that time, increasing workloads and decreased funding have effectively limited county involvement to those cases where children are considered abused or neglected (except for a minimal number of rural adoptions). That has left 42 private agencies--some for-profit, some religiously affiliated, all of them essentially unfettered by state regulation--the only places potential adoptive parents can go to meet the letter of the law.

"If you want to adopt a baby, one that hasn't been abandoned or abused, and thus is outside the control of Social Services," says Denver family-law attorney Pamela Gordon, "as a practical matter, the law requires you to hire a private adoption agency. Period." According to the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), last year 2,039 adoptions were filed in district courts statewide. Seventeen percent of those were Social Services adoptions. The rest, unless they were filed by stepparents, required at some level the involvement of an adoption agency.

It's a requirement that comes at no small cost.
"Before all this agency involvement," says Boulder attorney Jim Downey, "counseling cost $500, homestudies were around $800, usually less, and legal fees went for about $500." The total adoption, excluding birth-mother expenses, cost less than $2,000.

Now the average cost of adopting in Colorado is about $10,000, with some agencies, like the fastest-growing one, Small Miracles of Englewood, charging closer to $15,000. "Few people," Gordon says, "have any idea how hard--and expensive--it is to adopt in this state."

Gordon and a number of other attorneys and adoptive parents have a problem with that. Because, they say, while Colorado state law cements the private agencies' lock on adoption, it does virtually nothing to oversee how they conduct business. And that lack of oversight, they say, is showing.

Joley Cole knows the pitfalls of the Colorado system all too well. After years of fighting infertility, she and her husband decided to adopt. They located a pregnant mother themselves, without ever having called an agency. A family relative had a young, pregnant daughter. The birth mother was delighted to have someone she knew adopt her child. The Coles were ecstatic to finally have some luck in becoming parents. But even though the couple had located the baby themselves, Colorado law forced them to use a private adoption agency to legally transfer the parental rights. It was a requirement, says Joley, that almost lost them the baby.

"It was about four months away from the birth of the baby," says Cole, who, like the other adoptive parents quoted in this article, asked that her real name not be used. "And we went to Professional Adoption Services and they said they could do the homestudy--but they couldn't promise that they'd place the baby with us. The baby we found."

As it turns out, Professional Adoption Services was only following state law. In Colorado, no guarantees can be made to adoptive parents, even if they're related by blood to the child. Once a birth parent gives up a baby, "the agency technically takes custody, and the agency can place with anybody," says Susan Price, an attorney who represents a number of adoption agencies. "And I've heard of some that do that."

Joley Cole and her husband never mailed their first check in to Professional Adoption. Instead, they were eventually able to adopt their child with the help of another private adoption agency, Adoption Alliance. But the reality of their dilemma holds for everyone: Regardless of where the child comes from, no matter who found the birth parent or even who was named in a deceased parent's will, nothing is certain.

"There's always a risk," says Gordon, "that when you bring a child in to legally adopt, that an agency may have what they think is a better match for the child--and they may put the child there rather than with you because eight years ago your husband got a DUI or something."

But in Colorado, if prospective parents want to adopt a child, it's a risk they have to take.

The lack of any set standards for approval or disapproval of adoptive parents means adoption agencies play Solomon every day--choosing who would make a good parent and who wouldn't. State statute fails to provide any definable standards by which adoptive parents are to be judged. And state regulations use only broad language like "capacity and readiness to parent" and "emotional and physical health and ability." The rest is up to the agencies themselves.

Almost all of the agencies require adoptive parents to be under age forty. Others require the couple to have been married for at least three years or won't consider a parent who has been divorced and remarried--or one who is fertile. Still others insist that one of the adoptive parents agree to stay home with the child after the adoption. And some religiously affiliated agencies will serve only those of their faith.

"Which means," says Christine Fallor, a Jefferson County mother who, after interviewing with a number of agencies, finally adopted a Russian child, "if you're fertile, 36 and have a job, you don't have much of a choice of agencies."

Fallor is part of the "foreign adoption boom" in Colorado, and she credits the priorities of foreign adoption agencies with making the difference. While Fallor still had to go through a Colorado agency to fulfill her homestudy requirement, a foreign adoption agency set the rest of the rules. And they were much more appealing. Foreign governments tend to value older parents, look on two-income families with approval and not make fertility an issue.

There are also other "perks" associated with adopting overseas. Debbie Conrad had what she called "a beautiful experience" adopting a Chinese orphan. She says it was easier to pay costs of up to $13,000 when she knew that $5,000 of it was going directly to the orphanage--and that another equally large chunk represented the cost of traveling to China and staying for several weeks. "At least I knew where the money was going," she says.

For many adoptive parents, adopting an American baby isn't so beautiful. Thirty-five-year-old Laura Reed says she was forced to undergo surgery to prove her infertility to the Catholic Charities adoption agency--even though she and her husband had been trying, unsuccessfully, to have children for fifteen years. Along with the results of a laparoscopy that demonstrated her inability to carry a child to term, she and her husband sent the agency their W-2 forms, their marriage license, copies of all fertility testing, a statement by their priest that they were good Catholics--even a copy of Laura's latest Pap smear. They also agreed to pay the agency fee of 10 percent of their gross annual income, as well as any birth-parent expenses. But it wasn't enough. Reed says the agency turned them down even before they'd sent in their first payment, telling them that since they had been married for fifteen years, they were too set in their ways.

Catholic Charities adoption director Anna Totta says she wasn't with the agency when the Reeds were rejected, but she insists her agency would never turn down a couple simply for having been married too long. She does acknowledge, however, that up to this January the agency did require written proof of infertility. How to confirm an often inexact science isn't up to her agency, she says. "Surgery wouldn't be our choice," says Totta. "That's up to the couple's doctor."

The way agencies conduct state-mandated homestudies can be just as varied--and as value-laden. "Their paramount concern," says Fallor, whose overseas adoption was handled through the Colorado Adoption Center, "was how many closets I had. They also wanted to know how much I tithed to my church and which of my own parents I liked better." Joley Cole says Adoption Alliance, through which she eventually adopted her son, "asked a lot about stair railings and smoke alarms."

And then there are the more subjective assessments. One complaint on file with the state's Department of Human Services charges Catholic Charities with failing to aprove a couple for adoption because they were "inflexible, insensitive and negative"--all ostensibly because the couple couldn't immediately agree on an interview

date with the agency. The state agency investigated but took no further action.
Totta defends the subjective part of the process. "Don't you suppose that as we do homestudies on families that there will be times when we'll find people who wouldn't make good parents--that their motivation for adoption is inappropriate, and in some cases, they're just psychologically unfit for parenting?" she asks.

But while there's a valid state interest in ensuring that adoptive couples are fit to parent, there is no mechanism by which a couple can grieve that life-shattering ruling. The Department of Human Services, the state entity that licenses private adoption agencies, does investigate written complaints against agencies through its Office of Child Care Services, which is also responsible for licensing adoption agencies. But that office has such minimal statutory authority that it rarely intervenes. For example, one complaint filed regarding Small Miracles bemoaned that agency's high pre-application and application fees. Human Services responded that it had no authority under the law to question fees. Susan Conley of the OCCS underscores that limitation. The state "can only investigate licensing issues," she says, and "most of the complaints aren't issues having anything to do with licensing."

In addition, some adoption experts believe abuses by agencies are significantly underreported. "You know that sign that's up in everyone's office that they have a right to unemployment compensation?" attorney Gordon asks. "I don't see any signs like that up in adoption agencies that say you have a right to formally complain to the Department of Human Services."

In fact, explains Gordon, the OCCS is also responsible for licensing thousands of child-care centers and daycare and foster homes. Most people who have a complaint about an adoption agency, says Gordon, wouldn't immediately think of calling a state agency devoted to "child care" to make their views known.

And Conley says that because of her office's huge licensing responsibilities, any complaints that are received about adoption agencies are often the last to receive attention. "We first investigate all complaints that impact on the immediate health and safety of a child," she says, "which usually means complaints about foster families who have a child currently placed with them." The OCCS ranks its complaints in priority from one to five, Conley explains, and adoptions are often ranked last. And, she adds, complaints aren't made public until an investigation is completed.

Some of Colorado's more established adoption agencies agree that state oversight is lacking. "With 10,000 child-care and child-placement centers and only 42 adoption agencies, we get very little attention from DHS," says Amy Diller of Professional Adoption Services.

Diller was part of the task force that earlier this year recommended changes in the Colorado Children's Code to a legislative committee. "We met for four or so months and heard testimony," Diller says. "Most of it was child-welfare stuff [cases of abused and neglected children]. No one except the agencies was interested in infant-adoption issues." And those agencies weren't interested in setting up a system by which their placement decisions could be appealed.

With no recourse available after being denied by an agency, prospective parents have the option of giving up--which many do--or going through the whole painful and expensive process all over again. If they can afford it, many couples slog on, finding a new agency, paying a new roster of fees, jumping through a new set of hoops. Which is exactly what Laura Reed did. And Joley Cole. Both successfully adopted children on their second try.

Most observers can understand the state's rationale for requiring a homestudy of a prospective parent. But there seems little justification for allowing only adoption agencies--which have a financial interest in the outcome of the adoption they're assessing--to perform that service. Even Greg McHugh, the lobbyist for the Colorado Alliance of Family and Child Agencies, an adoption-agency trade group, is at a loss when confronted with the question.

When his group was lobbying the legislature back in 1986, McHugh says, "we said [the entity doing the homestudy] should be a county or adoption agency--even though that could be perceived to be in our interest." McHugh credits his clients' corner on the market to a lack of initiative on the part of other potential service providers. "I guess the other professionals--social workers and psychotherapists--didn't come forward at the time," he says.

McHugh's clients are also the only entities that now provide the "relinquishment counseling" required before a parent can give up a child for adoption. Here the financial incentive to sway the result of the service can be huge. Adoption agencies, after all, need babies to stay in business.

By law, relinquishment counseling must include at least three face-to-face meetings with the birth parent. But while the statute says that only a licensed adoption agency can provide the required counseling sessions (even, for instance, if the birth parent wants to surrender custody to the child's grandparents), there are no standards dictating the education or experience of those actually doing the counseling. All the state requires of an agency is that its homestudy and relinquishment counselors be "overseen" by an individual with a master's degree in social work and two years of experience. Which means that many adoption counselors are far from being mental-health professionals.

It's a part of the law that even some adoption agencies find alarming. "There's a lot of untrained people out there," says Amy Diller, who has an MSW and more than fifteen years of experience as an adoption counselor in the Denver area. "And they're making evaluations that affect lives. They could be missing huge risk signs or overreacting to other things. No one knows."

With her education and experience, Diller is a rarity in the industry. Even the directors of agencies are merely required to have "knowledge of the type of child-welfare services in which the agency engages." There are no licensing examinations to pass, unlike other professionals who are licensed by the state. As a result, many who hold the decision-making positions in Colorado's adoption agencies--and the power to assign children to new parents for life--have backgrounds unrelated to child development or psychology.

The adoption director at Small Miracles, for instance, managed an art gallery before taking the helm at her agency. "But I am taking the fostering families course at [Colorado State University]," Brenda Retrum explains. Jeffrey Lavenhar, the agency's founder and executive director, is a former attorney who is no longer practicing because he has been placed on "disability" by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Lavenhar says the court's action stemmed from a "closed head" injury he sustained in an accident in 1991, and he insists that his disability is irrelevant to his competency to run Small Miracles. Jim Hollaway, counsel for the Supreme Court Grievance Committee, says Lavenhar was "determined to be suffering from an illness rendering him incapable of performing his duties as required by law."

But in Colorado, Lavenhar still qualifies to run an adoption agency.

Ten years ago, when the state legislature took its last pass at revamping the adoption provisions of the Children's Code, its biggest concern was avoiding an atmosphere of "baby-selling."

"No one wanted people taking advantage of birth parents and adoptive parents and not considering the best interest of the child," says former legislator turned Arapahoe County Court Judge Steve Ruddick. That's why, he speculates, lawmakers implemented the ban on adoptions arranged independent of adoption agencies.

But by forcing other professionals out of the scenario--people who in 44 other states play significant roles in far cheaper adoptions--the state legislature may have created the very nightmare it was trying to avoid.

Doug Donnelly, a Santa Barbara, California, attorney who has handled 1,200 adoptions in his seventeen years of practice, thinks so. Donnelly has had dealings with a number of Colorado adoption agencies and says he hasn't been impressed--especially in the case of Small Miracles.

Donnelly says he represented a California couple who had located a pregnant woman in Colorado willing to let them adopt her baby. The woman was already "receiving counseling" from Small Miracles, says Donnelly, but had made no commitments to the agency (in Colorado, even if a birth mother wants to give up her baby before it is born, she can't).

According to Donnelly, it made sense to keep the birth mother where she was. "I figured she should go ahead and get the necessary counseling, as required by statute, from Small Miracles, as that would create the least disruption," he says.

So Donnelly says he called the agency to ask how much it would cost for his clients to have the woman counseled by Small Miracles. "Three weeks later I received a letter from Mr. Lavenhar that said they have a one-size-fits-all fee of $5,500," he says. In California, relinquishment counseling by a state-licensed professional costs a statutorily imposed $500. So Donnelly says he called Lavenhar on the phone and told him he didn't think the $5,500 fee was either fair or reasonable and that his clients would choose to hire another agency to provide the counseling. That's when Lavenhar got hot, he says.

"He told me if I didn't pay the fee that he'd call the birth mother and tell her that the adoptive parents didn't want to pay for counseling and suggest she look elsewhere," says Donnelly. "I said it wasn't appropriate for him to interfere with the adoption that way and that if he did interfere with my client in that manner, I'd consider legal ramifications."

At that point, says Donnelly, Lavenhar threatened to countersue. "It bordered on extortion and maybe even baby-selling," says Donnelly.

When reached at home, Lavenhar at first flatly denies Donnelly's account. "That's untrue," he says. "Our policy, to begin with, is that we never discuss financial matters with a birth-parent client. It was Donnelly that contacted the birth mother and said the adoptive parents couldn't afford it if she stayed with our agency--we've filed a bar complaint against this guy." (Both Donnelly and a spokeswoman for the California State Bar say they are unaware of any such complaint.)

Lavenhar later acknowledges that he did tell Donnelly that the adoptive parents' hesitance to pay the fee might influence the birth mother's decision to choose them. "I did indicate to him that one thing the birth mother is concerned about is the financial ability to provide for the child--most [birth parents] want someone who is capable of funding a college education," he says. "When some of them hear that financial issue surrounding the adoptions, they may question the adoptive parents' ability to afford a child." But Lavenhar says there's "no way" he asked anyone to pay $5,500 for relinquishment counseling.

Donnelly was eventually successful with that adoption. "The birth mother knew what she wanted--it went as smooth as silk," he says. But the experience left a bad taste in his mouth. In California, 86 percent of all adoptions are "independent" adoptions--meaning that adoption agencies don't get involved at all. California also trains and licenses mental-health professionals known as "adoption service providers" to provide the birth-parent counseling. The state itself does homestudies for a set fee of $1,250. And an attorney arranges the legal transfer of rights, which Donnelly says generally costs around $3,000.

In California, Donnelly notes, the whole adoption could go for $5,000--about $500 less than what he says Small Miracles was going to charge his client for counseling alone.

California law also ensures that counselors won't have a financial incentive to persuade a birth parent to give up his or her child: They work independently, and their statutorily set fee is the same regardless of the results. In Colorado, that sort of neutral counseling atmosphere simply doesn't exist: In order for adoption agencies to be successful, not only do they have to convince a birth parent to give up a child, but they have to convince the parent to give up the child to them. The more pregnant women an agency can get to "sign on," the shorter its waiting list and the more it can charge.

Some agencies, like Small Miracles, increase their chances of snaring birth parents by engaging in recruiting tactics such as television advertising. Brenda Retrum says her agency's ads are kind of "amateurish, like those family-owned business ads." But regardless of their lack of gloss, Retrum says they "really work. We used to get three to five calls a month from birth parents. After the TV ads started, that went up to seven to fifteen calls a week."

That difference means Small Miracles can tell a prospective adoptive parent that the average wait for a baby at its agency is six months. By comparison, agencies with less aggressive tactics have much longer waiting lists. Catholic Charities, for example, recruits through local parishes, universities and hospitals. If all goes well, it takes about a year and a half to adopt a baby from that agency--"sometimes as much as three years," says Anna Totta.

For couples who have tried to conceive on their own for years and are coming up against the agency-imposed age limits, time makes a difference. That's why Small Miracles has plenty of customers and a waiting list while charging $15,000 (not counting birth-parent expenses) for the adoption of a child.

"I do think some agencies are enriching themselves at the expense of adoptive parents," says Amy Diller of her industry colleagues. She declines to say which agencies those are.

For many prospective parents in Colorado, adoption is the gift for which they have to keep on giving. First they pay homestudy and counseling fees; then pre-application and application fees; then post-placement and cradle-care fees. All of that money goes directly to the agency for its services. Then the innocuously named "birth-parent expenses" are added to the bill.

Those expenses are the "unknown" costs that all but one of Colorado's domestic-adoption agencies charge on top of their basic fees. And they are rarely cheap. Even the agencies' own spokesman, Greg McHugh, says he's heard tales of birth-mother expenses that top out the cost of an adoption at as much as $25,000. To Boulder attorney Jim Downey, such fees are further evidence of how adoptions can be "marketed" in Colorado.

"The law is clear," says Downey. "The birth parent is not to receive any compensation or thing of value" for relinquishing a child. "So what do you call flying her to Colorado and putting her up in a hotel?" he says, referring to a scenario he says is not uncommon. "Just the other day I had a woman on the phone saying that a relinquishing birth mother was driving a new car all over the neighborhood. I told her to call the police."

But aside from Adoption Option, the one Colorado agency that includes all costs in its flat fee of $12,000 for adoptions, untold "expenses" for the birth parent are a part of the everyday practice of adoption in this state. "Birth parents are regularly compensated for expenses related to the birth of the child," says attorney Susan Price. "That could be uninsured medical expenses, or lost salary if she is bed-ridden."

According to Brenda Retrum at Small Miracles, the "reasonable and necessary" birth-mother expenses her agency will agree to pay may extend to any number of other items. Those expenditures include rent ("because these girls often get thrown out by their families or their boyfriends"), a telephone ("because of course you'd want her to be able to call for help in an emergency"), clothes to wear, and even meals. "We always like to take them out for dinner," she says.

Estimates for birth-mother expenses in an average adoption are all over the board. Adoptive parents have filed complaints with the state alleging expenses as high as $6,000 or $7,000. Retrum says her agency averages about $500--although she doesn't say how that amount could cover rent, clothes, meals and other costs for an expectant mother through her pregnancy. Other agencies say simply that such costs vary with the birth parent's situation.

And, as Pamela Gordon is quick to point out, the payment of any amount of money to the birth mother can't guarantee adoptive parents a child. "According to Colorado law," says Gordon, "the birth mother can't relinquish until two weeks after giving birth. And if she changes her mind, the adoption agency doesn't absorb the loss; the devastated adoptive parents do."

In agency terms, that's known as a "disruption," and it's a way of life. Retrum says she thinks her agency has about a 15 percent disruption rate. Totta says about 12 percent of the total yearly adoptions are disrupted at Catholic Charities. Colorado's latest statistics on disruption date from 1983, when the percentage was 9.25 percent. A national study by the University of California at Berkeley places the current national rate at closer to 11 percent. Dwight Eisnach, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, says he has no reason to believe Colorado's disruption rate differs significantly from the national average.

Small Miracles does offer "disruption insurance," a separate rate that ensures that a disruption won't mean an adoptive couple has to pay all over again for counseling and expenses. But it doesn't come cheap. To adopt under the "insured" rate at Small Miracles runs about $4,000 more than the standard $15,000 rate.

This year's legislative overhaul of the Children's Code will do nothing to loosen the agencies' grip on adoption. A look at who drafted many of the measures pending at the statehouse--the Colorado Alliance of Family and Child Agencies--makes it easy to understand why.

House Bill 1037, the 500-plus page conglomerate of amendments now wending its way through the legislature, includes requirements of even more agency counseling. It also makes homestudies mandatory for even the closest of relatives--grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Judges would essentially lose the option they now have to waive homestudies for close relatives.

The proposed amendments include a provision to strengthen reporting requirements for birth-parent expenses--to ensure that they have more of a tendency to be "pregnancy-related." But there are no limitations placed on how much agencies can charge for an adoption, nor is there any cap on their profit margins. Another Children's Code bill, House Bill 1006, "allows" the Department of Human Services to set higher standards for adoption agencies, including minimal credentials for staff and specific criteria for services. But it doesn't require that those measures be taken.

Greg McHugh lauds the changes as a triumph for child-welfare advocates. "HB 1006 will allow [CDHS] to set some minimum standards, give them the needed authority to pass some rules," he says. "And the 1037 amendments mean there will be better restrictions on birth-parent expenses."

McHugh says his organization supported the birth-parent-expense reporting requirements because of complaints from court officials. "We continually hear from judges and magistrates anecdotally about exorbitant fees and charges paid by adoptive families--you know, like $25,000 or $20,000," McHugh explains. "That's ludicrous--we support good practice, not exploitation."

McHugh acknowledges that other members of the task force on adoption advised the legislature to go even further. Jefferson County Court magistrate Babette Norton "wanted to be restrictive to the adoption agencies," McHugh says. "And she wanted them to get court approval for all payments. But that didn't happen." Instead, McHugh managed to steer the legislature toward merely strengthening after-the-fact expense reporting requirements. (Norton refused to comment to Westword.)

Seth Grob, an attorney for the nonprofit Children's Campaign who also advised the general assembly on adoption, says the notion of allowing non-agency adoptions or letting other licensed professionals conduct home-studies and relinquishment counseling never came up. "No one said a word about that," he says. "I never even thought of it."

Russell George, the Republican representative from Rifle who carried HB 1037 through the House, says agency-only adoptions have been a way of life in Colorado since long before 1986. "Ever since I've practiced law, and now we're going back twenty years," George says, "there was no opportunity for private or independent adoptions in Colorado." George says that during his tenure in legislature, he's never heard anyone challenge the agency monopoly or suggest that it be changed. "Since I've been here," George says, "I don't recall anyone ever having brought it up. They must not have advocates working."

Yet many couples who have failed to adopt, or who've had trouble adopting, are hesitant to become advocates. They say that they are embarrassed about having been judged unfit to be parents or that they finally managed to adopt but don't want to rock the boat because they want to continue to build their family--and adoption agencies are the only game in town.

Some just want to forget the whole thing.
Joley Cole says she was traumatized enough as it was. "I just felt so alone and isolated," says Cole. "This was supposed to be such a wonderful event, and it was so devastating how we were treated." But because the law establishes a six-month window after adoption during which the birth mother can change her mind about giving up her child, Cole says she didn't feel safe going back and making a complaint about the agency.

Despite the lack of formal lobbying on behalf of adoptive parents, it's clear that legislators have heard about the problems with the system through their constituency. George says he regularly receives constituent complaints about adoptions. "Usually the issue is delay and cost," he says. "I had one poor family in Grand Junction, a terrible story. They spent over $10,000 in fees alone."

Those complaints, however, have failed to bring any legislative change. That's because it's the lobbyists and advocates who guide the process and control the movement of legislation, explains George. "We didn't go looking for trouble," says the legislator. "If groups came forward, then we acted.


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