July 22, 2014

International Adoption

Complexities and Uncertainties

| 11/1/2010
Betsy Emanuel
Betsy Emanuel's first two attempts to adopt a Guatemalan baby through Celebrate Children International fell apart. Celebrate Children's Sue Hedberg later said Emanuel was on a ‘mission' to discredit her agency. [Photo: Kristina Krug]

The case of a Tennessee woman who adopted a Guatemalan child in 2008 reflects the uncertainties and complexities that can accompany the process of adopting a child overseas, particularly from a country that isn't complying with the Hague Convention.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Emanuel, who lives outside Nashville, began working with Celebrate Children International to adopt a child from Guatemala in 2006, she says, but the first adoption attempt fell through. Her second attempt to adopt a 2-year-old girl named Maria Fernanda also fell apart. Emanuel says Sue Hedberg, who heads Celebrate Children, told her that Fernanda and Fernanda's baby sister had both been abducted by gunmen who took them to "repay a drug debt for the mother."

After successfully concluding the adoption of a third child through Celebrate Children in 2008, Emanuel says she remained interested in the fate of Maria Fernanda and her sister and one day came across a story in a Guatemalan newspaper about a mother searching for her stolen children.

Ultimately, with Emanuel's help, authorities in Guatemala were able to track down the two children, who were eventually reunited with their mother. Marvin Bran, the Guatemalan-based adoption facilitator who was working with Celebrate Children, and his mother, Lilia Consuelo Galindo Ovalle de Bran, were arrested. The Guatemalan government has charged Galindo with aggravated kidnapping and human trafficking with regard to the case.

In 2008, Emanuel forwarded the newspaper article to Florida's Department of Children and Families, which investigated the situation and concluded that there was "no evidence to suggest that Mrs. Hedberg was involved and had knowledge of the situation."

Hedberg told DCF investigators that the children hadn't been kidnapped and suggested that others may have pressured the mother to ask for her children back after giving them up for adoption.

In an e-mail to Florida Trend, Hedberg explained that she doubted the mother's story about the abductions because she had gone through the "normal adoption process," which included a DNA test and a family court interview with a licensed social worker. "To say many months after that a child was stolen is highly unusual as she would have had the opportunity to tell people at her medical evaluation, at the DNA test, and at the family court interview," Hedberg wrote.

The DCF investigation into the Emanuels' complaint concluded that it was the Guatemalan government's responsibility to investigate whether the children's biological mother had freely relinquished her rights or whether her children had been stolen.

DCF required Celebrate Children to take three "corrective actions." It said the adoption agency must provide written communication to clients when referrals of children are lost, as well as written documentation as to why the referral was lost. DCF also required Celebrate Children to send a notice to all of its clients with pending Guatemala adoptions that because Guatemala had suspended new adoptions to deal with its corruption crisis that they were at risk of losing their referrals and if they did, their cases would be closed. DCF also instructed Hedberg to "take responsibility for knowing who she works with (facilitators and lawyers) and where the children come from."

Last summer, DCF admonished Hedberg for a "breach of confidentiality" contained in a letter she had sent to clients requesting that they send letters of support for Hague accreditation of Celebrate Children to the Council of Accreditation. In the body of that letter, Hedberg alleged that Emanuel was on a "mission" to publicly discredit her adoption agency and requested her clients send brief letters including "some of these things that are important to Hague" such as clearly articulated fee schedules, quick response time to questions and inquiries and ethical behavior.

"We are asking only specific adoptive families to write because if it becomes widely known that we are taking people to do this, Betsy will hear this and we do not know where she will stop," Hedberg wrote in the April 11, 2009, e-mail. She ended the e-mail with a request that her clients "remember CCI in prayer over the next few days, that God would be honored and that CCI would be granted Hague accreditation which will assure our longevity and ability to serve many more families and children into the future."

Given the volume of adoptions she facilitates, Hedberg says her track record is good and that most of her clients are pleased with the agency's services. "We enjoy a good relationship with our licensing board and are working honestly and ethically in the countries we serve. There will always be someone who is not happy with their adoption but this is not reflective of the majority of our families."

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