The details, as promised. Commentary to follow. For now, just facts.
We signed on with One World Adoption Services, Inc. (“OWAS”) in November 2010 to adopt two kids under 4 from DRC. In October 2011, after being told that our referral would come soon since May 2011, we were sent a referral for two children (who we called Carolyn and Freddy) (who were said to be 5 and 3 – thus outside of our range). Their paperwork did not include any information about the biological family, except that the mother was unable to care for them, and the father was “unknown.” We asked a number of questions about their birth family and where the children came from and were told by our caseworker that she would look into it. We never heard anything further. We naively accepted OWAS’ word that this was all the information that we would/could receive from DRC.
[Sidenote: I said commentary would come later, but I lied. Never, ever, ever believe this from any agency. Information abounds. Just now I found the former orphanage director on Facebook. People. It’s 2012. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone has an email address. Everyone has a computer.]
In February 2012, we passed court and received the parental authorization form. This was the first time that we ever heard that the biological mother would have to be contacted and actively relinquish her rights. Again we asked for information about her and her situation but did not receive any information from OWAS. On the request for birth certificates, for the first time, we saw the name of a third child (Katie) and asked for information from OWAS. We were then told that she was the children’s biological sister, who was raised with them and had been brought to the orphanage at the same time. Based on this, we can only assume that when we had previously asked OWAS for information about the biological family, they were not attempting to get that information. If they had looked into our questions, it would have been clear that the children had a sister in the orphanage.
We accepted the referral for the older sister not wanting to split up the siblings. At that time, we finally received the “intake form” that included a little more information about the biological family, again stating that the father was “unknown.”
In the spring/early summer of 2012, the woman running the orphanage in Kinshasa was fired due to allegations of corruption. This started raising our red flags. When she was fired, she took (at least) three children from the orphanage to her home. These children were later removed by the police, and she was arrested. (This relates later.)
We passed court with Katie in March 2012 but never received all of her documents or confirmation that her birth certificate or passport were ever requested (we pulled out at the end of August). This was concerning to us given the “shake up.” We never got a straight answer as to what was going on with Katie’s case and whether OWAS had the documents, whether they were in progress or whether they were missing/lost/stolen.
In April 2012, we filed I600s for Carolyn and Freddy. In June 2012, we received a request for evidence asking for more information about the mother’s situation. OWAS was never able to gather adequate documentation, so we had to withdraw the I600 in order to avoid a denial. Since we did not want to solely rely on OWAS, we hired another attorney in DRC to investigate.
It was at this point that the red flags became flaming red on fire flags. First, our investigation revealed that the address given by OWAS for the biological mother was incorrect and that no one by her name had ever lived there, and no neighbors had ever heard of her. Second, we then learned that Freddy was one of the children taken from the orphanage by the fired director, which explained why we had not received any photos of him for months while we did receive photos of the girls. We asked for an update on him but never received any information from OWAS. Finally, in another review of the documents, we saw that the biological mother had the same last name as the fired orphanage director.
In their attempt to respond to the request for evidence, OWAS told us that the biological mother could not be found and/or had moved. However, days later, we received an updated “certificate of indigence” that said, on its face, she had recently appeared at social services and testified as to her status. When we asked OWAS about this document, they told us that the officer had remembered meeting the mother (presumably a year before) and could sign the document based on her memory. This did not sit well with us and looked a lot like a fraudulent document to us.
Based on this series of events, we decided we needed to conduct our own personal investigation since there were too many red flags for us to feel comfortable proceeding. In August, we went to DRC. We met with members of the children’s birth family and quickly learned that our suspicions were, unfortunately, true. The documents that were used to support the children’s cases were all fraudulent. The children were the nieces and nephew o0 the fired director, who had falsely indicated that the father was “unknown” in order to complete the adoption. The mother and father are in a committed relationship, have other children and live about a 4 hour plane ride from Kinshasa. Because the documents were fraudulent, we could not proceed with the adoption.
While we were there, we also learned that Freddy had been back living with his grandmother for a number of months after he had been removed (while we were paying monthly orphan support for him). While in DRC, we met the children’s grandmother, and while she is not rich, by any means, we could see that she had some means to provide. The children have been returned to her, and we are very glad for that. Their grandmother loves them, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best situation for them.
When we met with OWAS upon our return, they confirmed that we could not proceed with an international adoption where there are two known, living parents (not to mention fraudulent documents). While we had hoped that they would work with us to resolve our situation, they refuse to refund any of our money.
These are the cold hard facts. We have many other suspicions about further corruption in DRC and adoptions, and I will post my commentary another time. Thanks for following our journey. We are down, but not out!