Adoption probe traps babies

Adoption probe traps babies

Guatemalans’ seizure of orphanage leaves Mass. families in limbo

They gave her a bottle, put her down for naps, snapped photographs. Over five days in June in Guatemala, Ellen and Sean Darcy lived like a family with Carolina, the 4-month-old baby they planned to adopt.

Back home in Newton, they bought a double stroller for Carolina and Dylan, 22 months, whom they adopted from Guatemala last year. Ellen Darcy sewed Carolina a pink quilt, and bought her pajamas.

Eight weeks later, armed officers seized Carolina’s orphanage, confiscated paperwork, and detained orphanage lawyers. Guatemalan officials alleged that babies there may have been abducted or their mothers forced into giving them away.

Now the Darcys fear they may never see Carolina again, and Ellen Darcy worries that authorities are neglecting Carolina. She searches for news from Guatemala. She cannot bring herself to set up Carolina’s crib.

“It’s been horrible; it’s been heart-wrenching,” Ellen Darcy said. “I don’t think we can breathe easy until we go to pick her up and we have her back in the United States.”

Forty-two US families, including four from Massachusetts, who are trying to adopt babies from the orphanage are caught in limbo. Unsure of the treatment the children have received and uncertain whether the allegations will be resolved, they have pleaded with members of Congress to send US officials to check on the babies’ welfare. They have turned to one another for advice, solace, and any scraps of news.

“It’s been an emotional nightmare,” said Chip McIntosh, 39, a nurse practitioner and Air Force reservist from Quincy who recently began the process to adopt 2-month-old Edwin from the Casa Quivira orphanage. “You feel helpless. You want to be there and check on your child and make sure he’s OK, and you can’t.”

Guatemalan authorities said after the Aug. 11 takeover that they may charge two Casa Quivira lawyers with human trafficking. They said most of the 46 children at the orphanage lacked documents showing their mothers had given them up willingly. Casa Quivira’s directors, a Floridian named Clifford Phillips and his wife, a Guatemalan named Sandra González, denied that allegation.

“We will clear our name,” Phillips said by phone from Florida. “We have nothing to hide.”

Guatemala has been under pressure from the United States for several years to clean up its adoption industry, which has placed more than 25,000 children in American homes since 1990. The US State Department has raised concerns that Guatemalan mothers have been threatened into giving up babies for adoption or pressured to do so for money. The State Department has also said that some parents who adopted from Guatemalan agencies have reported being asked to pay large sums of cash in order to complete adoptions.

Guatemala’s attorney general said last week that his office was preparing for tougher rules that go into effect Jan. 1, when Guatemala will implement the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions. The convention will require the government to establish an agency to monitor foreign adoptions and ensure that babies are given up willingly.

“What we’ve done does not mean parents will not be able to adopt,” Attorney General Mario Gordillo said. “It will just take more time because the birth mothers will need to appear for DNA tests to determine their blood relation and so they can be asked again if they want to give their children up for adoption.”

Phillips said Casa Quivira is being scapegoated. He said the orphanage, which opened in 1994, has handled 800 adoptions and has a spotless record. He said the babies come from mothers who are too poor to care for them. The mothers are not paid, he said.

DNA test results for all but five of the Casa Quivira orphans show they are the children of the mothers who brought them to the orphanage, proving they weren’t taken from mothers who didn’t want to give them up, Phillips said. The other five will undergo DNA tests once they are further into the adoption process, he said.

“I believe they are beating us up to try to demonstrate that they’re tough on adoptions,” Phillips said. “We’re the most visible, most transparent, legal organization processing adoptions in Guatemala.”

The takeover has alarmed some adoption specialists who handle cases in Guatemala.

Maxine G. Chalker, executive director of Pennsylvania-based Adoptions From The Heart, said Guatemala is cracking down on adoption lawyers because a few, seeking cash, have coerced mothers into giving away babies.

“It doesn’t sound to me like they’re going to work this out anytime soon, which is really a concern,” said Chalker, who has handled Guatemalan adoptions for 10 years.

Since the police entered Casa Quivira, Guatemalan social welfare officials have been running the orphanage and caring for the children. Nine children were hospitalized with respiratory infections, which prompted the Darcys and others in line to adopt to ask members of Congress to intervene. Authorities have let two adoptions by Americans proceed since the takeover, raising hope that more might follow.

Ellen Darcy, 34, a nurse, and her husband, a pharmaceutical safety specialist, have gone through adoption ordeals before. After struggling with infertility, they adopted Dylan from another orphanage in June 2006. Then Dylan’s brother, 4-month-old Jeremy, whom they wanted to adopt from the same orphanage, contracted meningitis and pneumonia and died before the Darcys could bring him to Newton.

In June, they traveled to Guatemala and stayed with Carolina in a guesthouse near Casa Quivira. Photos from the trip show Ellen and Sean Darcy playing with Dylan and Carolina.

They expected to finalize the adoption this fall. Now, they are not sure whether to buy Carolina a plane ticket for their Christmas vacation to Ireland.

“This situation is compounded by years of disappointment and loss, and if it weren’t for our son, who is the light of our lives, we would believe there is a black cloud hanging above us,” Ellen Darcy said. “But even if this doesn’t work, we’ll adopt again, because he has blessed us in a way that makes all this heartache worth it. He is truly a miracle.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at


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