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Adoption agency's bankruptcy devastates families Add to ...

An agency that helps Canadians adopt children from Africa has filed for bankruptcy, creating an uncertain future for scores of children and financial and emotional hardship for their prospective new parents.

Kids Link International Adoption Agency made the announcement yesterday, shocking an estimated 200 families who are in the process of adopting children from Ethiopia and Ghana.

"I can't even tell you how devastated we are," said a woman who asked not to be identified. She and her husband have given the agency almost $20,000 and expected to meet their adopted Ethiopian child within months.

"We're done. We have no money left. We can't do this again."

Kids Link, which operates out of Cambridge, Ont., under the name Imagine Adoption, posted a notice on its website yesterday saying the agency's board of directors met on July 10 and decided to pull the plug.

"It was clear that the funds in the bank accounts are not sufficient to service the families in the Kids Link Program," said the letter written by Susan E. Taves of the financial recovery services company BDO Dunwoody Ltd.

Parents were told that an investigation is under way and to expect a legal notice by Friday. The letter said the agency's owner, Susan Hayhow, and her partner, Andrew Morrow, travelled to Africa yesterday.

Rumours about trouble at the agency surfaced late last week, after some prospective parents received warnings from adoption practitioners. But their urgent calls to the agency went unanswered - and only late yesterday afternoon did they discover why.

"At the end of the day, it's two years and almost $20,000 later, and all we're left with is a lot of heartache," said a woman from Victoria who was in the process of adopting from Ghana before she was told, in mid-June, that the program had been stalled. The $15,000 she's invested has not been returned.

She's also anxious about the children waiting for homes. Imagine Adoption runs two transition homes in Addis Ababa, where infants and toddlers live until the Canadian families they've been matched with can take them home.

"I'm sickened about the whole thing," said Noel Sanche-Spencer, who returned home from Addis Ababa on Sunday with the one-year-old daughter she adopted through Imagine Adoption.

She said a staff member told her that employees had not been paid, and they were worried the children wouldn't get enough to eat.

"To find out that some of these children are in limbo and their financial support is cut off is hard to deal with," Ms. Sanche-Spencer said.

Matthew Garside, who lives in Paisley, Ont., said he just wants to know the next steps. He's in the process of adopting the biological brother of twin boys he adopted two years ago through Imagine Adoption.

"He will come home to Canada," Mr. Garside said. "I'm not deterred."

Canadian adoptions from Africa are on the rise. Last year, there were more than 100 from the continent, a more than threefold increase since 2002. Most are from Ethiopia - now the second most popular country for Canadian international adoptions - rising from 13 adoptions in 2002 to 96 in the first nine months of 2007 (the most recent data available). South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo have begun sending children to Canada in the past five years.

The trend is in large part due to supply and demand: China's adoption program is slowing down drastically - there are now five-year waiting lists for Chinese infants - so Canadian adoption agencies are searching for new programs. Many are turning to Africa, where conflict, poverty and disease have orphaned millions of children - 12 million from HIV/AIDS alone.

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