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Imagine Adoption, run by Susan Hayhow (centre), declared bankruptcy earlier this week, leaving many children waiting to be adopted.
Imagine Adoption, run by Susan Hayhow (centre), declared bankruptcy earlier this week, leaving many children waiting to be adopted.

Board questions adoption agency's expenses Add to ...

Would-be adoptive parents in Ontario are questioning the province's decision to give a bankrupt adoption agency a fresh licence last October as new details emerge about the organization's unusual expenses.

Families who had paid Imagine Adoption tens of thousands of dollars in the hopes of adopting a child are now among its creditors along with a swimming pool company, a pet store and the car dealerships that supplied the company cars - a Nissan Pathfinder and a Lexus.

Bankruptcy trustee Susan Taves said the high amount of personal expenses by agency executives, including director Susan Hayhow, was brought to her attention by the agency's board of directors and will be investigated as part of a total financial review.

"They've questioned some cheque amounts and some Visa expense submissions that look personal in nature," Ms. Taves said.

There are approximately 30 children at the agency's transition home in Ethiopia who have been matched with Canadian parents, Ms. Taves said. She said there are no other children in the care of the agency, which had another 370 families waiting to be matched with a child. Imagine Adoption also operates in Ghana and Ecuador.

Ms. Taves said the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi has checked that the transition homes are able to continue caring for the children for the time being.

"They're all well, they're all being cared for," Ms. Taves said. "But there will be a need if this takes a long time to find some other funds."

Ms. Taves said she has been communicating with Ms. Hayhow, who left for Ethiopia shortly after the bankruptcy was announced late last week with her partner, Andrew Morrow, who also works for Imagine.

"She's there of her own accord," Ms. Taves said. "She's there to see what she could do, I guess."

Susan Shea had paid Imagine $25,000 to help her adopt a child from Ecuador, and calls the news "devastating."

"They did betray our trust in them," Ms. Shea said from her home in Ottawa. "And we're very shocked by the news considering we were getting updates every month that everything was fine.

"You'd think that if there was any kind of financial problem, their licence wouldn't be renewed in Ontario."

The ministry did not come across any irregularities in the financial statements required to renew the agency's licence, which was in good standing, said Kevin Spafford, spokesman for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Mr. Spafford noted that the ministry doesn't require agencies to submit audited financial statements that would list their expenses in order to renew a licence.

Beryl Mercer was director of St. Anne's Adoption Centre, which was later operated under the name Imagine Adoption by Ms. Hayhow. Ms. Mercer says she rarely drew a salary of over $30,000 a year due to the difficulty of running a non-profit and has never heard of an adoption agency with company cars for employees.

"You'll see there just isn't that kind of money to go around. You're basically operating on a shoestring," Ms. Mercer said.

David Cotter adopted twin girls from Ethiopia through Imagine Adoption, but says the process was far from easy.

"It was clear to me that they had no idea what they were doing," Mr. Cotter said.

"We had no faith in the organization, my wife nor I. We were told repeatedly you'll have a match next week, so that took about four months of 'you'll have one next week.'"

Mr. Cotter said he believes there should be stricter oversight of adoption organizations.

"I don't know what kind of looking into these agencies the province does, but it's not enough."

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