Embattled Georgia adoption agency closing

A Georgia-based agency active in international adoptions has decided to go out of business after being punished with a 90-day suspension over allegations of improper documentation in its operations in Congo.

In a letter to the roughly 120 families it was serving, One World Adoption Services (OWAS) in Sugar Hill said that due to the suspension, “our continued operation as an agency is no longer feasible.”

The letter said the families would be provided with referrals to other agencies that would accept transfers of pending cases. One World, which says it has served hundreds of families since its founding in 2003, was currently working on adoptions from Belize, Bulgaria, Brazil, Latvia and Ukraine, as well as Congo.

“OWAS has been in business 11 years and has had a stellar reputation,” Joel Ferdinand, the attorney for the nonprofit One World, said Friday. “Its closure is unfortunate not only for OWAS, but for the 120 families effected by the decision.”

The 90-day suspension — announced Wednesday — was ordered by the New York-based Council on Accreditation, the authority designated by the U.S. State Department to monitor and accredit American adoption agencies that operate abroad.

According to the council’s investigation, the suspension was warranted for several violations of international adoption regulations that occurred in Congo. These included failing to obtain proper documentation to prove that a child was eligible for adoption, providing a prospective adoptive parent with a document that may have contained false information, and forwarding to another prospective adoptive family a lawyer’s request for a $2,000 payment “to motivate public officials to act.”

One World’s attorney labeled the council’s allegations “flatly unfounded.”

“At no time did OWAS seek a bribe. At no time did OWAS condone a bribe,” Ferdinand said. “OWAS provided ample documentation that the Congolese attorney provided the alleged improper documents, not OWAS.”

Richard Klarberg, the accreditation council’s president, said the council offered a settlement to One World that would have lessened the penalty, but the offer was not accepted. Ferdinand said the offer was for a 30-day suspension.

One World, in its letter to client families, said it had been “cooperative, truthful, and transparent” throughout the two-year investigation.

“The issues we’ve faced in Congo are not unique to our agency,” the letter said. “They are a result of many challenges existing in that country, including inadequate infrastructure, corruption, and cultural issues.”

One World became the latest of several international adoption agencies in the U.S. to close down as the number of foreign children adopted by Americans continues to plummet. There were 7,094 adoptions from abroad last year, down almost 70 percent from the high of 22,884 in 2004.

One World’s closure comes amid continuing turmoil over pending adoptions of children in the Congo by families in America and elsewhere. Hundreds of adoptions have been stalled since September, when Congolese authorities stopped issuing the exit permits needed for the children to leave the country, even in cases where the adoptions had been officially approved.

The State Department and members of Congress have been working to break the stalemate, and some children have been able to join their adoptive families in the U.S. But many other cases remain stalled.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Staff writer Dan Chapman contributed to this article.

X