Families in B.C. seeking to adopt a child are reeling after the agency they had been dealing with was suddenly shut down.
Four years ago, Patricia and Aaron Pearson looked at adoption to start a family.
They were concerned about conceiving but then Patricia got pregnant. So the adoption process was put on hold.
Two years after their daughter was born, they revisited the adoption route.
“We went into this process with a tremendous amount of guilt knowing that we have a biological child,” said Aaron Pearson.
“You go into adoption knowing there are no guarantees and knowing it’s going to be a roller coaster,” said Patricia Pearson.
The British Columbia couple turned to Choices Adoption. It was a reputable not-for-profit agency that had operated in Victoria for 30 years.
There were costs for visits with social workers and courses on adopting children that totalled $12,000. The Pearsons understood and happily paid.
Then in October 2019, the agency suddenly closed and the Pearsons got word of it in an e-mail.
“We’ve now essentially paid to bring a child into our family and there’s no recourse,” said Patricia Pearson.
Kory Bell was in the same boat. She and her husband Beau also spent $12,000 to adopt a baby. They paid the last installation of $7,000 in August 2019 – just two months before the agency closed.
“It has been very devastating. It’s a hard enough thing adopting. It’s a lot. You do background checks and classes,” said Bell.
Up to 90 potential families have been left in the lurch. At the time of its closure, Choices Adoption blamed it on countries imposing tighter restrictions on international adoptions, which helped with funding.
“Despite our efforts to work towards the development of a new business model and the implementation of drastic cost-cutting measures, we came to the difficult conclusion that the agency could no longer continue to operate,” the board wrote in a statement.
Global News has obtained minutes from board meetings and financial statements that show the agency had money problems for months, if not years.
There was never an audit but a cursory review by accounting firm Hutcheson and Co. found Choices was running a deficit of $107,000 in 2018 and $81,000 in 2017.
Robin Pike was the executive director of the agency for seven years before it closed. Global News tried contacting her but she did not return our calls by publication time.
In board minutes from January 2019, the board had concerns about “bankruptcy” and “a need to develop a plan for its closure.”
Choices Adoption did plan to shutter in April 2019. Then a new board was elected, thinking that could save it.
That board realized the money problems were even worse than it was led to believe. Choices Adoption closed for good in October 2019.
In the meantime, the agency asked and got $90,000 from the province to pay its debts.
The Pearsons and Bell say they would have expected the provincial bailout to be a lifeline to save the agency.
“The Ministry (of Children and Family Development) relicensed Choices as recently as August (2019) — two months before they closed. So they clearly weren’t doing their due diligence,” Bell said.
Because B.C. is in the midst of a provincial election, the minister in charge, Katrine Convoy, won’t comment.
Bell has filed a complaint with the B.C.’s ombudsperson but hasn’t heard anything back. She says some families went to Victoria police wondering if there was a case for financial mismanagement or fraud.
A spokesperson for the police service told Global News it couldn’t find any information that suggests there is an ongoing investigation.
The insurance for Choices doesn’t cover paying back these families, so they’re out of luck on that front.
The province said it could have Choices’ files transferred over to two other agencies that are still operating in British Columbia.
If the Pearsons continue the adoption route, they have to start the difficult process all over again. Still, they’re not ruling it out.
“We’ve wavered a lot because it is a huge stress and we definitely want to still build our family. I think it is still a viable option,” said Aaron Pearson.
“There are so many children that need a home. And we are lucky that we can provide that,“ said Patricia Pearson.
Kory Bell says the emotional toll has been too much for her.
“I would still love to adopt. But I don’t see how it’s possible in this scheme. I can’t just keep throwing money down a hole, especially if nobody is going to insure the system or support it,” she said.