Lawyer Aids in Adoptions From Hungary

Originally published in the New York Times on July 19, 1998, by Penny Singer. Read original article.

”I FEEL very angry that the emphasis on adoption in Eastern Europe has been so negative of late, with nothing but horror story after horror story,” Suzanne B. Nichols said. ”I want to let people know there is an alternative. We have made successful adoptions of 360 children from Hungary for nine years, with happy endings in every instance, a 100 percent success rate.”

Ms. Nichols is a partner in Rosenstock Lowe & Nichols, a White Plains law firm, which specializes in domestic and international adoption law. Ms. Nichols, who has directed the international practice for almost 10 years, makes many trips to Hungary with prospective adoptive parents to assist them with adoptions of children living in Hungarian orphanages and foster homes.

”The majority of families are from the United States,” she said. ”But we have also assisted families from Britain, Spain, Switzerland, Ecuador and France who are eager to adopt Hungarian children. Although the Hungarian Government likes to see children placed with families as quickly as possible, the immigration laws vary from country to country. The procedure takes Swiss clients three to four weeks. By contrast, the time is three months for U.S. citizens.”

When asked why children from Hungary seemed to fare better in adoptive homes than do children from other Eastern European countries, Ms. Nichols said: ”The wonderful part about Hungary is that they keep good records and supply us with accurate information. There are few surprises. We are aware, up front, about the physical and mental health of each Hungarian child put up for adoption.”

And, she said, the physical and mental health of Hungarian children in orphanages and foster care is usually very good.

”Although Hungary is still a poor country, the Government makes certain that the people caring for its children are well educated,” Ms. Nichols said. ”Take the issue of bonding, for example. A Hungarian caretaker is responsible for a maximum of four children in order to facilitate bonding. And the children have the same caretaker from the time they arrive in an orphanage to the time they leave. Because of this emphasis on the child’s well-being early on, Hungarian children are prized.” Ms. Nichols is aware of only one other adoption lawyer and one agency in the United States that work directly with the Hungarian Government on adoptions.

”When I began working in Hungary almost 10 years ago, it was very slow going,” she recalled. ”I literally had to prove my worth. It was only after I made three simultaneous adoptions, all successful, that I was given permission by the Government to handle adoptions of Hungarian children.”

Prospective parents seeking international adoption must submit to a home study by a licensed social worker or a representative from a licensed social services agency to determine that they are financially responsible and in good health physically and emotionally. In addition, they are fingerprinted to be sure they have no criminal record.

”Federal fingerprint tests are demanded by the Immigration and Naturalization service,” Ms. Nichols said, adding that the process takes about 10 to 12 weeks. ”Then as children become available, the Hungarian orphanages we deal with will identify a child for placement with a particular family. Requests for boys or girls are honored. The prospective parents then go to Hungary, where they are met by a Hungarian facilitator who takes charge of them, taking them to the orphanage or foster home where they meet the child.”

With new regulations imposed by the current Hungarian Government, Ms. Nichols said that the procedure, which formerly took two weeks, now requires a 30-day stay in Hungary. All travel and living expenses are the responsibility of the prospective parents.

In addition, there are legal and medical fees. Children have to receive a clean bill of health from a doctor sent by the United States Embassy, and there is a payment to the facilitator and fees to the orphanage plus the cost of translating documents. That adds up to $25,000 to $30,000.

”The money is put in a trust account, and no funds are disbursed until the family accepts the child,” Ms. Nichols said. ”This eliminates financial risk to the family.”

Expensive, yes. Yet, said David Cahn, who runs his own investment business, the rewards that come from being a father cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Last October Mr. Cahn and his wife, Lorna, who live in Monsey, became the parents of Michael and Jeffrey, brothers, whom the Cahns adopted in Hungary when Michael was 10 months old and Jeffrey was 3.

”They have made our world,” Mr. Cahn said. ”We cannot envision life without them. We always wanted children, and they seemed naturally ours from the minute we left Hungary with them in tow.”

The Cahns, who have been married 10 years, contacted public and private adoption agencies and explored every adoption option without success. ”There just didn’t seem to be any healthy American babies out there,” Mr. Cahn said. ”The adoption agencies kept giving us hope but no results. In the meantime, I had clipped an ad about overseas adoptions and forgot all about it, until one day I found it. As a result, we went to a seminar given by Suzanne on overseas adoptions. It was outstanding. About 30 couples were there, including a mother with her adopted baby. In May 1997, we decided to go for it, and now we have two wonderful children, so loving and affectionate it’s hard to believe they are adopted. People even remark on how much they look like us. Jeffrey is dark, with dark eyes like me, and Michael has my wife’s blondish hair and brown eyes.”

The boys, who lived in foster care in Hungary, were extremely well cared for, Mr. Cahn said. ”We were supplied with detailed medical records. The boys are healthy and emotionally well adjusted. They have no hang ups. Michael is beginning to talk — in English, naturally — and Jeffrey has become fluent. They are a joy.”

Another couple, Nancy and John Crotty of Rye, have a biological set of 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, yet last November they came back from Hungary with a 4-month-old girl they named Anna.

”We always wanted a large family,” said Mrs. Crotty, whose husband is a bond salesman. ”I heard about Suzanne and Hungarian adoptions through a friend. Adopting Anna has been the greatest experience I could ever imagine, even surpassing the birth of my twins. When we first saw her, by our standards, she was living in very primitive conditions, but her foster mother was wonderful, and Anna is emotionally a very happy, well-adjusted baby.”

The Crottys are so delighted with Anna that they are going back to Hungary a second time. ”This time we requested a boy,” Mrs. Crotty said. ”Suzanne has been wonderful, helping us all the way.”

Not all of her clients are affluent, Ms. Nichols observed. ”Many are working-class people who save and save, because it is so important for them to have a family,” she said. ”That is part of why international adoption is so attractive to them. You only pay when you get the child.”

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