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A Utah agency that has come under fire in the past for its involvement in controversial adoptions has been put on notice that the state plans to revoke its license after it continued to accept new clients despite being prohibited from doing so.
The Adoption Center of Choice has until Feb. 20 to respond to the revocation notice from the Office of Licensing for the Utah Department of Human Services.
The action follows a notice issued last September, when the agency was told to correct various operating problems and given a probationary license that expires at the end of the month.
On Sept. 23, 2013, the agency was barred from accepting new birth parents and prospective adoptive parents for six months while its probationary license was in effect or until it came into compliance with all licensing requirements. But the state says the agency accepted both birth mothers and adoptive parents while still under those prohibitions.
The Adoption Center of Choice, located in American Fork, also failed to publicly post the state action notice and its corrective action plan where clients could easily review the documents on its functional website, Facebook page and blog, according to the state's letter to the agency. The letter, which the agency received on Feb. 5, lists 11 other outstanding operational violations, including failure to properly document expenses paid on behalf of birth mothers or show how those expenses were consistent with fees charged to prospective adoptive parents.
The Adoption Center of Choice, contacted through one of its attorneys, did not respond to a request for comment.
The agency has been given seven corrective action notices since August 2004; six were issued in 2010 or later.
In September 2012, it was placed under a corrective action plan because of documentation problems in its case files. That probation period was extended in January 2013 and again in September 2013.
Liz Sollis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services, said under agency rules, the center is given time to respond to identified deficiencies in its operations and to take steps to correct problems. Ongoing reviews may reveal new problems, which an agency then also is given time to correct.
"We go by the rules," she said.
In 2012, the agency made international headlines after a married father successfully sued to have his daughter returned to him. Terry Achane's then wife, pregnant with their first child, fled to Utah while Achanewas in the midst of a military assignment transfer from Texas to South Carolina. The child was born in Utah in March 2011 and Achane learned only months later what happened.
The center, founded in 1995, has been involved in at least five other disputed adoptions that led to rulings by the Utah Supreme Court or Utah Court of Appeals. All involved unmarried fathers, none of whom were able to stop the adoptions of their biological children.
The Adoption Center of Choice also has tangled with prospective adoptive parents who allege in lawsuits the agency misled them about adoption opportunities or fees it charged. Last year, it filed several lawsuits against prospective adoptive parents it claimed promised to pay fees but didn't.
The Utah Office of Licensing does not officially track complaints. According to a records request from The Salt Lake Tribune, the office issued corrective action notices to three other adoption agencies between January 2008 and January 2013. That included notifying All For Love Adoptions in 2008 that the state planned to revoke its license for failure to comply with such requirements as providing notice about a pending adoption to a known biological father who had taken steps to protect his rights.
Last year, the Utah Legislature approved a bill that required the office to implement minimum ethical rules for agencies that include prohibiting an agency or employee from misrepresenting facts or information. But language that would have given the office more authority to reign in and sanction unscrupulous agencies fell short.
"We need more strict regulatory oversight with real consequences for those who step outside the bounds of propriety," said Wes Hutchins, an adoption attorney and president of Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices. "There are those who've shown over and over again that they don't take corrective actions seriously."