Imagine Adoption: restart of bankrupt agency gives new hope to 350 Canadian families

Sue Hayhow Sue Hayhow
(Oct. 16, 2009)   First came the shocking July 14 news that Kids Link International Adoption Agency in Cambridge, Ont. (usually called Imagine Adoption) was bankrupt. About 350 families were left with their adoption files in limbo, and tens of thousands of dollars apparently gone with no result.

Some families, expecting to adopt from Ethiopia, Ghana or Ecuador, had paid up to $20,000 to the agency. Others had invested lesser amounts in deposits, legal fees and home studies.

The bankruptcy spelled financial and emotional hardship for prospective parents across the country, not just in Ontario. Media reports gave figures such as: in British Columbia 80 families were affected; 64 Alberta families were clients of Imagine; 30 Saskatchewan families were in limbo; in New Brunswick up to ten families were affected.

The July 30 creditors meeting drew the distressing picture: creditors were owed $3 million, against $500,000 in assets. Rather than press their claims the creditors unanimously decided to try to have the bankruptcy annulled and get the adoptions finished.

Then on Sept. 21 creditors voted 248-20 in favour of the restructuring proposal of bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody: pull Imagine Adoption out of bankruptcy and install new management to pick up where the old one left off. Families would have to pay a fee to renew their adoption contracts but at least they would have a chance of seeing their adoptions go forward rather than losing everything. BDO got court approval of the restructuring plan on Sept. 29, 2009.

The government tightened up its requirements. Deb Matthews, Ontario's minister of children and youth services, said that from now on adoption agencies will have to provide financial documents such as audited statements. It's also possible that adoption agencies will have an insurance plan to reimburse clients if an agency fails.

For a complete chronology, see "The Imagine Adoption Story, Day-by-Day".

Imagine Adoption (Sue Hayhow, Executive Director) was the operating name for Saint Anne Adoption Centre and Kids Link International Adoption Agency. The two agencies shared office space and staff in Cambridge but were legally separate because they held provincial licenses to operate in different countries.

Saint Anne was licensed for adoptions in Ecuador and was operated by Beryl Mercer and Kenneth Plotnik until they retired in September 2006, when Imagine took over their clients. Kids Link was licensed for Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia.

Kids Link went bankrupt on July 14 and Saint Anne on Aug. 14, 2009. Kids Link had about 350 clients, most adopting in Ethiopia. Saint Anne had 29 clients.

In other developments:

  • The fraud division of the Waterloo Regional Police opened an investigation into allegations of improper spending at Imagine Adoption of over $300,000 on items such as home renovations, trips and spas.
  • Imagine Adoption ran a transition home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which houses children until Canadian parents they've been matched with come to take them home. Bankruptcy trustee Susan Taves said the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi has checked that the transition home is able to continue caring for the children.
  • Toronto mining company Yamana Gold donated US$100,000 to keep the transition home afloat until 43 Ethiopian children awaiting adoption leave for Canada. The Calgary Herald said on July 17, 2009 that one parent group raised over $3,000 to care for the children at the transition home.

  • Imagine's executive director Susan Hayhow and her partner Andrew Morrow went to Ethiopia shortly after the bankruptcy to help with the operations of the transition home.
  • Imagine Adoption was working with an orphanage in Ghana which was closed in June by authorities in Ghana. The orphanage was run by Hands of Mercy Christian Outreach International, a non-profit group in Fort Erie, Ont. There were concerns that the children there were not orphans, and were taken from their families for the purpose of international adoption. Most of Imagine's adoptions were in Ethiopia, but the agency also worked with the Ghana orphanage, matching nine children there with Canadian families. When Canadian Immigration learned the orphanage was under investigation for child trafficking it put the nine adoptions on hold.
  • Imagine's executive director Susan Hayhow ran a charity in Ethiopia separate from Imagine Adoption called Global Reach Children's Fund. She had been fundraising to build a complex called Faith Village in Sululta to provide services such as a foster care home and a primary school.


Imagine Adoption was not the first bankruptcy involving an adoption agency in the province of Ontario. In 1997 the owners of an agency for Peru (Laura and Edgar Leon of Helping Hands in Mississauga) declared bankruptcy; creditors were Revenue Canada and several prospective adoptive families [Adoption Helper #28]. In those days Ontario agencies did not need to be licensed and could operate without provincial oversight.


Bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody posts updates at

The Families of Imagine Adoption (FIA) Steering Committee launched Families with web site to inform families affected by the bankruptcy of Imagine Adoption. It provides a list of links under "Resources".

The Families of Imagine blog is for families with files in all the countries being handled by Imagine Adoption: Ethiopia, Ecuador, Haiti, Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda, Panama, Zambia, Rwanda and Ghana.

Two Facebook pages connect parents hit by the bankruptcy. "Imagine Adoption Program - Support Group", created by Jenn and Matt Garside of Hamilton, Ont., had 793 members on Oct 16, 2009. "Help the Families and Orphans of the Adoption Agency Imagine", created by Brenton Dickieson of Charlottetown PEI, had 460 members on Oct 16, 2009.

A petition, "Help those affected by Imagine Adoption bankruptcy" was started by "Families affected by Imagine Adoption's bankruptcy" to put pressure on the Ontario government to intervene on behalf of the children and families wanting to adopt them.

The Ethiopia Project started in Calgary to raise money to help cover the cost of adoptions in limbo. The fund is administered by Christian Adoption Services.

The forum on Yahoo for Canadians adopting in Ethiopia is Canadaadoptsethiopia. Created Nov. 8, 2006, it had 660 members on Oct. 16, 2009.

The licensing body for Ontario adoption agencies is Ministry of Children and Youth Services. See the ministry's Updates: Kids Link International Adoption Agency (Imagine Adoption).

The federal Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has set up a help line at 416-326-6510 to respond to inquiries.


For a chronology of events, see "The Imagine Adoption Story, Day-by-Day".
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"From Family Helper,"