DHS investigation finds Utah adoption agency’s billing practices, record keeping could ‘allow for harm or fraud’

A Centerville adoption agency could lose its license if it doesn’t fix alleged violations in its billing and record keeping practices uncovered in a monthslong Department of Human Services investigation.

On Oct. 6, Heart and Soul Adoptions Inc. received a notice from DHS that said its license had been put on conditional status because of “a lack of transparency in billing practices and insufficient record keeping practices.”

The notice alleges the agency’s methods could “allow for harm or fraud.”

The agency has since appealed the notice, a Heart and Soul Adoptions representative said in an email. A hearing for the appeal has not yet been scheduled.

“We continue to operate as a licensed child placing agency,” the representative said.

The representative didn’t offer further comment or clarification, stating, “I have been advised not to talk about it.”

The investigation reportedly found multiple violations of Utah Administrative Code and state statutes, including the following:

  • While some birth mothers received Medicaid to pay for their medical expenses, the adoptive parents were charged more than $4,000 for the birth mother’s bills.

  • Expense forms weren’t itemized, meaning birth mothers couldn’t verify they’d received those goods and services, though “several were compensated with large sums of money.”

  • A sampling of files from 2014 to present showed the agency didn’t itemize fees charges to adoptive parents, meaning clients might not be able to understand the fees they were required to pay.

  • The agency charged adoptive parents “Home Study” or “Counseling services” fees, in addition to an “Agency Fee.” Utah Administrative Code states home study expenses and counseling services should be included in the “Agency Fee.”

  • In multiple cases, the agency didn’t search to see whether a baby’s biological dad — or someone without legal ties to a child who claims to be the biological father — was registered in the putative father registry. The database gives birth fathers certain rights, such as petitioning for adoption.

DHS in its notice outlined 14 violations, saying they “are indicative of the potential for adoptive parents to be defrauded for medical expenses and birth mothers being offered or given money with the intent to induce or encourage a person to sell or dispose of a child.”

The Office of Licensing issued 11 conditions the agency must comply with to remove the conditional status. It cannot be lifted before May 21.

Among other restrictions, the agency cannot recruit, match or transport clients to Utah, or provide other services during the conditional period. It, however, can continue to work with current clients.

The conditions state the agency must also “demonstrate good faith efforts” to comply with all applicable rules and statutes, disclose its licensing status to clients, and develop policies and procedures — to be approved by the licensing office — that will ensure compliance in future cases.

In addition, the agency is required to post the notice on its website and social media pages.

As of Sunday night, however, the notice was not on Heart and Soul Adoptions’ website, Twitter or Instagram. The agency’s Facebook was unavailable.

DHS can take additional action against the agency if it does not resolve the violations, DHS spokeswoman Heather Barnum said in a statement.

“It is important to note that adoption is a wonderful thing for the child, the adoptive parents and the birth parents; however, adoption must be transparent and comply with ethical laws of the state in order to protect all parties and the integrity of their rights,” Barnum said.

The agency’s licensing troubles are among the most recent in a series of adoption-related issues to hit the Beehive State.

West Sand Adoption and Counseling lost its accreditation to handle foreign adoptions in September because it couldn’t “demonstrate it was financially stable.”

It’s one of dozens that have closed since 2008, when the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption was fully implemented in the U.S.

Meant to protect children from abduction and trafficking, the convention lengthened the adoption process and made it harder for agencies to make money.