Role Of Samoa Victim Support Group In Adoptions Questioned

admin's picture

Australian doctor upset by conditions children face at shelter

By Sophie Budvietas

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 28, 2014) - An Australian volunteer, Dr. Micaela Elphick, has questioned the Samoa Victim Support Group's (S.V.S.G) involvement in the adoption of children.

Dr. Elphick, who spent time at the shelter where babies who could be adopted are being kept, has also questioned the condition of care at the shelter.

Before Dr. Elphick's time at the shelter, she said she spoke with another volunteer who had been working there.

She "had expressed how upset she was at the conditions at the shelter (and) said that several times, they had run out of food and that the babies were being fed tea when they didn't have formula," Dr. Elphick said.

"This would go on for 24 hours. She said there were no nappies frequently and she wanted to get medical attention for the babies and it wasn't happening.

"And when we went there, that is exactly what was happening."

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Dr. Elphick said she has come forward because she felt it was her "moral responsibility" to raise the issue.

"It is so frustrating and yet they are flaunting all these great things that they do," she said. "Look I am sure there probably are some great people involved doing grass roots stuff at Victims Support.

"But there are also some major problems."

Dr. Elphick said that when she first went to the shelter, she was told that she and the other volunteers had to meet the S.V.S.G. President, Lina Chang about the problems.

"When we went to see her, she said that we had to understand that the shelter was not an official project so it didn't have funding allocated to it in a standard way and therefore resources were very limited," Dr. Elphick said.

"She stressed that quite heavily. I am not sure whether part of that was because I know that one of the other volunteers had been trying to contact her via email to complain about the conditions the babies were being kept in."

Asked for a comment, Mrs. Chang denied ever having met Dr. Elphick. In rejecting the allegations, she also said she did not talk to volunteers.

"There is a person that is a volunteer person that looks after them," Mrs. Chang told the Samoa Observer. "Some volunteers go out, but I don't see them as that is not my job."

Last week, Mrs. Chang asked the Samoa Observer to give S.V.S.G time to respond to the allegations. She promised an official response by yesterday.

Her response to questions sent to her is published on the front page. [PIR editor's note: Chang responded to questions fielded by the Samoa Observer, highlighting that SVSG does not facilitate overseas adoptions, and its only involvement is caring for and looking out for the best interests of abandoned children under its purview.]

According to Dr. Elphick, the women who work at the shelter say that part of the reason they can't get nappies and food on time is because Mrs. Chang controls every step of what happens.

"And she won't or can't be available to sign cheques when they are needed," she said.

"So she says they will ask for supplies but then they have to wait until the cheques are signed by Lina."

Dr. Elphick said the first thing she noticed when she got there was that the shelter was constantly out of supplies.

"I have actually got a text on my phone from yesterday (day in January 2014) from one of the workers there asking if I can buy formula because she hasn't got enough to feed the babies," she said. "And this is common."

Dr. Elphick showed the Samoa Observer the text message. It reads: "Micaela pls its me nani..sorry to bother you guys but can you tell micaela that I really need milk formula, milk in the box because I don't have enough for the babies."

Dr. Elphick said the children get fed three times a day.

"Their lunch time meal is basically rice and a bit of noodles and a tiny bit of meat," she said. "I believe they get cereal in the morning, sometimes they get fruit in the afternoon but it really doesn't appear to be an adequate level of nutrition for a kid of that age."

When she arrived, she was very concerned about the health of the children there. As a veterinarian, she said be it an animal or human, she knew serious illness when she saw it.

"One of the kids obviously had an ear infection because he had puss coming out of his ear," she said. "Sticky liquid - being a vet I know an ear infection when I see it whether I am a doctor or a vet - and he definitely had a thick sticky liquid coming out of his ear and he was screaming.

"There was one day when we didn't even have any Paracetamol. It was one of the public holidays so we had nothing that we could give this kid."

She said she went out the next day to buy some Paracetamol "as soon as I could so he could at least have some relief until I could get him to see a doctor."

That doctor was Leota Dr. Malaki Malaki.

"He (Dr. Malaki) did come out of the goodness of his heart and wrote some prescriptions and the babies did get treated," she said.

"When he got there, he diagnosed that just about all of them had scabies."

Contacted for a comment, Dr. Malaki confirmed that he saw the children.

"They were very young," he said. "Some were five months, others a year old, they even had a two month old baby.

"I went once and saw the babies at the shelter, some kids had scabies, some had ear infections.

"One child had something wrong with his spine. So I don't know if they received medical attention, but when I was there a lot had scabies and ear infections and the flu.

Dr. Malaki said he did not know if the kids had any sort of medical attention prior to his visit. One of the kids he saw was not able to sit up properly.

"He probably needs to see a paediatrician or orthopaedic doctor," said Dr. Malaki.

Aside from the medical issues, the doctor said he was shocked to see most of the babies in just rags.

"The babies were in rags instead of diapers," he said. "Just rags. Some had diapers, but a lot of the other kids were in just rags. That is what I saw."

Dr. Elphnick said from what she could gather, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the stories of what is going on and who is responsible for various levels of care of the children.

She said there were two women who worked at the shelter and she got told different stories about whether they were paid or not.

"But they say to us that they are definitely volunteers, but they work very long hours. And whilst those two do provide good general care, they will actually clean the babies if they get filthy, they will apply the medications if they have got them, they will give them the food.

"But they will also slap them at the drop of a hat - I mean every day these babies, I mean they are all under two, are being hit, generally for things like going and opening a curtain to looking at the towels in the cupboard, or for screaming because they are in pain with their ear infection or teething. They are getting hit and put back in their cots."

She said beyond these two women, there were S.V.S.G. volunteers who worked nights and weekends. She said the main volunteers claimed these women do not do anything for the babies.

"They don't do any work, don't give the medications when they are supposed to, don't change the babies," Dr. Elphick said. "So if the baby has got nappy rash and it has cleared up during the week because the volunteers have been there and helped to change the nappies, it will come back after the weekend because they have been wet and dirty over the weekend."

Dr. Elphick also questioned the legitimacy of the adoptions as part of S.V.S.G's work.

"All these babies are up for overseas adoption and I guess my concern is whether that is a legitimate operation," she said.

She said she knew that overseas adoptions of any kind was very strict in Samoa following the scandal involving the American based organisation called "Focus on Children."

"I noticed on the Victims Support website that it says they are the agency responsible for establishing links from Samoan families back to the children adopted under the Focus on Children program so they obviously do have links through to the U.S somehow or other," she said.

"I don't know whether the shelter is legitimate as there seems to be a lot of efforts to keep it secret in its location and everything about it."

Dr. Elphick said while she knew that these children were victims of abuse and incest, it seemed very strange to her.

"One of the babies that went for an American adoption whilst we were there - he went to a couple from Chicago," she said. "And he was the product of apparently a grandfather raping a granddaughter.

"That girl still lives at the shelter apparently and has been there for some time because he must have been nearly two when he went. One of the volunteers actually went with the people from the shelter to drop the baby, whose name was Brett, off to the couple so they definitely were from the U.S.

"They (the adoptive parents) had never seen the kid before and there was no familiarisation period.

"Instead of them coming to the shelter to see him and get to know him, he was taken to a hotel, plonked with some strangers, and a couple of days later he is going to be shipped off to another country.

"So this kid's whole world is going to be turned upside down quite literally. Even if the whole thing is legitimate, the process itself has some serious problems."

Asked for a comment, Ms. Chang acknowledged the case in question.

But she said the information from the volunteer was unreliable.

"I don't talk to volunteers and especially I don't talk to volunteers on adoptions," she said. "Adoptions is the thing that we don't talk about because we are not an adoption agency and that is what I want to make sure."

During the interview, Ms. Chang made reference to a Pastor by the name of "Jeremy" who adopted a baby.

"It would be nice for you to speak to Jeremy if Jeremy is available before he goes out," she said. "Jeremy has a beautiful baby which he took out while he was here."

Ms. Chang said there is nothing to hide since "everything goes through the judicial process and it is not in our hands.

"We do not just go and adopt a baby out, no it's not like that, we don't want that.

"Even us, we don't want that as long as we know that there is a family over here, the family of the baby then that's fine.

"But we don't go adopting babies out. Only when we see that this baby is not safe."

Dr. Elphick also claimed most of the children don't have surnames. She said this raised two questions for her:

Firstly, are these children being deidentified?

Secondly, how can they be adopted without a surname?

"They must have a surname," she said.

Questions surrounding the S.V.S.G's involvement in adoption were put to the Attorney General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai.

[PIR editor's note: AG Aumua, in his response, said he was aware some babies under SVSG's purview were the subjects of overseas adopters, but suggested that Samoa Observer contact Lina Chang to ascertain SVSG's "exact role" in adoptions.]

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

Add new comment