NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — A Naperville couple says they have been blessed with a full life – and they wanted to share their blessings with children, through adoption.
But their road to parenthood ended up coming to a dead end – and not before costing them thousands of dollars and a piece of each of their hearts.
CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra shared the Stronses’ cautionary tale Wednesday night.
Phil and Anca Plaviciousu Strons live in a Naperville neighborhood known for its schools, parks, and places for families. You’ll find their house at the end of a cul-de-sac – framed by trees, and sporting a crimson door and shutters to match. It looks like something out of a Hallmark movie.
Inside, you’ll find the loving couple who have worked hard to hit all the right notes – and make their house a warm and welcoming home.
When you arrive, Phil Strons will gladly offer you a cup of coffee, as the sounds of Anca Plaviciosu Strons at the piano float through every room. Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Für Elise” was the selection of choice when CBS 2’s Saavedra visited.
What more could anyone want in a place to rest your head? Well, it turns out the Stronses do want more – Phil pointed out that it seems like a big house for just two people.
“Since we don’t have natural children, that we could and should share all these blessings that we’ve received with somebody that wasn’t quite that lucky,” Anca said.
The Stronses decided to adopt, to give themselves and a child the experiences for which they long.
“It’d be nice to teach kids how to ride a bike, expose them to new things – it sounds like there would be so many joys in raising a child,” said Phil.
The couple started their journey in earnest in 2019. Anca is from Romania, so they targeted that country – since she could ease the language barrier.
That led them to work with two agencies. One was Alliance for Children Inc., out of Massachusetts, which is accredited to work with Romania. The other was the local branch of America World Adoption Association, which was to do the home studies required to adopt.
The couple had what they considered fewer requirements for a child and hoped that would pay off.
“There was an initial expectation that within a year, that we would be having children at home,” said Phil.
Now, four years later, the Stronses are sharing how wrong they were. Their goal is not to discourage adoption, but to share the realities of what can be a painful and pricey process.
“So we had these two agencies – and that in itself was a problem,” said Phil. “They didn’t seem to communicate well with each other.”
The two agencies couldn’t communicate well with Phil and Anca either, according to the couple. They outlined for us years of what they saw as unnecessary delays while burning through money.
The Stronses say they were diligent about quickly paying for and filing medical forms, background checks, proof of identification, and other documentation to the agencies when requested.
“All the time we needed to provide the documents, we did it right away,” said Anca.
But when it came to the couple’s home study, they allege America World Adoption dragged its feet and didn’t listen. When the home study was done, and formally filed with the Department of Homeland Security, the couple says it was inaccurate and wrong.
The couple highlighted and annotated parts of the document to show what was wrong – with the word “no” appearing four different times in the margins of one page.
The couple specifically said they would not be willing to be adoptive parents to a special needs or handicapped child due to their own age – but the home study summary repeatedly claimed the opposite.
One sentence read: “The Strons have considered their ability to provide care for a special needs child, with careful consideration of their capabilities, lifestyle, and the needs of their other children.” This warranted an annotation of a sarcastic smiley face on the document. The Stronses do not have any children at all right now.
There were delays with Alliance for Children too – some of them COVID related. But the Stronses’ biggest concern came when the company pitched a change in country too.
“Alliance for Children came with this proposal, ‘Hey, we’ve done an adoption with Hungary, and they just let me know they have two girls,'” said Anca.
The Stronses said yes to this proposal, and quickly learned this change would cost more money. In emails with Alliance for Children, the Stronses were under the impression this adoption would cost $11,450.
In an email from the accounting department, they learned the bill was actually $22,000.
“Recently, we’re trying to make payments on this additional money and these receipts that didn’t make sense – and then finding out – oh no, it’s even more money than we thought it was,” said Phil.
The couple doesn’t think this was intentional deception, but the lack of a clear billing breakdown after so much time and money was too much. In October, they said they’d had enough – ending their dream of the girls from Hungary and their working relationship with both agencies.
Their bank accounts are still hurting.
“Well over $10,000, probably close to $20,000,” said Phil.
This was even after some small partial refunds from the agencies.
The Stronses feel the rights they have as clients were not respected. Phil noted that in a document from one of the agencies titled, “Client Rights and Responsibilities,” the first item on a bullet-point list is, “You have the right to professional quality service.”
CBS 2’s Saavedra asked him if he felt like he got professional quality service in this process.
Phil’s answer was, “No, absolutely not.”
Now, the Stronses are four years older than they were when they started their ordeal, and they have less money. What is behind their frustration is pain.
Saavedra asked the Stronses if they still had hope that someday, they might still be teaching a youngster how to ride a bike.
Phil began to cry.
The Stronses knew this process would not be easy. Signs of what still hasn’t happened are everywhere – like a whole empty bedroom they hoped to fill. It even has a basket of plush toys that a young child could play with.
“This is a constant reminder that actually, our dream of adopting children didn’t come to fruition,” Anca said as she and Phil stood in the room.
All the Stronses want is for someone to make that room their own – inside that house with the crimson door, at the end of the cul-de-sac, in a great neighborhood. A place any child would be lucky to call home.
International adoption is a process where delays are common and caused by any number of the people and bureaucracies involved. Still, we contacted both America World Adoption and Alliance for Children – but due to client privacy rules, neither would speak to us on or off the record about the Stronses’ specific experience.