ILNews

Attorney emerges as leader in international adoptions

Dan Human , IBJ Staff
October 9, 2013
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Michele Jackson marched into an internship in 1999 hoping to deliver a swift blow to international injustices against women and children.

The 24-year-old Indiana University law student didn’t realize how unpleasant the topics would be.

Her assignment at Canadian not-for-profit Human Rights Internet was to pour over legal documents and data relating to the sex trade. A lot of it involved children.

The key question she looked at was, “Why did these kids get into this situation?”
 

jackson-michele-15col.jpg Michele Jackson’s agency, MLJ Adoptions, has facilitated close to 400 international adoptions since it began in 2008. She and husband Wayne DeVeydt (Wellpoint Inc.’s chief financial officer) have adopted three children. (IL Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

“I would have to research the whole story of a child and how they were exploited,” said Jackson, now 38. “A lot of times it was because they didn’t have any family. They were kids on the street, kids in orphanages, or they were in families that couldn’t afford them and so they would be sold.”

She concluded adoption was one of the best solutions. Kids with parents had better odds of growing into stable adults and avoiding the hardships she spent her time learning about.

That’s why Jackson, a family law attorney from Indianapolis, founded MLJ Adoptions Inc. in 2008. The 52-employee agency, which operates out of a red-brick former schoolhouse in downtown Indianapolis’ Mass Ave. neighborhood, has orchestrated about 400 adoptions in Congo, Samoa, Bulgaria, Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Ukraine and Honduras.
jackson-factbox.gif The children were among more than 132 million estimated by UNICEF to need families. Burkina Faso in West Africa will likely be the next new office.

“I always said I would do about 40 clients a year. We just counted the other day and we have over 500,” Jackson said.

“I told myself I never wanted something this big,” she later said, “but I think once you get into something and you’re passionate about something … once you get into it, it becomes something you never planned.”

Jackson’s interest in international affairs goes back to when she was 5 and her mother began going on mission trips.

One of two children growing up, her mother would take her to do local charity work, like clearing brush and painting cabins at a camp for children with disabilities.

That, she believes, ignited her interest in social causes. The route she picked for her career was a degree in international law from IU, which she earned in 2000.

She began working in adoption that year when she took a job as an attorney at family law firm McClure McClure Davis & Henn.

In her first year at the firm, she helped all three families that adopted children from the Ukraine navigate red tape. But the international adoption climate was changing, which meant Jackson saw a need to change how she worked.

The Hague Adoption Convention, an 88-country pact on adoption standards, tightened regulations on U.S. adoptions in 2008. Among the many provisions, member countries needed to set up central adoption authorities — the Department of State took over here — to certify adoption service providers and monitor them.

The best way to comply with the stricter regulations was to stop handling adoptions independently and set up an accredited adoption agency, Jackson decided.

National spotlight

Jackson’s work has brought a national spotlight to MLJ.

The National Council for Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children’s Services both featured her as a speaker earlier this year at conferences in Orlando and New York. And the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute named her an Angel in Adoption last year.

Jackson splits her time between MLJ — a for-profit enterprise from which she does not collect a salary — and Harden Jackson Law in Carmel, where she typically spends two days per week.

She juggles the two jobs with a separate not-for-profit she runs on the side, the Global Orphan Foundation. The group provides grants to adopting families and food to orphans in the Congo.

“Even knowing her as a teenager, most of us were relaxing on the weekends and watching TV or whatever teenagers do. Michele was working with her family,” said Leah Potter, a longtime friend and employee at Jackson’s law firm.

“She works very hard, but I think it’s because she’s chosen a career that is part of her passion and it fits in with her family life,” Potter said. “It fits in with what she’s about.”

Jackson and her husband, WellPoint Inc. Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt, raise six kids ages 2 to 17. Two sons are adopted from the Congo, a daughter is from Nicaragua, and three stepdaughters are from her husband’s previous marriage.

She described her schedule with two and a half words, a gritted smirk and a laugh: “It’s fun.”

Congo in her heart

Managing eight offices and additional employees scattered around the globe has meant a lot of travel for Jackson. Flying to a foreign country once a month became typical after she started MLJ.

As she spoke of her time in Haiti, Honduras and Bulgaria, she most lit up at mention of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. MLJ has been in the central African nation since the agency’s onset.

The country is poor and war-torn, making it one of the hardest places to operate.

“I caution myself to say some of those things because I love the country so much,” she said, “but the reality is there’s some struggles there. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world.”

An estimated 5 million children in the country need families.

It was through her work at MLJ that she found her sons in the Congo. The agency handled everything, except the home study because of potential bias.

“It’s hard to turn back around and not do it,” she said. “It’s hard to look away.”

Diplomatic duties

Jackson had always envisioned starting a family by adopting children, even before she met her husband. Following through on her dream altered her perspective on the process.

“You can understand the emotion and the unknowns” without adopting, she said. “But now you’ve experienced it.”

Working in countries like the Congo creates a lot of obstacles and heartbreaks, she admitted.

Social and political complications are always a risk, like when rebels took control of part of eastern Congo last year and Jackson had to halt adoptions from that part of the country because children could not leave.

“You just pull all that together and all these people and different languages and different culture, and all of a sudden you have this creation that’s hard to understand, hard to implement and hard to always predict, and there are no guarantees,” she said.

Parents wanting children of certain ages, especially infants, face long waiting lists, as do those seeking children from certain countries. That’s why MLJ is not in China.

Adopting in the U.S. or foster care can be better options, Jackson said.

“I think I’m the bearer of bad news sometimes,” she said. “What I will say to people is, if this is what you want to do, let me see what the right fit is for your family because there are children out there who need families.”•

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Originally published in Indianapolis Business Journal.
 

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  1. wow is this a bunch of bs! i know the facts!

  2. MCBA .... time for a new release about your entire membership (or is it just the alter ego) being "saddened and disappointed" in the failure to lynch a police officer protecting himself in the line of duty. But this time against Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "WASHINGTON — Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/us/justice-department-ferguson-civil-rights-darren-wilson.html?ref=us&_r=0

  3. Dr wail asfour lives 3 hours from the hospital,where if he gets an emergency at least he needs three hours,while even if he is on call he should be in a location where it gives him max 10 minutes to be beside the patient,they get paid double on their on call days ,where look how they handle it,so if the death of the patient occurs on weekend and these doctors still repeat same pattern such issue should be raised,they should be closer to the patient.on other hand if all the death occured on the absence of the Dr and the nurses handle it,the nurses should get trained how to function appearntly they not that good,if the Dr lives 3 hours far from the hospital on his call days he should sleep in the hospital

  4. It's a capital offense...one for you Latin scholars..

  5. I would like to suggest that you train those who search and help others, to be a Confidential Intermediary. Original Birth Certificates should not be handed out "willie nillie". There are many Birth Parents that have never told any of their families about, much less their Husband and Children about a baby born prior to their Mother's marriage. You can't go directly to her house, knock on her door and say I am the baby that you had years ago. This is what an Intermediary does as well as the search. They are appointed by by the Court after going through training and being Certified. If you would like, I can make a copy of my Certificate to give you an idea. you will need to attend classes and be certified then sworn in to follow the laws. I still am active and working on 5 cases at this time. Considering the fact that I am listed as a Senior Citizen, that's not at all bad. Being Certified is a protection for you as well as the Birth Mother. I have worked with many adoptees as well as the Birth Parents. They will also need understanding, guidance, and emotional help to deal with their own lost child and the love and fear that they have had locked up for all these years. If I could talk with those involved with the legal end, as well as those who do the searches and the Birth Mothers that lost their child, we JUST might find an answer that helps all of those involved. I hope that this will help you and others in the future. If you need to talk, I am listed with the Adoption Agencies here in Michigan. They can give you my phone number. My email address is as follows jatoz8@yahoo.com. Make sure that you use the word ADOPTION as the subject. Thank you for reading my message. Jeanette Abronowitz.

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