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. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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