’48 Hours’ Shifts Focus to Tackle Adoptions Gone Awry

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For one week, at least, veteran program will avoid murder and examine different topic

When “48 Hours” airs this Saturday at 10 p.m. Eastern, regular viewers may find a familiar element missing: murder.

The CBS News program will not be investigating a lurid killing perfect for the headlines of a tabloid, but will instead examine the hurdles U.S. families may have to overcome when trying to complete international child adoptions. The show will also examine the shady dealings that can sometimes accompany the families’ efforts.

Maureen Maher, a veteran CBS News correspondent who has been with “48 Hours” since 2003, said she, along with “48 Hours” staff, worked over the course of two years to identify families who would discuss the perils of such adoptions. Maher was adopted herself, and said her background makes her passionate about the subject, which she has explored for the show in the past.

In Saturday’s telecast, Maher will investigate two different efforts to adopt children through a Florida agency, Celebrate Children International. One family seeking to adopt is led to the Congo, only to find the process stalled. Another woman attempts to adopt a Guatemalan girl with the aid of the same agency, only to discover allegations of child trafficking.

“It’s definitely not the norm of what we do, with one exception,” said Maher, noting that the program has long focused on families who find themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. “It’s the decisions you make in those extraordinary situations that really inform who you are, and that’s at the center of everything we do at ’48 Hours.’”

The program, which has been on CBS since 1988, has expanded its scope in the recent past. In October, “48 Hours” broadcast a story about the July, 2011, murder of Wayland, Mass., teenager Lauren Astley by her boyfriend, and used the crime to place a lens on the issue of so-called “breakup violence.” The show made a special pitch before the broadcast to draw attention to the episode, only the second time the program has done so (in the past, it called attention to a broadcast about bullying).

In Saturday’s broadcast, Maher follows U.S. Army officer Ryan Owen and his wife, Jeri Lynn, who live in Fort Campbell, Ky., with three sons of their own. They travel to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and discover they must hire their own attorney to complete the adoption process. Meanwhile, Tennessee mother Betsy Emanuel talks with Maher about her attempt to adopt a child from Guatemala, only to find the child’s birth mother demanding her return.

The reporting process, said Maher, “was challenging, because this is a deeply emotional subject t for people. You’re talking about children. There is a lot of money involved. And people have been told not to talk about this.” Ryan Owen and his family, in particular were “very brave,” Maher noted, coming forward even though they were in the middle of their adoption process, “not knowing what it was going to do, knowing that by stepping forward they might jeopardize the opportunity to adopt these girls.”

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  1. Cameron Horn says:

    Watched it here in Australia. it was an excellent expose. Just when you thought adoption was all sweetness & happy-ever-after, the truth is at last coming out. Even in the ‘successful’ removal in this report – the end result comes up at the end in the credits – that adoption too, was illegal. Time to start being creative and thinking up some realistic alternatives for children in need overseas. If you put a price on a human being’s head, of course the criminal element will move in. it happened in supposedly ‘advanced’ countries like Australia, England, Sth Africa, New Zealand, and yes – the USA. How much more will it happen in countries where the rule of law is subservient to the rule of monetary expedience? India, China, Korea, Philippines, Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, Congo – all of them are places where children disappear with sickening regularity. Prospective adopters in the USA – start joining the dots.

  2. Jenny Smith says:

    This episode of 48 Hours, “Perilous Journey,” is based in part on the award-winning investigation and book “Finding Fernanda” (Beacon Press, 2012) by journalist Erin Siegal McIntyre, who consulted on the show for CBS.  You can grab a copy of the book here from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1dfd3jW 

    Can’t wait to watch! 

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