’48 Hours’ Shifts Focus to Tackle Adoptions Gone Awry

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

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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.”