American couples trying to adopt Guatemalan children have been put on hold as the Central American country conducts a major overhaul of an adoption system it says is tarnished by corruption.

Guatemalan authorities are re-examining more than 2,900 pending adoption cases, the vast majority of which involve American families trying to adopt infants through private adoption centers, said Jaime Tecu, an official with Guatemala’s newly established National Adoption Council.

Tecu said the government is trying to push through grandfathered cases, including some from the Bay Area, that fall under the country’s old adoption rules while transitioning into a new state-run system that gives Guatemalan families a higher priority.

Agents twice this month raided one private adoption center, Semillas de Amor (Seeds of Love), run by former Bay Area resident Nancy Bailey in the tourist-heavy city of Antigua. Other such centers have faced similar raids in the past year.

Bailey, who obtained a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Cal State Hayward, did not return several requests for comment but used her center’s blog to call the highly publicized raids a “nightmare.”

Families in the United States adopted more than 4,700 Guatemalan children last year, with the average case costing about $27,000 in fees to private agencies and lawyers, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Andrea Stawitcke, director of Mountain View-based Bay Area Adoption Services, said that after 23 years of facilitating hundreds of Guatemalan adoptions, she will shut down the organization’s Guatemalan program once it can complete adoptions for two families waiting for their cases to be resolved under the old rules.

Stawitcke said she is disturbed that Guatemala is shutting down what she thinks was a largely successful private system without having an alternative in place to take care of orphaned children.

“The government has provided no governmental support, nor have they said they will in the future,” Stawitcke said. “There is no place for these children. “… I think there will be a lot more famicide, a lot more children living on the streets in dire poverty.”

The investigation into pending intercountry adoptions has been fueled by reports of fraud, including allegations that some Guatemalan mothers are giving up babies after being coerced or bribed to do so. Guatemalan authorities say they are interviewing mothers in all pending cases to make sure the adoptions were legitimate.

Stawitcke said that there are undoubtedly examples of fraud in the system, but she argued that the current tactics are politically motivated and hurting legitimate adoptions. “They for some reason resent the fact that these children are being placed overseas,” she said. In December, after almost all countries but the United States had shut down adoptions from Guatemala, the Guatemalan Congress passed a new law intended to comply with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption by creating new safeguards and a central adoption authority.

The new rules allowed for cases that were already pending to proceed as long as they were registered to the new central authority by February.

But the pending cases are also facing scrutiny. The Associated Press reported last week that Guatemalan authorities have already annulled 12 pending adoptions to U.S. families, about 10 percent of cases reviewed up to that point. Tecu would not confirm those figures but said authorities have scheduled a news conference in Guatemala City this week to answer questions.

TOP 10 COUNTRIES FOR u.s. aDOPTIONS in fiscal year 2007:
1. China: 5,453
2. Guatemala: 4,728
3. Russia: 2,310
4. Ethiopia: 1,255
5. South Korea: 939
6. Vietnam: 828
7. Ukraine: 606
8. Kazakhstan: 540
9. India: 416
10. Liberia: 314
SOURCE: U.S. Department of State (Fiscal year 2007 means from Oct. 1, 2006 to Sept. 30, 2007)
GUATEMALA-TO-UNITED STATES ADOPTIONS BY FISCAL YEAR:
2007: 4,728
2006: 4,135
2005: 3,783
2004: 3,262
2003: 2,326
2002: 2,419
SOURCE: U.S. Department of State