Tiny, dark-haired, brown-eyed Carmen Sterling runs cheerfully through the crowd, stopping only once to yell an exuberant "Hiya."

She looks like a healthy, active 2-year-old. She's actually 41/2 years old. The hundreds of people packed into a little auditorium look at her with tolerant amusement. To the crowd, she is more than an active, playful child. She is Romanian. She represents what they all want.Wednesday night, the Rocky Mountain Adoption Exchange sponsored an information-sharing seminar for Utahns who hope to adopt Romanian orphans. Representatives from adoption agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and parents who have already adopted discussed what prospective adoptive parents need to do - and what to expect.

"Do not think that this is a piece of cake," warned Allen Spears of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "It can be difficult and frustrating and it will probably take more than one trip to Romania." Cost, he said, could be $10,000.

Parents who have successfully adopted children caution that it is not a "shopping trip." People should not go determined to get, for instance, a baby girl under six months with blonde hair and blue eyes. The consensus was that the fewer restrictions about the child a parent has, the better the chance of getting one.

"Be very determined," said Sue Lindsey. "Go over with the idea that you're going to find a child. Period."

Romania's Ceausescu government wanted to increase the population from 23 million to 30 million by 2000. It banned abortion and birth control and decreed women must have children or pay a stiff "celibacy tax." As a result, thousands of children were placed in government-run orphanages.

The massive adoption move is new to Romania, and the impoverished country is still struggling to refine its system. Because so many Americans - and others - have given "gifts," a practice that is


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'Adoption 101'

People interested in adopting a Romanian child must go through a specific process, according to Allen Spears of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Here are the basics, in order:

- An approved agency must conduct a home study. The cost generally ranges from $350-$800.

- Call INS, 524-5771, and request the appropriate forms.

- Write to the State Department, Adoptions in Romania, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818 to receive the most updated information. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

- Obtain support documents, including three sets of fingerprints of each parent, certified copies of adopting parents' birth certificates, certified copies of marriage license (and if previously married, divorce decree), letter from employer verifying terms of employment and salary on company letterhead, copy of last tax return, copies of medical exams for parents and any children in the family, home-study and certified copies of the license of the agency that prepared it and other documents. The INS can provide a complete list.

- Bring documents and $100 fee into the INS office, 230 W. 400 South, weekdays except Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

No one, Spears said, should plan to travel to Romania until they have received approval from the INS application, a process that can take months.