Haiti had an active, if somewhat unpredictable international adoption process, before the earthquake struck last week. The approximately 50,000 Haitian orphans (pre- earthquake) are found in about 177 governmental orphanages and 200+ orphanages run by non governmental organizations. Most of these children had no hopes for adoption, but a lucky few were in the process of being adopted by families in the US (about 800-900 cases) or families in France and the Netherlands (about 1500). What will happen to the Haiti adoption cases that were already in process when the earthquake struck? There has been talk both in the media (Washington Post , CNN and Associated Press , to link just a few) and the US State Department of trying to expedite these adoptions so these children that were already matched and referred to a US family could be brought home faster.
In many ways this makes practical sense. Providing food, water and basic care to orphans is difficult in the midst of a natural disaster and no one anticipates that it will get easier in the near future. Roads, the airport and sea ports have been damaged making movement of supplies into the country and within the country problematic. Orphanage workers are predominately woman with families. Some orphanages have reported that they are light on staff while their workers are taking care of their own families. It is expected that more children will be in need of institutionalized care (orphanage care) at least temporarily. So, why not get the kiddos that have loving and anxious families in the US and many other countries out of the country and into these loving arms?
Unfortunately, like many things that appear simple at first glance, once you start digging it becomes much more complicated. Some orphanages have been damaged, and adoption paperwork and abandonment documents have been lost. The legal and bureaucratic infrastructure and personnel have been greatly disrupted even where the orphanages themselves were undamaged. Government and agency offices housing legal adoption paperwork have been destroyed. Some lawyers and governmental employees are injured, dead, away from work taking care of family members, or attending to more urgent governmental business. According to an email I received from RainbowKids , Shannon Hoffman of Angel House Orphanage in Haiti gave the following report: “23 of our 26 orphans were in the process of being adopted at the time of the earthquake. Some already legally have their American last names, and are in the last few steps of the process. The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have to change rules or make special exceptions for these kids to get them into the country. Most if not all of the adoption files have been lost in the earthquake. Many of the adoption case workers and attorneys have either been killed or severely injured.”
Although I want very much for these children to get out of Haiti as soon as legally possible, I don’t want to do anything that will open the floodgate of fraudulent adoptions or the appearance of corruption. As I explained in my last blog, Adoptions from Haiti Post Earthquake, in my opinion, new adoption cases should be on hold until things settle down and the government can get back up and running. However, there ought to be a way to expedite adoption cases from Haiti that were already in process.
The US Department of State has indicated that it is likely to expedite cases where the adoption decree has already been finalized in Haiti before the earthquake. A few children have already made it home to their new families in the US. These stories are heart warming, but more problematic will be the cases where the child and family have been matched but the Haitian paperwork for adoption has not been completed, or the child is living in the orphanage with little hope of being reunited with her birth family but final relinquishment or abandonment papers have not been finalized. We hope to have more answers about this issue on this week’s Creating a Family show, Jan. 20, which will be on Adopting from Haiti Post Earthquake.
We are continuing to update the list of organizations and orphanages in Haiti that are in need of donations. You can find this list in my previous blog, Adopting from Haiti Post Earthquake.
It’s easy to cast stones at bureaucrats in general, but it is only fair to give kudos when they are deserved and this time I think the folks at Department of Homeland Securities and the State Department deserve a round of applause. They issued a well reasoned and well designed approach to getting orphans out of Haiti without opening Pandora’s box. I know some of you will be disappointed that they didn’t go further, but I think they struck a good balance between providing homes for kids without risking adoption fraud or children being removed who could be, with help, cared for by their Haitian families.And they struck this delicate balance quickly, which is saying a lot.