Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Photo by John Carroll/July 28, 2010
Beautiful Haitian orphan...one of thirty seven babies, toddlers, and children in an orphanage in the capital going nowhere quickly. How sad and how bad.
My wife Maria and I adopted a Haitian toddler several years ago. It took 20 months of agonizing paperwork (done by Maria). The bureaucracy on both sides of the water was terrible. (We had to be fingerprinted three times by the US government. And our adoption documents sat in various Haitian ministries for months at a time...just needing one director's signature.)
It has not been uncommon during the past twenty years to walk down the street in Port-au-Prince and be offered a baby/child to adopt by a desperate adult caregiver. In fact that happened frequently. And still does post earthquake. (We were offered a baby who was born in July by the parents...but the offer was made to us in May.)
Haitian parents love their kids, they just can't feed and educate them. So there are hundreds of thousands of orphans in Haiti.
Haiti just went through the biggest natural disaster ever recorded. In history. Ever.
Were mistakes made with hustling over 1,100 kids out of Haiti to be adopted AFTER the earthquake? Probably.
But are mistakes being made now by slowing Haitian adoptions? Yes, definitely, with many Haitian kids suffering in every fashion you can imagine.
See article below.
August 3, 2010
After Haiti Quake, Adoption Chaos
By GINGER THOMPSON
BAXTER, Minn. — Beechestore and Rosecarline, two Haitian teenagers in the throes of puberty, were not supposed to be adopted.
At the end of last year, American authorities denied the petition of a couple here, Marc and Teresa Stroot, to adopt the brother and sister after their biological father opposed relinquishing custody.
Reluctantly, Mr. and Mrs. Stroot, a special-needs teaching assistant and a sales executive with four children of their own, decided to move on.
Then on Jan. 12, a devastating earthquake toppled Haiti’s capital and set off an international adoption bonanza in which some safeguards meant to protect children were ignored.
Leading the way was the Obama administration, which responded to the crisis, and to the pleas of prospective adoptive parents and the lawmakers assisting them, by lifting visa requirements for children in the process of being adopted by Americans.
Although initially planned as a short-term, small-scale evacuation, the rescue effort quickly evolved into a baby lift unlike anything since the Vietnam War. It went on for months; fell briefly under the cloud of scandal involving 10 Baptist missionaries who improperly took custody of 33 children; ignited tensions between the United States and child protection organizations; and swept up about 1,150 Haitian children, more than were adopted by American families in the previous three years, according to interviews with government officials, adoption agencies and child advocacy groups.
Among the first to get out of Haiti were Beechestore and Rosecarline. “It’s definitely a miracle,” Mrs. Stroot said of their arrival here, “because this wasn’t going to happen.”
Under a sparingly used immigration program, called humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.
Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.
“I feel a weird sense of survivor’s guilt,” said Dawn Shelton of Minnesota, who hopes to adopt the siblings. “So many people died in Haiti, and I was able to get the life I’ve wanted.”
In other cases, children were given to families who had not been screened or to families who no longer wanted them.
The results are playing out across the country. At least 12 children, brought here without being formally matched with new families, have spent months in a Pennsylvania juvenile care center while Red Cross officials try to determine their fate. An unknown number of children whose prospective parents have backed out of their adoptions are in foster care. While the authorities said they knew of only a handful of such cases, adoption agents said they had heard about as many as 20, including that of an 8-year-old girl who was bounced from an orphanage in Haiti to a home in Ithaca, N.Y., to a juvenile care center in Queens after the psychologist who had petitioned to adopt her decided she could not raise a young child.
Dozens of children, approaching the age of 16 or older, are too old to win legal permanent status as adoptees, prompting lawmakers in Congress to consider raising the age limit to 18.
Meanwhile, other children face years of legal limbo because they have arrived with so little proof of who they are, how they got here and why they have been placed for adoption that state courts are balking at completing their adoptions.
One Kansas lawyer said he satisfied a judge’s questions about whether the Haitian boy his clients had adopted was an orphan by broadcasting announcements on Haitian radio stations over two days, urging any relatives of the child to come forward if they wanted to claim him.
Another couple seeking to adopt, Daniel and Jess McKee of Mansfield, Pa., said Owen, 3, who can dribble a basketball better than children twice his age, arrived from Haiti with an invalid birth certificate — it shows him as 4 — a letter in French signed by a Haitian mayor that declared him an orphan, and stacks of handwritten medical records from his time in a Haitian orphanage.
Their prospective daughter, Emersyn, also 3, came with no documents at all.
“As things stand,” Mrs. McKee said, “I’m basically going to show up in court and tell a judge, ‘These kids are who I say they are,’ and hope that he takes my word for it, because if he asks me to prove it, I can’t.”
Later, she added, “I guess the government said, ‘Let’s just get the kids out of Haiti, and we’ll worry about the details later.’ ”
Decisions Made in Haste
Administration officials defended the humanitarian parole program, saying it had strict limits and several levels of scrutiny, including reviews of adoption petitions by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security in Washington and Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
But they also acknowledged that the administration’s priority was getting children out of harm’s way, not the safeguards the United States is obligated to enforce under international law.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security, said the evacuations were done in the best interests of children who faced “an uncertain and likely dangerous situation that could worsen by the day, if not by the hour.”
Whitney Reitz, who oversaw the parole program at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that the decisions were hastily made.
“We did something so fast,” Ms. Reitz said at a conference in New York in March. “We did something that normally takes a couple of years and that we normally do with excruciating care and delay. There’s so much time for deliberation in the way the program normally goes, and we condensed all that into a matter of days.”
There is no evidence to suggest that the evacuations were driven by anything other than the best of intentions. And with untold numbers of unaccompanied children in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, left fending for themselves or languishing in institutions, it is not hard to make the case that those who were evacuated are better off than they would have been in the hemisphere’s poorest country.
Many now live in the kind of quiet, scenic towns depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings. They are enrolled in school for the first time. They have grown inches, gotten eyeglasses and had their cavities filled.
And they are learning what it feels like to have a mother and father wake them up every morning and tuck them into bed every night.
But child protection advocates like Marlène Hofstetter at Terre des Hommes, an international child advocacy organization, contend that those ends do not justify the means. Rushing children out of familiar environments in a crisis can worsen their trauma, she said. Expediting adoptions in countries like Haiti — where it is not uncommon for people to turn children over to orphanages for money — violates children’s rights and leaves them at risk of trafficking, she added.
“I’m certain that one day these children are going to ask questions about what happened to them,” Ms. Hofstetter said. “I’m not sure that telling them their lifestyles were better in the United States is going to be a satisfactory answer.”
Even though the humanitarian parole program has officially ended, it remains a source of tensions between American-run orphanages in Haiti and international child protection organizations.
The advocates, led by Unicef, have refused to place children who have lost their parents or been separated from them in some foreign-run orphanages, fearing they would be improperly put into the adoption pipeline before they had the chance to be reunited with surviving relatives.
And the pro-adoption groups, led by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, accuse the advocates of using endless, often unsuccessful, attempts to locate the children’s biological relatives to deny tens of thousands of needy Haitian orphans the opportunity to be placed in loving homes.
“Unicef’s idea is to house children in tents, and tell them that maybe in five years their relatives will be found,” said Dixie Bickel, who has run a Haitian orphanage called God’s Littlest Angels for more than two decades. “What kind of plan is that?”
Washington Feels Pressure
Concerns about child trafficking led China, after its 2008 earthquake, and Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami, to suspend all international adoptions, despite intense pressure by pro-adoption groups in the United States, according to Chuck Johnson at the National Council for Adoption.
After January’s quake, Haiti, though, was hardly able to stand on its own feet, much less push back, Haitian officials acknowledged. Orphanage directors with political connections in Washington said they saw an opportunity to turn the tragedy into a miracle. Some issued urgent pleas, saying that the children in their care had had been left without shelter, and that the orphanages’ limited stocks of food and water made them prime targets for looting.
In the United States, adoptive parents contacted anyone they knew who might have money, private planes and political connections to help them get children out of Haiti. Evangelical Christian churches, which have increasingly taken up orphan care as a tenet of their faith, were also mobilized. Before long, legislators and administration officials were getting calls from constituents.
Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and adoptive mother, has been a champion of the cause and pushed administration officials to help bring Haitian children here after the quake. “I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if there are some errors that were made,” Senator Landrieu said in an interview about the rescue effort, “but you want to err on the side of keeping children safe.”
On Jan. 18, less than a week after the earthquake hit, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, announced that the United States would lift visa requirements for those orphans whose adoptions had already been approved by Haitian authorities and those who had been matched with prospective parents in the United States.
The requirements were written so broadly, adoption experts said, that almost any child in an orphanage could qualify as long as there were e-mails, letters or photographs showing that the child had some connection to a family in the United States. And by the time Ms. Napolitano announced the program, military flights filled with children were already in the air.
“The standard of proof was very low,” said Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a nonprofit group that is a leading voice on American adoption policy. “That’s why the administration ended the program as quickly as they did,” she added, “because they worried the longer it was open, the more opportunities they would give people to manufacture evidence.”
Obstacles to Adoption Vanish
Over the next several weeks, orphanages big and small were nearly emptied, whether or not they had been affected by the earthquake.
The staff at Children of the Promise, about 90 miles from Haiti’s capital, barely felt the temblor. But 39 of the 50 children there were approved for humanitarian parole, even though none of them had been affected by the disaster and the orphanage had not yet received the proper license to place children.
Rosemika, 2; Alex, 1; and Roselinda, 1, offer a look at the typical humanitarian parole case. Rosemika’s mother died before the quake. The other two children were given up for adoption because their parents could not provide for them.
Jenny and Jamie Groen, a missionary couple from Minnesota who were volunteering at the orphanage, had fallen in love with the children and decided to adopt them.
Under normal circumstances the couple would have had to get special permission from Haiti’s president to adopt because they are both 28, and the government requires at least one of the prospective parents to be older than 35.
After the quake, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive summarily signed off on their adoption — as he did with all humanitarian parole petitions submitted to him by the United States — without checking the Groens’ qualifications.
Meanwhile, the couple rushed back to the United States for the background checks and home study their own country required for them to take children into their care. And they submitted e-mails, photographs and a Dec. 2 newspaper clipping to prove that their commitment to adopt the children predated the earthquake.
During a recent visit to the orphanage in Haiti, surrounded by peasant hovels and sugar-cane fields, Ms. Groen, now pregnant, said she and her husband were still trying to absorb how quickly they were going from an empty nest to a full one.
It has been a whirlwind for the children’s biological relatives as well. The girls’ relatives still regularly visit the orphanage. “That’s the thing that’s so different about Haiti,” Ms. Groen said. “It’s not full of unwanted children. It’s full of children whose families are too poor to provide for them.”
That appeared to be the predicament shared by Beechestore, 14, and Rosecarline, 13, who are going through all the turmoil of adolescence, exacerbated by a confusing legal tug of war.
In the spring of 2008, their biological father had told the American authorities that he had placed the children for adoption only because he thought they would be educated in the United States and then returned to Haiti. Once he understood the implications of adoption, he refused to give them up.
In November 2009, American authorities formally notified the Stroots that their adoption petition had been denied.
By then, the Stroots were spent — emotionally and financially. The effort to adopt the children had taken four years and $40,000. Rather than appeal, the Minnesota couple decided it would be best for everyone to end their efforts.
Then the earthquake hit. Homeland Security, which earlier had denied visas to the children, reversed course without consulting the children’s biological father or the Stroots. “One day, we’re being told we can’t have the kids,” Mrs. Stroot said. “The next minute, we’re getting a call telling us we need to get them winter coats. It was crazy.”
In late July, a Minnesota judge awarded the Stroots legal custody of the children. Neither the previous denial nor the views of the children’s biological father were mentioned during the proceeding, the Stroots said.
Since then, the newly expanded family has moved on to more mundane matters, like dentist appointments, vaccinations and back-to-school shopping.
“God got done in 10 days,” Mr. Stroot said, “something human beings couldn’t do in years.”
Erin Siegal contributed reporting from Oakland, Calif. Barclay Walsh contributed research from Washington.