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As many as 1 million children in Haiti may be up for adoption following the devastating earthquake. What will happen to them?
BY JOAN FRAWLEY DESMONDREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON — The desperate plight of
the Haitian earthquake’s youngest survivors has sparked intense interest in
Both U.S. and Haiti-based agencies
have been bombarded with offers for help.
But few children will be permitted
to leave their country quickly, and newcomers to the process must wait their turn.
When the Archdiocese of Miami’s
Catholic Legal Services announced a tentative plan for providing shelter to
Haitian orphans, Marie Schouten added her name to the growing list of couples
and individuals eager to provide a home for the orphans.
Married for nine years and a cancer
survivor, the Catholic special-education teacher couldn’t have children of her
own and had prayed about adoption.
Yet, while the televised images of
young Haitians stirred her soul, Schouten has since learned that even natural disasters
don’t allow prospective parents to bypass the arduous and often expensive
process of securing an international adoption.
The U.S. State Department will only
fast-track Haitian adoptions with completed paperwork, or those nearing the
final phase of the process.
Agencies in Haiti also caution that
family reunification efforts and the rebuilding of the country’s shattered
infrastructure will lengthen the time required to identify children available
Groups concerned about human
trafficking also worry that child predators will try to take advantage of the
disaster by exploiting abandoned children. Haiti has been a destination for sex
Schouten understands the need for
“I was impressed that the Miami
Archdiocese wanted to help. It didn’t matter whether we took in a baby or an
older girl or boy; we just wanted to offer our home to a child in need,”
Schouten said. “Now we’ll have to wait. First, the authorities will try to
locate and reunite these children with family members in Haiti.”
In the aftermath of the Jan. 12
earthquake, the Miami Archdiocese’s plan to aid the orphans quickly made
headlines. Television anchors likened the initiative to the Church’s bold
“Pedro Pan” effort that relocated Cuban children in the aftermath of the
revolution led by Fidel Castro.
The archdiocese has since
acknowledged that the proposal still requires government approval and adequate
Meanwhile, the first order of
business has been to correct the perception that it will be a Haitian version
of Pedro Pan.
the 1960s the children that were brought to the United States were voluntarily
given over to Msgr. Bryan Walsh from Catholic Charities to get them out of Cuba
during a time of political upheaval; the idea was for the children to be reunited
with their parents at some point or with other family members,” explained Mary
Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami. “Currently, the
situation in Haiti is far different. Catholic Charities is prepared to assist
in-country Haitian organizations and families by providing temporary shelter in
the Archdiocese of Miami for Haitian children who have been identified as at
A week after the earthquake, Janet
Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, announced that two groups of
Haitian orphans would be eligible for “humanitarian parole”: “orphaned children
who were living in Haiti, for whom the legal adoption process was already
completed” and those “already in the process of adoption who have been matched
with U.S. adoptive parents, but for whom a final decree has not yet been
In late January, the U.S government
announced that humanitarian parole had already been granted to 500 orphans,
several hundred of which had arrived in the United States.
The prospective parents for the
latter group, said Napolitano, would be “screened as possible sponsors; if they
are eligible, the child will be released to them. If not, the child will be the
responsibility of HHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Undocumented Minor
Program and will be placed with the usual U.S. [adoption] providers.”
Seeking to head off unauthorized
evacuations, Napolitano warned that “children who have been transported to the
U.S. without prior authorization will be placed in the Undocumented Minors
At present, the focus for both
private U.S. agencies and Haiti-based missions that facilitate adoptions is to
quickly identify and evacuate children who qualify for “humanitarian parole.”
Agosta confirmed, however, that the Miami Archdiocese had not given up a more
ambitious plan to “house Haitian children orphaned by the disaster and set up
temporary custody arrangements with relatives in the United States.”
Meanwhile, both large agencies like
Catholic Charities USA and small, Haiti-based orphanages have struggled to
navigate the chaotic aftermath of the earthquake. Many of the Haitian
orphanages were founded by Catholic and Christian missionaries. The children
under their care — some infants, others much older — have lost their parents or
have been abandoned by single mothers unable to care for them.
One such orphanage, God’s Littlest
Angels in Petionville, 15 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, orchestrated the
evacuation of 87 children within a week of the earthquake.
Aaron Ramsay, a Colorado resident
who works in Christian ministry, had arrived in Haiti on a chartered 737 that
brought supplies for the orphanage.
“The orphanage wasn’t damaged from
the earthquake, but we worried about the aftershocks,” he said.
God’s Littlest Angels received approval to evacuate a group of children to the
U.S., Ramsay joined his newly adopted sons — 27-month-old twins, Ethan and
Brecken — for a trip to the U.S. Embassy and then on to a chartered flight to
the Miami airport. There, medical personnel and volunteers delivered the
children, ranging from infants to early adolescents, to their adoptive parents.
to have the twins at home with his wife, Tanya, Ramsay says the couple will
always “honor” the children’s mother who, unable to care for them, dropped the
boys off at the orphanage in December 2008.
he worries that the collapse of the government administration in Haiti’s
capital could drastically delay future adoptions during a time of grave crisis.
“The day we flew out, a 24-day-old baby was abandoned at the orphanage,” he
In fact, the Ramsays were united
with their Haitian children much more rapidly than most couples who have signed
on to adopt a child from the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation.
the past, the problem was that the whole infrastructure created delays,” said
Janet Bonnema, executive director of Children of the Promise, a spacious
Cap-Haitien “crèche” founded in 2000 that rehabilitates very young children and
facilitates U.S. adoptions for some of them.
have had kids with completed dossiers sit in the equivalent of Haitian social
services for a year or more. Haiti didn’t have a computerized record system:
Everything was handwritten and filed in a centralized system,” said Bonnema.
despite the routine delays, in recent years Haiti gradually attracted more
Americans looking to begin a family, in part because other countries had begun
to discourage foreign adoptions.
of the Promise provides intensive medical and therapeutic intervention for
malnourished children and others with special needs. At present, an American
couple, Jamie and Jenny Groen, supervise the crèche. The Groens also are in the
process of adopting three children, but they will not even try to bring them back
to their Midwest home any time soon; their children did not yet qualify for
‘We Have a Lot of Hope’
that the quake has destroyed the paperwork and passports for children who have
completed the adoption process, Children of the Promise — like many small
programs run on a shoestring budget through donations — is even struggling to
evacuate children with approved files.
trying to get 21 adopted children out,” said Bonnema with a measure of
frustration. “There is no alternative infrastructure, and we don’t know how we
will process the adoptions.”
she remains optimistic, a job requirement in her field: “We have a lot of hope.
I just heard that a 10-year-old boy who came from Children of the Promise to
the U.S. was fundraising for us after the earthquake. When he arrived as an
infant, he was severely malnourished. Now he is doing well. What we’re telling
people is: Keep your applications on file.”
Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase,