Was Humanitarian Parole the Best Thing for Haitian Orphans?
In seven months, the news of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti has slowed to a trickle. Fundraising has taken a back seat to more current news. Talk of orphans and amputees are buried well behind the headlines. The mass of adoption requests has returned to a normal level. Yet, there is still a Haiti. There are still orphans. There are now court dates and adoption finalizations occurring. Unfortunately, there are also around a dozen Haitian children in the United States who do not have a home, and their future continues to be uncertain.
The New York Times' Ginger Thompson recently reported on the effects of the humanitarian parole granted to approximately 1,150 Haitian children. Her article, “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions,” addresses several cases in which HP (humanitarian parole) has actually not been in the best interests of the children involved. Reading her piece certainly ignited many strong feelings within myself, not just as a mother to Haitian children but as a friend to many who brought their children home on HP. I decided to share this information with them and ask for their thoughts and input. As it is with most things -- particularly adoptions -- there are many sides to the story. It is complicated. For every travesty, there was a miracle. There is a balance, but every single child and their story and their family is important.
I have many answers, but no consensus -- not even in my own mind and heart.
BlogHer '10 gave me the opportunity to room with Kristen Howerton of “Rage Against the Minivan.” The Howerton's son, Kembe, came home via HP less than two weeks after the quake. In her experience, the children had to have already been matched and eligible for adoption. They were required to provide documentation such as birth certificates, parental death certificates, pictures of themselves with Kembe (proof that they had been visiting), and most importantly, proof of permission from IBESR. IBESR is the equivalent of the department of family and children's services and are responsible for approving each international adoption and ensuring that the adoptive family meets criteria, that the child is eligible for adoption, and that the adoption itself is legitimate, according to Haiti's adoption legislation of 1974.
“HP did not expedite the adoption -- these families still have to go through adoption procedures, and those in foster care may be returned to Haiti. The number -- roughly 1000 -- represents the fact that Haiti adoptions were back-logged by about three years,” Kristen wrote to me. “By the time our son came home (5 days post-quake), children were spending up to 24 hours in customs making sure they were eligible for adoption, and if they weren't, they were put in the care of refugee services instead of in an adoptive home. Prior to the earthquake, there were over 300,000 children living in orphanages. It was a small percentage that left after the earthquake.” Kristen has written extensively on the humanitarian parole process here.
Tara Livesay lives in Haiti. Well, she is not currently actually living in Haiti because they are waiting to receive citizenship for their daughter, who is not yet legally adopted, before they can return. All of their children returned to the states after the earthquake, where they were cared for by family. Tara and her husband Troy stayed with Heartline Ministries for a time, as their orphanage became a hospital and their home became a guest house for a constant stream of volunteers. The Livesay's call Haiti “home” … because it is, regardless of their American citizenship. They utilized HP for their own child, but also saw the knee-jerk reactions and poor organization throughout the weeks after the quake.
“The US government seemed ill equipped to handle 950 cases -- the run around for six months is a little maddening. We agree kids left that never should have left. The process after the earthquake changed every day. What was enough on Monday was not enough on Wednesday. Those who moved fast got kids out with far less evidence than those who were not as quick to respond,” Tara wrote me this week. “I am not in the camp that thinks you should get a kid out and find a family later.” She is referring to the 12 children who were not in the adoption process when they were airlifted to the United States. They are currently in a Roman Catholic institution near Pittsburgh while their future is being battled in courtrooms between the United States and Haitian officials. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell played a major role in their HP and is now advocating they be adopted by American families.
In an article discussing these children, “U.S., Haiti in Tug of War Over 12 Orphans,” Rendell is quoted as saying, “It's astounding to me that the bureaucracy can't get this done. It's unfair to these children. Let's get them adopted by loving families." I take issue with that statement, as there still seems to be question as to whether or not these children have living relatives in Haiti. If so, they should be returned home. The US can pour its energy into connecting those families with assistance currently on the ground in Haiti. If these children have family who can care for them, Governor Rendell should be fighting to reunite them.
Again, the stories continue to add to the varied experiences. Lorenda Dyson is a missionary in Mexico. Their daughter Keverly lived in Haiti and homeschooled Licia Bector's children, who helps to run the Real Hope for Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Keverly helped to care for an orphan, Daphca, during her time there. Through that experience, her parents, Tom and Lorenda, began the process to adopt the little girl. They are American citizens, living and serving in Mexico, adopting a Haitian child who was coming to the United States on humanitarian parole.
The Dyson's did have some struggles in the first few months after Daphca came to the states. She was one of the first to be airlifted, so many of the government programs were not in place on the receiving end. It required a lot of juggling and waiting. Lorenda explained, “We felt like the first months were more complicated than they would have been, but what I want to emphasize is that every government agency involved did their best to help me. I had to be persistent, but bottom line the people all had big hearts and wanted to help many of us who were calling and working hard to understand our next steps. It was a learning process for me to understand that humanitarian parole is a gift. The policies were made quickly to save the greatest number of lives possible. They were done very carefully but in an unprecedented crisis, even the best policy makers are going to miss some potential situations, and things will always need to be looked at case by case when unusual circumstances arise. That is unavoidable.”
The Dyson's have since finalized the adoption of Daphca. “The judge was careful and insisted we give proper due process to our child´s unknown parents. They were very careful and fair and left no stone unturned in terms of understanding our child´s situation and what had happened. We felt fairly treated and we believe our child and her unknown parents were honored,” Lorenda wrote to me. “We were kept as well informed as possible under the circumstances, and were even given help on understanding the trauma our child might be experiencing. That help was given free of charge and came with question and answer times.”
The Times article also makes reference to the children who were brought to the US who were “no longer wanted.” The information is very vague, yet I would agree that there have been dozens of children here on HP who are now in the process of having those adoptions disrupted. While unusual, a significant number of Haitian adoptions do dissolve every single year. This article does not compare that average with the unusually large number of Haitian adoptions we see post-quake. I personally adopted two Haitian children via an adoption dissolution. All children with a history of extreme poverty and orphanage care have experienced significant trauma. Some of those children develop very extreme disorders, which require some intensive parenting approaches. There are adoptive parents who choose to find another adoptive home, for a variety of reasons.
What is it they say? There are 40,000 sides to every story? I know that the unprecedented process of humanitarian parole after the Haiti earthquake did help most of the children who were already matched with a family. I know that it certainly helped many of the ministries and organizations to then give more aid and assistance to those children who may or may not have living relatives, but needed immediate care. I know that some children are here in the United States who absolutely should not be here. I know that some parents are choosing to find new homes for their Haitian children -- some for legitimate reasons and some not. I know that the authorities on both sides have screwed up as well as moved mountains, probably within the same hour at times.