Day after day, we are touched by the devastation in Haiti. The media continues to report incomprehensible numbers of children presumably left orphaned by the recent earthquake.
We watch stories of frightened, injured and hungry children and our hearts break. Many well meaning, prospective parents have come forward with a desire to open their homes and their hearts and to make these children part of their forever family.
What happened in Haiti is an undeniable tragedy. However, in our desire to save the children we may be unknowingly creating life-long tragedy for countless families. In a time when Haiti is in crisis and the world rushes to offer aid it is imperative that we keep rescue in perspective.
The newly “orphaned” distinction and the call to adopt as part of a humanitarian effort is alarming. Haiti is under rubble. Many families are separated and thousands of people are missing. Today, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable source of information regarding children who were already relinquished and residing in orphanages awaiting adoption from newly orphaned children. It’s nearly impossible to tell what children are eligible for ethical and legal adoptions.
We cannot overlook the fact that people are still missing. Many children who appear to be orphaned may, in fact, be only temporarily separated from their families. Removing a child for the purpose of adoption, especially in a time of crisis, before exhausting all efforts to reunite them with their natural family is an open invitation for adoption fraud, abuse and child trafficking.
Our highest priority is to protect Haitian children from harm. Children who were previously authorized for adoption and matched to an adoptive couple should be expedited to their waiting families as soon as possible. Implement temporary placement or guardianship of children with credible families without assuming they are adoptable or orphans. This is not a time for fast track adoptions.
Every effort must be made to reunite families, including family in the United States and other countries, placing the children with those relatives as quickly as possible.
Billions of dollars are pouring into Haiti. Funds can be allocated to rebuild communities to care for children while creating a system that allows for reunification or temporary placement while determining the truly orphaned. Once true orphan status is determined, legal and ethical adoption plans that are truly in the best interest of the child can be put in place.
The adoption community has a responsible to ensure ethical guidelines for adoption are put in place and adoption agencies not use this tragedy to create a new market of children. The potential for fraud and abuse is just too great. Monitoring practices and policies relating to adopting the children of Haiti is crucial.
Here are some ways to stay informed:
- Homeland Security Fact Sheet on Haitian Orphans
- Joint Council on International Children’s Services
- US Dept. of State, Office of Children’s Issues online or Email your position to AskCI@stage.gov
- Read Adoption.com note about the Children of Haiti