If I had a $10 for every time someone has asked me recently why we aren’t adopting from Haiti, I could probably fund the update to our home study (more on this in an upcoming post). Here’s the thing, even if we wanted to adopt from Haiti, we can’t.
In the wake of the disaster in Haiti, the government isn’t fully functioning, so there is no way to process a Haitian child through the Haitian courts. For families who already are “matched” with a child and waiting for their court dates, this is heartbreaking, though when the government is up and running, hopefully they’ll get their day in court. As for new adoptions, they are not being processed at all.
Had the earthquake not occurred, Big Papa and I still would not be able to adopt from Haiti. Since 1974, Haitian guidelines require that couples be married for ten years (single women, however, are allowed to adopt). Prior to the earthquake, some U.S. adoption agencies were hopeful that the adoption law pending in Haiti would pass, widening the guidelines and reducing the marriage requirement to five years. In our case, that would still prohibit us from adopting as we will hit three years this July.
It’s not easy to adopt from Haiti, even when life there is “normal.” I know one woman, who lives nearby, whose [now] three year old daughter was adopted from Haiti. She and her husband made four trips to Haiti over a two year period before being able to bring their daughter home. She described a slow, unwieldy government process with complexities and unforeseen stumbling blocks at every step in their journey to adopt.
Once a family is “in process” to adopt internationally simply switching countries is not typically a viable option (unless the adoption agency you select also represents that country and, even then, you must still resubmit paperwork and redo portions of your home study). The I-800a, which is the request to the U.S. government to adopt an international orphan, asks prospective adoptive families to specify: country, gender of child(ren) and age of child(ren). If a family says: China, girl, infant, the only way to change that is to update a home study or, in the case of country change, redo the entire home study and supporting paperwork before submitting a new I-800a to U.S. Immigration (USCIS). Of course, submitting a new I-800a is $830 for a couple and that’s just the I-800a, never mind a new home study and all supporting documentation.
While some of the regulations might seem to keep families from adopting, most are in place to protect prospective adoptees. We are adopting from Armenia, a Hague Convention country. In part, this means that all children available for adoption have been placed on a registry, giving extended family a chance to step forward and offer to raise this child. Imagine a child in Haiti, separated from family and then adopted to a family in the U.S., when there is an aunt or uncle in Haiti who might willingly take that child in, if they knew he was in need. Or consider the possibility that a mother or father might “sell” their child for emergency rations or medical care, a situation that has occurred in other countries and resulted in the U.S. ceasing to allow further adoptions to be processed. Acting in haste to find homes for children of disaster can open the door to a host of new, equally troubling scenarios.
While it’s heartening that people in the U.S. are thinking more about Haitian orphans in need, the truth is that, worldwide, there are children living in horrific circumstances. Hunger, homelessness, abuse, war, disease and natural disasters befall hundreds of thousands of children in countries around the globe, including the U.S. I want to believe that the flurry of interest in Haitian adoption isn’t just a result of jump-on-the-cause-du jour bandwagon. Haitian orphans need help, no doubt, but so do orphans in Vietnam and Guatemala (two countries which the U.S. currently has closed to international adoption), as do orphans in Sudan (adoption not allowed for Moslem children), as do children in a host of countries that the U.S. does have agreements with.
The list of children needing loving permanent homes is endless. If something good can come from all the death and despair in Haiti, I hope it will be to widen the net of families who might consider adoption from a range of counties (including the U.S.), and who are prepared for all that’s entailed to make it from square one to bringing a child home and then raising that child. When all is said and done, and the fallout from this disaster passes, there will be another and then another.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart, nor those in a big hurry. It isn’t meant to be a panacea to assuage the guilt we might feel as we watch the tragedy unfold in Haiti. Adoption isn’t just for the time being. Adoption is a life-long, life-changing decision, because the child you adopt becomes your child for a lifetime.