Haiti-The Tragedy and Its Effects on Adoption

International adoptions are often affected by natural disasters. The resources of a country and the US Embassy are refocused on the immediate needs and the processing of international adoptions will be delayed. The country must use all of their efforts toward the immediate needs of the citizens and often the orphan is forgotten (they have no family to help them and their government also forgets them). Nongovernmental Humanitarian efforts are of most importance for orphanages.

Anyone who was currently in the adoption process will likely be delayed. Normal issues that affect international adoption will be compounded: lack of communication, fewer resources, missing paperwork, lack of follow-through, broken chains of command. The reality is that little effort is made to assist them in the adoption. Internal and external resources will be focused on addressing the crisis needs and dealing with the human casualties and restoring basic services. As we are seeing from the footage in the Haiti, one of the most critical issues is caring for the the injured as well as identifying and burying the dead.

If a child’s abandonment paperwork was already completed that will be helpful. However, what limited resources are available will be focused on reintegration of children with their families following the disaster. The fear following this type of disaster in such an impoverished nation is that children will be adopted out and then later their families will be looking for them. Often we find countries will impose a moratorium on all adoptions. This is an effort to provide time to identify all abandoned children and search for their families for the possibility of reunification. Of course this process is usually lengthy, and the children waiting during this time may be at risk or may not be receiving adequate services, not to mention the emotional toll this disaster creates for these “lost” children. Because of concerns about trafficking and exploitation, countries are very resistant following a disaster to encourage international adoption efforts. Of course, no one wants a child to be adopted from a country if the child has family who could care for them. The sad reality, though, is that many orphans will miss the opportunity to be adopted due to a moratorium. These types of tragedies only intensify the orphan crisis in our world. At a time when orphans need international adoption the most, the fears associated with trafficking and improper adoptions hinder adoption for everyone involved. Balancing and protecting all the human rights of the orphan during these times is a difficult task.

Many people become interested in adopting from a country following a natural disaster (this was the case following the Asian tsunami in 2004). It is part of human nature to be moved by the tragedy and its effects, especially on the most vulnerable members of a population. While this helps bring awareness to international adoption, the interest does not overcome the inherent problems which are now compounded by further humanitarian crises. In the best circumstances, international adoption can be a time-consuming process. Without adequate infrastructure and resources, little progress will be made. The few resources that were available to care for orphans prior to the disaster will now be stretched even thinner to accommodate children who were orphaned by the earthquake. Despite this pressing, need, it is likely that any children whose parents died in the earthquake will not be available for adoption for some time (possibly years).

One thing to note: adoptions from Haiti prior to this tragedy were already difficult. Most adoptions were attempted independently, with the process sometimes taking years; others were unsuccessful. We know that Haiti was fraught with corruption and hampered by a disorganized bureaucracy. It is very hard to understand why adoptions of these most vulnerable children are so difficult. However, there are so many issues to consider from the perspective of the parent nation: government, culture, resources, travel, national pride and religion, all of which may affect not only the acceptance of adoption, but also the management and implementation of programs to support it. For most of us, we see a need and want to help. People interested in adoption or active in adoption advocacy are often motivated by faith or personal commitment to helping children in crisis. While these disasters can be extraordinarily frustrating, there are opportunities to learn and improve processes. But there are no easy solutions.

As of January 15, 2010, the US State Department has not made an official notice/alert on Haiti adoptions yet. In addition to the financial and humanitarian aid, there may be some options to draw attention to the plight of Haitian orphans and children at risk. Utilizing the social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook may help as we have seen those mediums be even more effective than traditional reporting in this tragedy. Also, it may be helpful to lobby senators and congressional representatives to request humanitarian visas for children who were in process.

Attorney Michele Jackson chairs the Adoption Practice of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson, offering numerous legal services for domestic and international adoptions including private and agency adoptions, step-parent adoptions, second parent adoptions, and surrogacy contracts. In addition, Ms. Jackson also offers other various international family law services, including adoption contract reviews, international custody, abduction prevention, and orphan visa appeals. She is experienced in processing adoptions from Haiti and maintains contacts in the country.

In addition to her legal practice, Ms. Jackson has been an Adjunct Law Professor at the IU School of Law, Indianapolis since January 2005, where she has taught classes on International Comparative Family Law and International Organizations Law. She has also directed seminars and conferences as well as Continuing Legal Education classes on topics such as “How to Pursue International Adoption,” “A Child Without a Family,” and “CHINS in Indiana.” A frequent speaker, Ms. Jackson has addressed audiences in Indiana, Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Illinois.

JOCHAM HARDEN DIMICK JACKSON, PC, is a Carmel law firm providing personalized service with a responsive and compassionate approach. Experienced attorneys offer assertive advocacy for clients complemented by a philosophy focused on minimizing conflict and negotiating resolution. The practice assists clients in all areas of family law, adoption, mediation, business litigation. For more information, please contact Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson, PC at 317.569.0770, or visit https://www.hardenjacksonlaw.com.