What the U.S.A. Should Do About Haiti Earthquake Orphans

I have in the past few days been sharing stories found on the Internet about babies/children being orphaned due to the tragic earthquake on January 12th.

Serving on the Board of Directors & as Regional Manager for North America on behalf of World Initiative for Orphans I feel I must write my personal feelings on this subject and potential solutions to the crisis.

I am happy our government responded to the 200-300 orphans who already had adoptive families awaiting them in the United States. The State Department is allowing these adoptees to come into the U.S. even with the necessary paperwork being lost due to the earthquake. The Netherlands has also responded to this crisis flying 100 children to their country in the same fashion.

However this is just a drop in the bucket. Even prior to the earthquake their were thousands of babies/children living in orphanages  throughout Haiti or even just living on the streets doing whatever was necessary to survive.

Though Americans should be proud of the actions of our government and ourselves for by our response to the overall crisis caused by the earthquake; providing financial aid, supplies, troops for security, etc as well as some response to the orphan crisis…we can and MUST do more!

Before the earthquake about 800 to 900 U.S. families are in the process of adopting children from Haiti, said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services though their adoptions have not yet been finalized…these adoptions need to be expedited and the children moved safely and quickly to the United States. 

Before the earthquake, Haiti was home to about 380,000 orphans, according to the most recent data from the United Nations Children’s Fund.

At this point of the crisis it is not known how many new orphans have resulted from the earthquake. We know the United Nations estimates 2000,000 people have died as a result of the quake. How many were adults leaving behind babies/children we do not know. We also do not know how many babies/children have just been separated from their families as a result of the quake.

As our government moves along in this crisis it is important that orphans and those babies/children just separated from their families are handled in a totally different manner. The government cannot allow themselves to later be targeted as taking babies/children from their families and placing for adoption because they did not do the necessary investigations. The government needs to move quickly but not too quickly.

My solution ideas to this crisis are as follows:

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, can allow otherwise inadmissible people into the country for urgent humanitarian reasons or other emergencies The U.S. State Department also has the authority to reduce much of the unnecessary red tape involving international adoptions & the obtaining of necessary visas to enter the United States.

Therefore:

ADOPTION 

Secretary Clinton & Napolitano should immediately create a Task Force whose responsibility should be strictly to expedite adoptions of orphans from Haiti as well as expedite visas. This should be done working together with the government of Haiti and local orphanages.

The Task Force must ensure that each baby/child to be potentially placed for adoption in the USA should definitely be orphans and no family can be found in Haiti who will take responsibility for them.

The Task Force must work with established adoption agencies to ensure those saying they are adoption agencies are in fact as such and not a scam.

The Task Force should establish reasonable fees for processing , immediate home studies, necessary paperwork and potential legal fees. These established fees should be only to cover the above at reasonable costs and not for profit for the agencies. Agencies should be allowed to profit from this tragedy but their expenses should be covered.

If a potential family is shown to be able to financially support a baby/child after adoption but is unable to pay upfront necessary fees a payment plan for such should be established or possibly have the government should waive the fees to the potential family and cover them to the agency.

The Task Force should also work with other governments of developed countries to also play a role in providing safe homes for orphans within their country.

The establishment of this Task Force should be immediate and work on this crisis should begin without further delay.

FOSTER CARE:

I have read that we are considering placing folks from Haiti at Qauntanimo for temporary housing.

If babies/children go there who cannot be verified as orphans and they have no family to care for them they should be placed in a separate section to ensure they can not be preyed upon by sexual or physical predators to ensure their safety. It would be tragic for them to go from one tragedy to another caused by our government’s action.

A camp type setting or institutional setting has shown not to be the best setting for a child. Therefore the government should look to potential foster care families in the USA mainland to care for babies/children that are not orphans.

In both adoption & foster care accurate records must be ensured by the Task Force. This is especially ture for babies/children that may be placed in a foster home and may return to Haiti if family is found there to care for them.
I have received many comments to my previous blog entries on this subject from folks interested in adopting, providing foster care and asking what they can do.

Write your Senator, Congress person, Secretary Clinton & Secretary Napolitano about the subject and the need for our government to act and to act fast!

Also you should remember that there are over 129,000 youth within our own foster care system who are awaiting adoption. There is also a need in all the states for good foster parents.

I hope this gives at least a few ideas as to how we as a people and government can help the orphans of Haiti caused by the recent earthquake.

Remember: NO child should be allowed to grow up without the love, nurturing, caring of a family!

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Orphans from Haiti arrive in U.S.

January 19, 2010 5:38 p.m. EST

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (CNN) — More than 50 Haitian children — rescued from an orphanage damaged by last week’s earthquake –arrived Tuesday in Pennsylvania, most of them headed eventually to adoptive homes.

Gov. Edward Rendell, who traveled to Haiti to accompany the orphans back to his state, said the 53 children from the Bresma Orphanage in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were flown to Florida on an Air Force C-17 transport plane. The group was then transferred to another plane to fly to Pittsburgh International Airport, he said at a news conference at the airport.

Another child is to arrive in Pittsburgh late Tuesday or Wednesday, Rendell said. Ali McMutrie, a Pittsburgh-area woman who ran the orphanage with her sister, Jamie, said her sister will accompany the 54th orphan.

“The children are incredible. They’re doing so great. I was more upset at the airplane ride than any of them,” said McMutrie, who also was at the briefing.

Most of the children’s adoption cases were at the end of the bureaucratic process before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck.

Search for loved ones, see who’s found

According to Rendell, adoption cases are under way for 47 of the children. Of these, 40 will be U.S. adoptions, four children will go to Spain and three to Canada. Adoptive parents will be sought for the remaining seven children.

The orphans almost stayed in Haiti.

Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pennsylvania, who was traveling with the group, said it had been understood that all the children were cleared to leave. However, 14 of them had no papers because they were destroyed in the quake, and the U.S. Embassy said they couldn’t leave the country, Altmire said.

“We were frantically calling the State Department, the White House and everyone else” to get the clearance, he said.

In addition, the McMutrie sisters, who live in Altmire’s congressional district, refused to allow just a portion of the children to leave, Altmire said.

“So now, everything is up in the air. You’re just arguing about paperwork,” the congressman said.

Finally, with intervention from several agencies and the White House, the embassy approved humanitarian waivers, or paroles, for the 14 children.

“All of a sudden, after four or five hours of struggle, we got the go that all 54 orphans could come to the U.S.,” Rendell said.

By then, the plane that was to take everyone to the United States had left. The military and embassy arranged for them to fly in a military cargo plane.

Altmire said that despite their trauma, the children adjusted well to the flight.

“They were polite and either slept or were quiet or just played among themselves,” he said.

“We are all grateful the kids are here and safe, but this was a very unusual situation,” an Obama administration official, who did not want to be identified, told CNN.

“We will continue to grant, in special cases, humanitarian parole for orphans and medical evacuees, but our position is clear that people from Haiti attempting to enter the country illegally will be repatriated.”

The children were taken by bus to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto told CNN that the children will be placed in foster homes until details of their adoptions are finalized.

On Monday, the U.S. government said it had eased the requirements for orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States on a temporary basis.

In a separate statement, the State Department said Monday it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the Haitian government to process nearly 300 cases of Americans who are waiting to adopt Haitian children. Of those, 200 cases are being accelerated.

At least 24 of those children have left Haiti and have joined their adoptive families since the embassy expedited processing for immigrant visas, said Michele Bond, deputy assistant secretary for American citizen services.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, can allow otherwise inadmissible people into the country for urgent humanitarian reasons or other emergencies.

Before the earthquake, Haiti was home to about 380,000 orphans, according to the most recent data from the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Rendell’s plane flew into Haiti on Monday with a shipment of medical aid and several doctors. It arrived after aid organizations had complained that their planes bound for Port-au-Prince had been delayed.

The agency Doctors Without Borders says several of its flights were delayed or diverted for long spells, including a plane carrying supplies for an inflatable hospital. That plane could not land in Port-au-Prince on Saturday and instead was rerouted to the neighboring Dominican Republic, it said. Another medical supply flight was diverted to the Dominican Republic on Sunday, causing a 24-hour delay in delivering aid that had to be transported by truck as a result, the group said.

U.S. officials have attributed the delays to a crowded apron at Port-au-Prince’s small airport, but say traffic conditions have considerably improved.

The airport handled 180 flights Monday, none of which were delayed, Lt. Gen. P. K. Keen told CNN. One Doctors Without Borders flight was unable to land over the weekend, he said, because another aircraft’s departure was delayed. Instead of circling and burning fuel, the plane landed in the Dominican Republic, he said.

“And clearly, we wanted that field hospital on the tarmac,” Keen said. “But beyond landing them on the main runway and shutting down the entire airport for a couple of hours, there weren’t many options because of the design of the airfield.”

Keen added that planes turned back “a number of times” and “quite a bit” in the first few days after the quake. While the field manages more than 100 flights a day now, before the quake, it handled slightly more than a dozen a day, he said.

CNN’s Gary Tuchman, Adam Levine and Mary Snow contributed to this report.

NOTE: I am making phone calls to see what is being considered by State Dept. about bringing children, whether orphans or not, temporarily to the USA until Haiti is more stable…so far the issue has not been addressed though it can be done according to DHS for humanitarian reasons..we shall see. Will keep you advised.

Prayers Answered:Haitian orphans rushed to new homes abroad!

I had to jump for joy and shout Yes, Yes, Yes when I read this and had to share it. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

From CNN January 17, 2010 8:02 p.m. EST

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Slashing red tape or ignoring ordinarily required paperwork, officials in the United States and the Netherlands have cleared the way for scores of Haitian orphans to leave their earthquake-ravaged homeland, according to officials from the two countries.

All of the children had adoptions pending with prospective parents in the two countries before Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake, and government officials said paperwork was expedited or put on hold to make transfers happen on an emergency basis.

300 children have pending adoption cases with American families. Six children arrived in Florida Sunday night, met by their adoptive parents with hugs and tears of happiness.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has chartered a plane to pick up about 100 children Monday, spokesman Aad Meijer told CNN.

Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin over the weekend granted the children entry into the country, although their paperwork, including travel and adoption documents, was incomplete, Justice Ministry spokesman Patrick Mikkelsen told CNN.

About 44 of the orphans’ adoptions had yet to be approved by a Haitian judge, even though they were matched to Dutch parents, Mikkelsen said. Dutch officials may seek the remaining approvals from Haiti once the children have already settled in the Netherlands, he added.

Haiti is home to about 380,000 orphans, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, and that number is expected to grow in the wake of Tuesday’s earthquake. And those who lived in orphanages before Tuesday may be homeless now, as reports of destroyed orphanages have come throughout the quake zone.

Some children who lost parents in the quake or were separated from parents are being relocated to the Dominican Republic, a child advocacy group said.

About 50 orphaned and abandoned children will arrive in the border town of Jimani on Wednesday, Kids Alive International said. The efforts, coordinated with the governments of both countries, will eventually take the children back to Haiti. Some will be reunited with parents who lost communication with their children in the quake’s aftermath, the group said.

 

Children, A Tragedy of the Haitian Earthquake

Adopted Haitian kids were almost home when quake hit

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
January 15, 2010

If he could, Jim Boston would hop on a plane right now to bring his daughter, Farica, home.

The 4-year-old Haitian girl has been part of his family since the day he and his wife, Rebecca, began the adoption process — and multiple trips to visit her — more than two years ago.

She has the passport that will allow her to leave. She shares the Boston name with her parents and five siblings, including another Haitian girl. She was just weeks from leaving the Port-au-Prince orphanage where she’s lived her whole short life.

The only thing that was keeping her from flying off to Chicago, Illinois, with her parents: the visa to let her into the United States. And that was set to come by month’s end.

“We were two or three weeks away from going there to get her,” Boston said Thursday. “We’re so afraid. We expect rioting to happen soon. What little food they have is in jeopardy. … We’re trying to appeal for help in getting these children special status.”

Looking out for Farica in the interim, while adoption proceedings stand frozen, are two sisters from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area. Jaime and Ali McMutrie, 30 and 21 respectively, run one of the houses at the Brebis de Saint-Michel de L’Attalaye (BRESMA) orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

In frantic messages they sent from a borrowed BlackBerry nearly 24 hours after the earthquake, the sisters shared the good news that all of the children in their care were alive. But they pleaded for urgent assistance. They and the children were living in the yard without food or water. They worried that babies would die from contaminated water.

“I want to make sûre évryoné ùnderstands we cant stay inhaiti and thé kids will not live if théy stay,” Jamie typed in a rush.

Jamie’s husband, Doug Heckman, said his wife and sister-in-law help oversee the care of 26 children, many of them little ones or those who’ve needed special care, including Farica Boston, who arrived sick when she came to the orphanage right after she was born.

According to UNICEF, there were an estimated 380,000 orphans in Haiti in 2007, a number that’s bound to change as the death toll from the earthquake rises.

About 800 to 900 U.S. families are in the process of adopting children from Haiti, said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, an advocacy group for children in need of families. Of those, only about 30 kids are as far along in the process as Farica Boston, he said .

Because documentation in Haiti may be buried beneath rubble, the organization Friday morning launched a database to collect information on where the adoption process of each family stands. Adoptive parents are encouraged to enter information in the registry on the JCICS Web site.

A memo issued by the U.S. State Department on Thursday served as a reminder of how complicated helping children affected by natural disasters can be.

While concerned Americans may offer to open their homes to suffering kids (beyond those already in orphanages), the department said determining who is truly orphaned — and not just separated from family members — can be a huge challenge. Likewise gathering the documentation needed to legally fulfill adoption requirements can be next to impossible.

BRESMA, which is home to about 150 children, is one of the country’s 67 crèches, orphanages that are licensed to perform adoptions, said Diana Boni, the Haiti and Liberia programs coordinator for Kentucky Adoption Services, who’s worked with BRESMA for seven years.

“We’ve been incredibly blessed. We have no fatalities and no serious injuries as of yesterday afternoon,” Boni said Thursday. “Almost all of them have [adoptive] families. A lot of these kids under Haitian law are not Haitian. They’re legally children of U.S. citizens … and children are going to die because of bureaucratic paper delays.”

Grass-root efforts are under way to help.

A Pittsburgh blogger, Virginia Montanez, is sharing updates on BRESMA on her blog, “That’s Church.” One Facebook page, “Let’s Help Them Get Out of Haiti,” encourages people to sign petitions to help the group. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have reached out too, saying they’re determined to help.

Children are going to die because of bureaucratic paper delays.

–Diana Boni, Kentucky Adoption Services
 
But while concerned citizens, families and adoption agencies try to make sense of what’s going on and what’s possible, false information and misunderstandings are circulating. Some parents spoke about a special meeting (not true) planned at the State Department on Friday morning to discuss their children. And at least one agency has been putting out word that 150 kids were going to be airlifted from BRESMA to Pittsburgh.

“That’s a very popular rumor,” Boni said, hoping to put it to rest. “The State Department has issued zero visas since this earthquake.”

While the State Department does issue visas, DiFilipo of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services reiterated that the Department of Homeland Security must approve the visas beforehand. He said he’s been in touch with both departments.

“We’re not just working on kids with finalized adoptions. We’re trying to find solutions for all those children,” he said. “We don’t want people to forget the most vulnerable children — the orphaned.”

As officials work to find answers, Farica’s parents must hold onto hope that their prayers will be answered and their family made whole.

“I don’t know if she understands. She’s only 4,” Boston said. “If I could talk to her I would tell her I love her and that I’m doing everything I can to get her home.”

Hefty: The Official Luggage of Foster Care

A few hours ago I was visiting a forum about foster care that I participate.

One of the entries I read concluded with the signature above noting, “Hefty: The Official Luggage of Foster Care.”

This evokes very strong and bad memories for me of the years I spent in foster care.

I was in care from February 1950 until aging out in June 1968. During the course of these years I was moved 15 times; the final move was the aging out process.

Each of the moves, as far back as I have memory of, involved my worldly posessions being packed in a “plain brown paper grocery bag.” This was the means used back in my days in care.

I have very vivid memories of those moves and being told to , “go pack my things.” I didn’t have much and it wouldn’t take me long to pack; there was always room left empty in the bag. The amount in the bag is not the issue but rather the bag itself.

I know what it feels like to pack your belongings in a paper bag or the plastic garbage bags used for many years. I always felt degraded, humiliated, a second class citizen, feeling worthless, feeling that no one gave a damn are just a few of the feelings I experienced during those moves. The pain of those years remain to a degree today as whne I go to the grocery store I refuse to have items placed in the brown paper bags!

In the early 70’s the system, according to them, graduated to the large Hefty plastic “garbage” bags. These are still used in the majority of situations involving the move of foster children from home to home today.

How a child must feel knowing there posessions are considered only good enough to be thrown in “garbage” bags. Yes, this sure would help one gain self confidence and self worth…NOT!

Because this is an issue that still affects me today after aging out almost 42 years ago….I decided to do something about it in my local community. I began what I called, “Hope & Dignity Project.” Hope was for believing someone cares. Dignity was for having a dignified way of moving one’s worldly goods.

I called and organized organizations, students from schools, businesses and indiviuals in my first effort as well as succeeding ones.

In the first effort Funding was received to purchase 200, 30″ nylon duffel bags as youth prefer these over suitcases.

These bags will be able to hold a large quantity of personal property of youth entering care.

Funding was further received to purchase material to make “tie blankets” or buy “quilt blankets” to go into each of the bags. Based on the type and style of the blankets determined if each bag was for a young girl or boy or an older boy or girl and each bag was marked accordingly.

In each bag, in addition to the blanket, was packed with new soap, toothpaste/toothbrush, deodorant, comb or hairbrush, pencils, pens, a book, crayons, and coloring books for younger youth as well as stuffed animals (especially teddy bears) for younger children, notepads, lotions, mirrors for older girls as well as some costume jewelry which was received from a variety of donors including a collection conducted by the local high school.

I hope in some small way each youth will feel a sense of dignity and hope receiving the bags and realize someone cares about them.

Distribution was handled by the local social service office responsible for youth in care. The bags were dropped at their office so they could give one to each child entering care as the child is usually taken by the office before going to a foster home. They can arrive at the foster home with this duffel bag, their personal items & the items placed in each bag.

When I moved to my current home in North Dakota I began a similar program as I did back in Michigan. Unfortunately no state is immune from having children entering foster care.

Though it does take effort, you to can begin such a program in your community. You will not believe how this small effort will positively affect a youth going through the trauma of being removed from their family, neighbors and friends. Yes, you give that small degree of hope and dignity!

It would be fantastic if each community had someone to begin a project such as this as I fell no child should be made to feel as a child does entering care with their worldly posessions in a hefty garbage bag.

If you are interested and want to more on how to start such an effort and continue it…feel free to contact me via the comments section with your E mail address and I will contact you back.

Here is a link to an article that appeared in my local newspaper back in November 2008.

https://prairieguy.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/care-packages-replace-traditional-luggage/

Also here is an article that appeared in the Christmas 2009 edition of the Boys Town Alumni Newsletter: