Keep Haiti adoption in its proper context

We applaud recent statements made by members of South Dakota's Congressional delegation, specifically Republican Sen. John Thune and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, regarding adoption of Haitian orphans.

Both men are careful to put the need for adopting youngsters left in need following the devastating earthquake in that country in its proper context.

"The immediate needs for food, water, health care, and shelter must be our first priority in our efforts in Haiti," said Thune. "As we look down the road to future needs and plan for the sustained recovery efforts in this region it is important that we consider the needs of orphan children. Many efforts are already underway in addressing this concern, but I believe in the coming weeks we will have an opportunity to do more for these young people and I am committed to working with my colleagues to do all we can to unite orphan children with loving families in the U.S."

Johnson (D-SD), who contacted the State Department last week to urge fast action to help save these children from the aftermath of the earthquake, congratulated Bruce and Jill Lear of Watertown as they welcomed their children to the United States. Johnson pledged to continue to work with federal agencies to help unite other adoptive families with their children in Haiti as soon as possible.

It's natural, especially for parents with a strong urge to adopt a child, to want to do something immediately to help a homeless youngster from Haiti.

Notice that neither Johnson nor Thune are advocating a mad rush to adopt Haitian children. That's sound advice that every South Dakotan who has that desire should heed.

The Joint Council on Internal Children's Services, an advocacy organization for children, gives the issue some context:

"Ideas for airlifting children into the U.S. and placing them in foster homes continue to surface. In some instances, rumors and speculation have taken on a life of their own. Additionally, many U.S. families are seeking to initiate adoptions of newly orphaned Haitian children. While both airlifts and new adoptions are based on valid concerns and come from an obviously loving heart, neither option is considered viable by any credible child welfare organization. Bringing children into the U.S. either by airlift or new adoption during a time of national emergency can open the door for fraud, abuse and trafficking. Every effort must be made in a timely fashion to locate living parents and extended family members. Many children, who might appear to be orphaned, may in fact be only temporarily separated from their family. Our efforts must be to provide the families and children of Haiti with shelter, nutrition, water and safety. Once the situation in Haiti stabilizes and timely reunification has taken place, adoption may be an option for the children who remain outside of permanent parental care."

The Council said last Friday it had received encouraging news about adoptions that had made their way through the Haitian legal system:

"Joint Council has confirmed that a handful of Haitian children, whose adoptions were finalized by the Haitian courts and whose adoptive parents were in Port au Prince at the time of the earthquake, have received their visa to enter the U.S. Joint Council shares in the joy and relief felt by these families and children. While the issuance of visas in these specific cases is very welcomed news, it should not encourage adoptive parents to travel to Haiti in an attempt to secure a visa for the child they are adopting. Such individual efforts may in fact be counterproductive and dangerous."

Johnson, who knows from experience the joy that families experience through adoption, also places the current situation in proper light.

"As a grandfather of two adopted children, I understand the miracle of adoption and am so happy that these children are safe in their new country waiting to be united with loving families," said Johnson, a founding member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.  "As the people of Haiti struggle to recover from the devastating earthquake, the orphans are among the most vulnerable survivors. If it is possible to clear these children for adoption with reasonable speed while protecting the integrity of families still in Haiti, there are loving families here in the U.S. waiting with welcome arms.  I understand the paperwork and security dilemmas these orphanages are facing at this time, but I will continue to work with the appropriate federal agencies to help cut through red tape and keep this process moving forward."

 Since the earthquake, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in coordination with the State Department, announced a humanitarian parole policy to allow orphans from Haiti to enter the United States to ensure they receive the care they need. The policy will be applied on a case-by-case basis to those children who have been legally confirmed as orphans eligible for inter-country adoption by the Haitian government and are being adopted by U.S. Citizens or have been matched to prospective parents in the U.S.

That, we believe, is a wise policy to follow in light of the chaos that still exists in Haiti.

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