Feb. 17, 2010
The images from Haiti—infants alone in an orphanage, the vacant stares of abandoned children standing amid the rubble—are heartbreaking.
The first response in the hearts of many people is to want to rescue the most vulnerable survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake, the children whose guardians are dead or missing and face an uncertain future in a country that was already one of the poorest in the world.
But the temptation to wrap one of those children up in your arms, and bring them to a more secure life in your native land, needs to be tempered by a number of practical and moral concerns, say United Methodist leaders.
“Adoption can be an appropriate response, if done carefully, but moving to that sort of permanent change of status while the situation is still so fluid can raise issues,” said Harriett Jane Olson, top executive of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Proceeding with legal adoptions in Haiti when needed documentation was lost in the earthquake is “difficult at best,” said Deborah Robinson, executive director of Miriam’s Promise, a Nashville-based adoption agency affiliated with The United Methodist Church.
The best way to help children who survived the earthquake is to provide funds and gifts for their immediate care, she said.
“What folks who want to help these kids need to do is really just help provide for their basic needs right now in Haiti,” Robinson said. “That's not what people are going to want to hear. You want to feel like you're doing something very tangible.”
People who do feel called to adopt Haitian children should work through reputable organizations, said Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
“Be careful and make sure that you're going through the proper channels, and with a reputable organization, and do not go out on your own just trying to rescue children without really being fully prepared and educated about the proper channels,” Todd said.
Ten U.S. citizens remain jailed in Haiti on charges of child kidnapping and criminal association after they tried to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic without documentation following the earthquake. The Americans, most of them members of an Idaho-based Baptist church group, said they were trying to rescue children and orphans who were abandoned after the disaster.
Julie Taylor, executive secretary for children, youth and family advocacy for the Women's Division, said the threat of child exploitation exists during this time of turmoil in Haiti. “It can be hard to determine the appropriateness of adoptions,” she said.
First, listen to the people who are hurting, Robinson advised.
“In any disaster, if we're truly going to be the hands of Christ, then we have to hear from the hurt person what they need from us,” she said. “We need them to tell us what they need and how to help, not to go in and with our ‘American wisdom’ to say this is what we want for you. This is what we think you need.”
Robinson said she understands the urge some people have to get Haitian children away from the death and destruction surrounding them.
“I truly do because I felt the same way,” she said. “You look at these faces and you think, ‘I just want to go get them, and I want to bring them home where the world's not caving in.’ You want them to be safe.”
But just having that feeling does not mean an individual is ready to adopt a child, she said.
Adoption is a lifelong process, she cautioned.
“What I would say to folks who truly are looking now or later to adopt a Haitian orphan, or from any country, is that you really need to spend some time in prayer and in thought and to make sure that building your family through adoption is the best fit,” she said. “The kids who are going to come have been traumatized. They've lost their world, and it's going to take a lot of patience and a lot of very specialized care to help them heal.”
The best outreach to help the Haitian children now is to provide care for them in Haiti, Robinson said.
“These kids have been through a tremendous horror and trauma. Their existing world has certainly changed drastically, maybe even their world of people who care for them,” she said. “And then to swoop them up and send them to a country where no one looks like them, where taste and smells and food are all different, at the same time they are already in a current trauma just re-traumatizes them.
“So we're lessening their chance for success if we do that to them,” Robinson said. “Even the ones who are ready for adoption or who could be certified, they still need some time to get their bearings after what's happened to them.”
*Gillem is a freelance writer in Brentwood, Tenn.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.