Haitian Children and Adoption

Our Director, Candace O’Brien, was interviewed by ABC Evening News regarding the situation with Haitian families who have been in the process of adopting children of family members in Haiti.  The interview took place with one of our Haitian American families.  The story can be found at the link below.



January 23, 2010 at 6:09 am Leave a comment

Children Affected by the earthquake in Haiti

For all those families who have seen the incredibly difficult pictures and footage of children in Haiti and who are inquiring about adopting these Haitian children, please consult guidance being disseminated by the US Department of State. (link below).  It is very important that families wishing to adopt Haitian children understand that while there is a genuine crisis for many of these children,  it is imperative that legal systems of checks and balances are in place to ensure that chidlren are indeed orphans and that there are no relatives or others in Haiti who can care for these children.  This means that the process of determining whether these children are available for adoption will take much time and most probably months.  Children Affected by the earthquake in Haiti

via Children Affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

January 23, 2010 at 5:59 am Leave a comment

USCIS – Secretary Napolitano Announces Humanitarian Parole Policy for Certain Haitian Orphans Fact Sheet

For those families in the process of adopting children from Haiti prior to January 12, 2010, there is a strong possibility that these chidren will be issued humanitarian visas.  AdoptInternational is now assisting Haitian American families who were in the process of adopting children from Haiti prior to January 12, 2010.  Our services for completing paperwork are being offered at no cost to these families.  For further information about this program by USCIS, please visit the link below.

USCIS – Secretary Napolitano Announces Humanitarian Parole Policy for Certain Haitian Orphans Fact Sheet

via USCIS – Secretary Napolitano Announces Humanitarian Parole Policy for Certain Haitian Orphans Fact Sheet.

January 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

Florida Law Prohibiting Gays from Adopting Under Attack

Florida law does not allow gays to adopt; however, gays can foster children under Florda law.  On November 25, 2008, g 11th Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman’s issued a decision declaring F.S. §63.042(3) unconstitutional and to allow homosexual foster parents to adopt two brothers they had nurtured for four years.
  On January 30th of this year, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar received permission from the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar to file an amicus brief to the Florida Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Florida’s anti-gay adoption law.

Liberty Counsel, a faith-based legal group, had asked the high court to prohibit the bar’s Family Law Section from filing a friend of the court The justices ruled 5-2 in the case on Thursday rejecting  the challenge to the Florida Bar’s right to oppose the state’s ban on gay adoption.

The high court majority ruled Liberty Counsel failed to show the brief violated its constitutional rights or that the bar broke its own rules.

June 6, 2009 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

International Adoption: Cultural and Legal Chasms

The article posted below appeared in The Liberian Journal (www.theliberianjournal.com).  This perspective is very interesting and brings up many of the complex issues that international adoption involves.  The article’s author,   Dr. Emmanuel Dolo, discusses the “ward” system in Africa in which children are placed with other relatives  or nonrelatives and the decision is not considered a permanent breaking of family ties.  Dr. Dolo then discusses international adoption and states the following:  The fact that these international adoptions occur without processes for the biological parents to maintain regular communication and get frequent updates about the child’s post-adoption adjustment makes for a difficult course of action. None of the parents with which I spoke or the professionals, which is not a statistically sufficient sample, state that following the adoption, biological parents received phone calls, letters, postcards, audio or videotapes, and photographs from the adoptive parents of their child/children. Is this a normal expectation? No. 

This statement by Dr. Dolo belies the very problem and  inherent misunderstandings  in the adoption process that I have witnessed when foreign parents seek to adopt children from Liberia and I would daresay other African nations.    The problem with Dr. Dolo’s analysis is not that the “ward” system is not correct or a great solution for the placement and care of children within Liberia when their biological parents are not able to do so.  The problem is that it does not mesh with U.S. immigration law which defines “orphan” status and the U.S. Department of State andU.S. immigration officials’ resulting expectations of what actions constitute relinquishment and abandonment in the context of defining an orphan for purposes of international adoption.  Adoption in this international context requires complete, final relinquishment or abandonment and does not allow for these middle ground ideas such as the “ward” system present in Africa or even the “foster care” system present in the United States.

International adoption as it has developed in the United States has really been a system whereby children are either abandoned or permanently relinquished to orphanages in foreign countries.   It has not envisioned continuing contact between family and child as this type of scenario would erode the legal definition imposed by U.S. law.   I encountered this scenario when working through adoptions in Liberia.  I spent many hours educating and training staff about the necessity of biological parents and families understanding the permanence of their decision.  Dr. Dolo indicates that this has been the major focus of current adopton work in Liberia and somewhat indicates that this emphasis is somehow not correct.  It certainly has been “a” major focusof those of us engaged in international adoption who are concerned about compliance with legal requirements and with ethics.  Ther are many critics including  Department of State officials with whom I have met, who are concerned about adoptions that don’t meet the legal and ethical criteria required by U.S law when considering whether a particular adoption situation meets the legal requirements imposed by U.S. law.  Officials have indicated that biological parents don’t really understand the permanency of an adoption decision.  They think they will see their children again.  In fact, they envision a situation similar to the “ward system” that Dr. Dolo describes.  There is a huge disconnect in these systems.  The process of adoption from a U.S. legal perspective absolutely must include clear and absolute understanding by a parent or family member relinquishing a child that this is a permanent decision and that they are relinquishing all rights to the parents.  Any sort of compromise or middle ground agreement between the biological family of the child and the adoption agencies engaged in facilitating this process could very well be construed to be violating U.S. law with respect to the adoption process.

The system that has developed between U.S. agencies and their client families and the officials of governemnt organizations handling adoptions in foreign countries has been for agencies to provide post placement reports which provide professional evaluation of a particular child’s assimilation into the family, development, emotional devlopment, etc.  It is certainly not the personal approach that Mr. Dolo speaks of but it meets the goals of the laws and concerns of each nation.

There is a dark underside to what Mr. Dolo presents when he speaks of a “ward” system in which a child’s biological parents are able to maintain communication with the child who they relinquished for adoption.  I have personally been made aware of many situations in which Liberian children are told by their biological parents that they will go to America and live with a family and that they  must then provide help and assistance to their families in Africa.  The children see themselves almost on a mission of sorts to help their African families.  This creates incredible stress on both the child and the family who thought that they were adopting a chld who would become their child and part of their family and not a soldier on a mission to help his for her family back in Africa.  The expectations by both sides are not met.  This presents a scenario that would almost be akin to “sponsorship” programs  but  rather than  the child staying in his or her home or village, he or she is sent abroad and is fostered or sponsored by the foreign family.  Could this be a viable middle ground solution for what appears to be a woefully inadequate system now?  Perhaps, but it will take much study and it will take legislation.

Until that time, it is incumbent upon the organizations that are charged with handling international adoption to continue to educate their staffs, educate Liberian biological parents and educate adoptive parents on the finality of adoption decisions in this context and of the huge cultural chasms that exist and the resultling hurdles that one faces when one undertakes the momentous decision to adopt a child. 


Perspectives on the Intl Adoption of Liberian Children (Commentary)

(Apr 19, 2009) By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D
A local adoption agency has been at loggerheads with the Liberian government for the adoption agency’s alleged neglect of prospective adoptive children placed in the agency’s care. The decision of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and its international partners to remove these children from the adoption agency has generated debate in some circles. 
I have wondered about the anxiety, anger, depression, somatic complaints and possible mental illness that the children that were removed from the adoption agency could be feeling. My other concern has been my hard working colleagues at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and their international partners who must be dealing with the stress associated with finding appropriate placements for these children or reunifying them with their parents and/or relatives. As a professional who has participated in and/or overseen the removal of children from parental and non-parental placements before, I am conscious of the magnitude of much that is at stake. The encounter between the adoption agency and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare is a political transition where the stakes are high. Our child welfare professionals have sent a resounding message – the safety and well-being of Liberian children are important to the government, and they will not be compromised for expediency. 
Little or no systematic research has focused on the psychosocial experiences of Liberian children that are adopted by families living abroad. Much of the work to date has either emphasized whether the adults in the lives of these children understand the full implications of adoption as a process of rescinding, retracting, revoking or repealing one’s parental authority. What do we really know about the psychological health of Liberian children that are given away to foreign adoptive parents and taken to new nations, where they have never lived before? We know little via antidotal evidence the complex social and psychological experiences that come under the rubric “foreign adoption.”  
There is no research available on Liberian children that are adopted by foreigners. As a consequence, I make an attempt in this paper to draw on the experiences of immigrant children that are separated from their families and taken abroad where they lack family networks. It is obvious that adoption in general and foreign adoption is a throbbing, even distressful and disorienting tribulation. A major contributing factor might just be that all foreign adoptions, not only take these children from familiar settings and peoples, but both of their parents and siblings. Children in general respond in variety of ways to their separation from loved ones. The literature suggests that separation (forced or purposeful) is a source of trauma or heightened stress. But the literature also notes that how the separation is managed and the children’s own knowledge of their displacement plays a critical role in ensuing acculturation to their adoptive homeland. 
The critical point that needs to be made is the following: the cultural frame for adoption, which I have come to call the “ethos of parent-child separation” greatly, influences the psychosocial consequences for the biological parents, children, and others to whom the child is important or that are important to the child. It influences how the parents “internalize and respond to the experience” and the psychosocial energies and emotions that they in turn embed in their departing and remaining children. In Liberia, we have a longstanding cultural practice known as the ward system, a child fostering tradition that is quite distinct from international adoptions. Children are sent to live with others: strangers and relatives alike, but with a caveat, parental rights are not terminated. Parents maintain their rights and the children maintain contacts with them. The children live-in and perform household chores and become absorbed as members of the new family unit. The children are for the most part able to access educational opportunities and relatively improved living conditions that enhance their chances of better quality of life when they become adults. Critically, the separation is not viewed or experienced as a form of desertion, rejection, and or neglect as some say it feels when their children are adopted internationally in the current climate. 
International adoption has a different social context because of the expectations that it fosters in Liberia, among the biological parents. In a society saturated in poverty, it is possible for one to surmise that the growing giving away of Liberian children is a symptom of a dysfunctional family situation. But one must be very cautious of the humanitarian crises that stemmed from the war and the economic and social harms that were visited upon families; so that we are not needlessly judgmental of their decisions to give their children away for adoption. 
In Liberia, child welfare professionals with whom I spoke and worked, described the social meanings of international adoptions as impelled by two main factors: lack of understanding of the finality of parental rights and also poverty-induced. If these are the drivers of international adoptions, what social signals do the children receive at the point of their adoption? Does it complicate the child’s interpretations and psychosocial response to the separation considering the perceived context? Do these Liberian children believe that their parents have their best interest in mind? 
I write this article to raise awareness among our policy makers and some professionals that when parent-child separation (international adoption) occurs in a context where the parents have a clear understanding of the family and developmental consequences of their decision and what will occur thereafter, the process is less harmful to the child post-adoption. The fact that these international adoptions occur without processes for the biological parents to maintain regular communication and get frequent updates about the child’s post-adoption adjustment makes for a difficult course of action. None of the parents with which I spoke or the professionals, which is not a statistically sufficient sample, state that following the adoption, biological parents received phone calls, letters, postcards, audio or videotapes, and photographs from the adoptive parents of their child/children. Is this a normal expectation? No. 
I do not write this paper absent of a keen sensitivity to the abject poverty, possible neglectful or even abusive conditions that some Liberian children live in. I also remain mindful of local or international adoption as much needed relief. I also value the need for social policy that strengthens family system functioning, prioritizes kinship care, and local adoption over international adoption. Nonetheless, the crux of my argument in this paper is that any further child welfare policy making on international adoption in Liberia should be guided by understanding and kindliness to the delicate psychological adjustment that is required when international adoption or any form of long-term parent-child separation is envisaged or effected. Essentially, any form of displacement can be stressful, and even traumatic. There are gains to international adoption, but we can taint this needed intervention, if we fail to exercise prudent professional judgment at the onset of the adoption process. 
Finally, I offer these perspectives to prompt meaningful and reasoned debate on these issues, with hope that this will lead to a more humane social policy that does not dismiss the harm to Liberian parents and children alike as little more than collateral damage in the wake of addressing a pressing social problem. I also proffer these views wishing that our policies and practices can minimize the harm to children during adoption processes; and to also urge us to base our policies and practices on consideration of the “best interests” of the child; thus bringing our child welfare law and policy in conformity with norms of international human rights and related conventions and standards.

April 23, 2009 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

Madonna’s Adoption: What about the Critics?

Madonna’s decision to adopt a second child in Malawi has met with some criticism predominantly from one outspoken organization, Save the Children.  One cannot help but wonder what the true motives of Save the Children are when the solutions that Save the Children offers are self-serving, highly simplistic and sometimes simply false.   In my opinion, Save the Children is using Madonna’s adoption as a platform to push its brand of humanitarian assistance and economic aid which some outspoken critics have described at worst as a “con game” and at best as simply “not delivering” and which are discussed further on.

Dominic Nutt, spokesman for Save the Children UK, who was interviewed by CNN’s Kiran Chetry, last Monday on “American Morning” made several statements which deserve particular attention because these statements were either misleading or misguided.  I would like to respond to several of them.  Mr. Nutt stated:  “Well, our biggest concern is that we believe that in the most — in the majority of cases, orphans, so-called orphans, in fact [are] not orphans — they have at least one parent living — and even those that don’t, have a wider family that can look after them.  And we believe that children in poverty should be best looked after by their own people in their own environment.  And that people like Madonna and organizations like Save the Children are best off helping those families by building schools and supporting them to look after these so-called orphans and not transporting them to live across the world in mansions, in pop stars’ mansions, that sort of thing.”  As an attorney and adoption advocate for the last decade, the multitude of weaknesses and falsities expressed  by  Mr. Nutt’s argument against adoption need to be carefully scrutinized.

Let’s begin with Mr. Nutt’s statement, “Well, our biggest concern is that we believe that in the most — in the majority of cases, orphans, so-called orphans, in fact [are] not orphans — they have at least one parent living — and even those that don’t, have a wider family that can look after them.”  For those who are not well versed in laws related to orphan status one could easily be misled into thinking that the child Madonna plans to adopt is not in fact an orphan.   It appears that Mr. Nutt is simply ignorant of laws surrounding the definition of ”orphan” or he or the organization he speaks for, Save the Children , are seeking to redefine  orphan status and require that “real” orphans have two deceased parents.   U.S. law and I would dare say the laws of most, if not all, nations in the world do not require both parents to be deceased before a child is considered a “real” orphan.  Under U.S. immigration law, an orphan is a foreign child who does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents.  An orphan can also be defined as a child with a sole or surviving parent who is unable to provide for the child’s basic needs, consistent with the local standards of the foreign sending country, and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.  Mr. Nutt would do well to get his fact straight on the definition of an orphan.

Mr. Nutt goes on to state: “…and we believe that children in poverty should be best looked after by their own people in their own environment.  And that people like Madonna and organizations like Save the Children are best off helping those families by building schools and supporting them to look after these so-called orphans and not transporting them to live across the world in mansions, in pop stars’ mansions, that sort of thing.”   This position besides beingy self-serving  also belies the brutal realities that many orphaned children face in Africa and around the world.  Of course, few would argue that children should be given the opportunity to remain in their countries and be cared for by their people; however, that is all too often not a possibility for these children.  Every child deserves a loving, stable, permanent home.  That is a basic tenet of human rights and of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Children, an international treaty designed to protect the best interests of children as its title states.  Unfortunately, the international development community including private volunteer organizations such as Save the Children have been ineffective in making a difference and in a country such as Malawi in which 25% of the population is infected with HIV-AIDS with an estimated 1 million  plus orphaned children exists, to take such a stance on international adoption is simply ludicrous.  It would appear from Mr. Nutt’s statements that  Save the Children believes that the best interests of a child would be growing up in an orphanage rather than in a loving home with a loving family that a child can call his or her own.  Of course, international adoption should be a last resort if a child’s family is unable or unwilling to care for the child.  Once that is established, then adoption can be a solution for that particular child.  International adoption should not be taken lightly by the prospective adoptive parent(s) or the adoption officials in the child’s home country but Mr. Nutt’s broad and incredibly simplistic argument simply washes over the emergency situation that exists in Malawi and other countries with respect to orphaned children.

Michael Maren in his eye-opening book, The Road to Hell, discusses Save the Children’s sponsorship program:

“The organization pioneered this fundraising technique with Appalachian children in the 1930s. It has since been adopted by dozens of other charities around the world. (World Vision, Children Incorporated, Childreach, Plan International, and others use sponsorship.) As a way to raise money it is unparalleled. Sponsorship links the donor directly to a needy sad-eyed target of the charity’s work, rather than to a faceless fund-raiser at the end of a solicitation letter. The charity’s bureaucracy becomes invisible. The sponsor feels connected to an actual person and will believe that his or her money, or most of it, will be going to help that child.

But sponsorship is a con game. And as in any con game, the mark, in this case the sponsor is duped into believing the improbable because his or her judgment is clouded by the possibility of getting something valuable on the cheap. Anyone thinking clearly about the miserable poverty of the children in these ads would have to conclude that twenty dollars a month, sixty-five cents a day, is not by itself enough to substantially alter the oppressive environments they inhabit — especially since much of that money has to be used to pay for more TV ads, cover the costs of the charity’s bureaucracy, and maintain the links between Save’s more than 100,000 individual sponsors and their children. What sponsors are really buying, is, as stated in Save’s brochures, a sense of well-being and “deep satisfaction.” That’s a real bargain at $20 a month, but it doesn’t leave much for the children. The pitch that is so appealing to donors, seems absurd when one is in the field confronting the challenges of economic development. And it puts Save in a bind: If they ignore some of the sponsored children, they can do more effective work for the others. If they try to do something for everyone, they run the risk of accomplishing nothing at all. Its commitment to sponsors clashes with its promise to the children.”

Michael Maren’s chapter on Save the Children goes on to discuss a meeting he had with Shelby Miller who is a recognized authority in the field of early childhood development.  For six years she had been a program officer for the Ford Foundation, supervising grants made to Save the Children. Maren reports: “Miller’s anger with Save the Children is not over the duping of sponsors. It comes from two types of damage she sees the organization doing in the field of childhood development. First, at a time when funds are in short supply, Save is spending money to create the illusion that it’s helping. And secondly, Save is spreading the idea that it’s easy and cheap to change the lives of children. ‘We know how to help kids,” Miller said. “We do. The models and methods are there. The fact is that i[t} cost[s] $4,000-5,000 a year for a preschool intervention. The research has been done. With very few exceptions, Save isn’t delivering. Their approach to development work is totally scattershot. The problem with Save is that they’re wasting resources and goodwill, and they’re doing it in the name of children.’”

Mr. Nutt  during his CNN interview states:  But we know from our case studies in working in Liberian orphanages that in many cases, these children are [picked] off the Internet, without much research going on, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, and the children can be sent back to their own country. And all that has happened is that that child’s life has been messed around with.”  As someone who has worked with adoptions in Liberia and represented clients in problem cases involving Liberian adoptions, I can certainly speak to this issue.   Mr. Nutt’s assessment is correct about  families adoption children “without much research going on.”  This is not just the fault of families failing to do their research.  Unfortunately, many Christian and other volunteer organizations that are neither licensed as child placement agencies nor directed by credentialed professionals provide adoption facilitation services that often end in disaster for both the children and the adoptive parents.  Their lack of expertise, their failure to educate and  counsel these adoptive families on the realities of adopting children from abroad often result in hardships for the families and the adopted children.  Some of the organizations that are facilitating these adoptions lack expertise at best, employ sub standard and negligent adoption practices, and at worst engage in fraud and misrepresentation about the children, their backgrounds, their family and health status.  Parents seeking to adopt these children are too often exploited by these  “humanitarian” organizations.  There is no question that there is work to be done in international adoption; however, the realities that exist for many of these children living in orphanages in Africa are beyond comprehension.  Adoption, when done properly, is a wonderful solution for many orphaned children.   Mr. Nutt presents a neat and clean picture of building schools and assisting these children in their home countries which belies a reality that is much different.  One can look at the situation with the school Oprah Winfrey has founded, funded with millions of dollars, and worked tirelessly to build which has now had another alleged sexual abuse scandal of some of its students.  If one sees this happening in an environment so well funded and undoubtedly well staffed as that of Oprah’s school, one needs a modicum of imagination to understand the harsh realities faced by many children in grossly underfunded, understaffed orphanages throughout Africa.   Sadly, I am aware of situations occurring in some orphanages that are so horrific that it is difficult to imagine such atrocities occurring in the midst of children and sometimes at the hands of children.   These children deserve better than that.  The plight of the children who live in these environments must be resolved as quickly as possible and by as many means as possible. 

Mr. Nutt indicated, Now, look … something like 10 million children a year die across the world because of poverty before the age of 5. You cannot possibly help all those children by moving them.”  They must make sure there is no family network to support them, and if they don’t help that child, that child is in peril. The life of that child is in peril. Otherwise … you are better off supporting that child in its own environment.’  Firstly, I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that adoption will help all these children  – it is a solution for some.  Adoption is but one cog in the wheel of temporary solutions for a world plagued by poverty, human rights abuses, exploitation of women and dying children.  Secondly, once again, Save the Children adds a further condition to a child who is eligible for adoption, i.e., “the life of the child is in peril.”   What is peril?  Must an orphaned child be on the verge of death to be eligible for adoption?  How about suffering from sexual abuse?  Just what is “peril”?  The child may not be dying but the atrocities that occur will surely kill the child’s soul.   Save the Children is not shedding light on the often deplorable orphanage conditions these children must endure.  Save the Children is doing a great disservice to the plight of so many orphaned children not only in their public relations battle against international adoption but in their own work.

An article appeared in Vanity Fair in July 2007 by Nina Munk, Jeffrey Sachs’s $200 Billion Dream in which she states: “…if you spend enough time with Sachs, as I have, you may come around to his point of view:  if the history of international development is a history of failure, it is because too many people in the field are complacent, or incompetent, or not accountable.” 

I can certainly relate to Mr. Sach’s point of view from firsthand experience.  During my visit to Liberia at the end of 2007, in the two weeks I was there, I never once ran into another white person in the streets except when I was being splashed by mud as they sped by their white Range Rovers hurrying off to some place which I soon discovered may be the local casino on Mamba Point in Monrovia where at just about any time of the day one could find dozens and dozens of White Range Rovers with insignias of various governmental and NGO’s parked outside – it was quite a sight.

Mr. Nutt of Save the Children would better serve the children he and his organization professes to care about by openly discussing the plight of  many of the children of these African nations and his NGO’s projects that need support rather than attempting, if ever so solicitously, to criticize the adoption plans of Madonna. 

Save the Children’s efficacy, honesty, and motives are certainly in need of serious evaluation but unfortunately rarely undergo the scrutiny necessary to uncover their true nature.  Save the Children, like UNICEF, is brilliant when it comes to public relations.  They often use celebrities to represent their work by  inviting them to Africa or other underdeveloped nations, unfold carefully orchestrated projects, expose these celebrities to conditions that indeed will shake the soul of any human being and then parade their humanitarian successes before the celebrity who then becomes their spokesperson going on interviews and touting the amazing good works of the organization.  Sadly, all too often these celebrities are not privy to the realities of these organizations and their shortcomings and all too often, their “con” as Michael Maren so succinctly summarizes the reality of the business of poverty.

Anyone who wants to know more about the  charity business that organizations such as Save the Children are in – after all the “sponsorship” program is a lucrative project  – would do well to read The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity by Michael Maren. 
A very enlightening excerpt from the book about Save the Children and its sponsorship program can be found at http://www.netnomad.com/save.html

Hopefully Madonna’s adoption of her son, David, and possibly a second child, Mercy James, will provide the impetus needed to encourage Malawi to consider adoption as an avenue for more of its orphaned children, and change its laws and policies concerning residency requirements which make Malawi overly restrictive for the vast majority of parents who would otherwise knock on its doors to adopt children.  I, and many others, wish Madonna and her children all the very best that life can offer:  love, family, and hope.



April 1, 2009 at 4:29 am Leave a comment


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