Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fallout felt from airlift of Haitian orphans

One year after the earthquake in Haiti, are there lessons to be learned about how to respond to child welfare needs during crises?  This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fallout felt from airlift of Haitian orphans, explores some of the issues surrounding the airlift of children from Haiti:
And one year later, many international adoption experts and child welfare officials are trying to work with the Haitian government, with limited success, to ensure that this type of hastily planned evacuation [the Gov. Rendell airlift that included children not in the process of adoption] doesn't happen again.

"People always respond in a crisis out of the kindness of their hearts, but this was misguided kindness," said Julie Rosicky, executive director of International Social Service-USA.

The 12 children who ended up at Holy Family, she noted, were not in the midst of adoption proceedings, even though their parents had signed relinquishment papers. They were included because the McMutrie sisters refused to leave Haiti with Mr. Rendell unless those children came, too.

"It broke all the principles we've established as an international adoption community to keep children with their families and in their countries of origin above all else, with inter-country adoption a last resort," said Ms. Rosicky.

Indeed, the mother of 11-year-old Fekkens Souffrant, one of the 12 BRESMA children who came to Holy Family, told The New York Times earlier this month that she had not known, when she signed relinquishment papers, that she would not be able to see her child again and didn't discover he had been taken to the U.S. until she visited the orphanage several days afterward.

* * *

Nonetheless, "if you act too precipitously, you make mistakes," noted Adam Pertman, executive director for the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Mr. Pertman is the author of "Adoption Nation," to be published this spring.

Officials want to find ways to resist the impulse to remove children during disasters.

"The widely accepted position for pretty much everybody is that after a disaster is not a time to start airlifting," said Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which has been working on developing a new child welfare system in Haiti.
* * *
Of the roughly 1,100 children placed, fewer than a dozen cases have been "disrupted," adoption parlance for what happens when an adoptive family feels unable to keep a child.

The children were returned to HHS care "because the adoptive families were no longer able to care for them for a variety of reasons," said Ms. Parrott. "Those children are placed in residential care facilities until we can find appropriate foster placements with families who would be interested in adopting them."

* * *

After a year, the Haitian orphan tale has had a mostly happy ending.

But the question is, "what happens next time?" said Mr. Pertman. "What have we learned for better or worse that we should apply here?"

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