There has been a LOT of debate about the use and support of orphanages, especially American run orphanages, for the care of displaced children. This has especially become a popular topic in light of the recent tragedy in Haiti and the large number of children without family. Naturally, caring Christians from around the world, not just the United States, have extended their desire to adopt an orphaned child from Haiti. There’s nothing wrong with that response. But let me stress one point…NOW (February, 2010) is not the time for adoptions to proceed for NEW orphans from the result of the earthquake. There are still far too many holes in the process of trying to identify displaced family members for the parentless children effected. For now, orphaned children should if possible be kept in Haiti but only if there are proper avenues of care to support them. And that is where we run into some trouble.
Because the vast devastation and loss of life from the quake, there is a large population of displaced children who have nowhere to go to get the basic support they need to survive. Naturally, the orphanages, whether Haitian run or run by foreigners, have stepped in to serve as a safe place for children to live while the search continues to find living relatives. Every child has the right to have food, shelter and love. This is a huge task that will take many months. Many of these orphanages, who also have adoption programs, have been under attack by several social service agencies (namely UNICEF) for facilitating, in their eyes, a child trafficking scheme. And so they have turned away from placing children in the care of the orphanages. Of course the situation with the misguided Idaho church members didn’t help, even if their hearts were in the right place (which is beside the point). But these same orphanages have been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, assets in Haiti to ensure children are being cared for appropriately.
I have two Haitian born children who we adopted from an American run orphanage which is one program of larger ministry. Before they even began their adoption program, this same ministry was facilitating, and continues to do so, programs to help malnourished infants and services for new mothers and mothers in distressed situations. But over time it became drastically apparent that there were too many orphaned and abandoned children that were not getting basic care from anyone. The ministry kept seeing too many infants and children dying on the streets. And so they determined to do the right thing by starting an adoption program, under the approval of the Haitian government. And they have been facilitating the adoption program ever since.
Adoption does NOT equal child trafficking despite what many claim. Adoption is a way for truly abandoned children to find loving parents who will care for them for life. Would it be best if they could stay with their birth parents? Of course, if their parents have the ability to provide basic needs for life. Many just don’t have that ability. In our experience, the orphanage we went through does everything in their power to try to have relatives and parents maintain their role as the primary care givers of their children. We were there when a new child was being placed in the orphanage by her parents. The director of the orphanage met with them for HOURS and would not allow them to drop their child off, until that is it became apparent that the parents just did not have the ability to continue to care for her. What should be done in that situation? Should they have allowed that child to just live on the street and ultimately face death, all too often the case for many children in Haiti. No, they did the right thing. They took the child in and promised to find someone who would be able to provide care for the child for life. And they went through the proper channels in the Haitian government to identify the child as truly abandoned.
Yes, it is unfortunate that Haiti does not have a suitable system of programs, whether run by the government and/or by private organizations, that offers help for the desperate people who face moments of crises in their lives. Those “moments” aren’t short periods for most Haitians. For many, their crises are ones they cannot overcome in their lifetime, which is truly saddening. That is the cause of many internal and external issues in Haiti that have roots from decades of poverty and political uprising (among others). There are many organizations who are out there trying to change that course as we speak. If successful, children may not have to be abandoned and placed in the care of orphanages. Their parents would have the resources to find help to get them through life’s short-term crises. There are great models out there. Programs that could be a step before adoption – an internally based crises care program – much like ones being suggested and facilitated by organizations like Compassion International, World Orphans, Hands and Feet Project and Safe Families for Children (in the United States). But at this point of time this internal support network just doesn’t exist to meet the huge demand of those in need of help. The network has to be strengthened.
And so, until that time comes, it is important for orphanages to continue to be of service in helping children survive. Yes, this needs to be done with the intent to do what is humanly possible and with the resources available to support methods for children to remain in their biological families. But when those resources are not available, it is the ethical and moral commandment for Christians to care for those in need. And if that means to help them have life by means of adoption, then that is what is best.
As I walked the streets of Haiti during my visit this past February my heart was filled with incredible sadness for the loss of life, lack of food and water, displacement of family and desperate situation of the people dealing with the destruction all around them. I can only imagine that over time we will see a huge increase of truly abandoned and orphaned children in Haiti. And eventually, they will have nowhere to turn BUT to the orphanages to have the chance to live. And I hope the world will open their hearts to support and care for them because, to put it plainly, they deserve the chance.