Monday, October 13, 2014

A Grave Misstep

On September 24th, a delegation from the Joint Council of International Children’s Services met with IBESR to discuss in detail the IBESR memo issued on August 14th, 2014.  On Friday, Joint Council released their official report on that meeting.

The following policies/procedures came into effect on October 1st, 2014:

Relinquishment procedures:
By law, all children must be declared legally free for adoption by the Juvenile Court before a referral can be issued.  Parental rights will be legally terminated prior to the adoptive family being referred to the child.

 Biological parents will be able to come into IBESR offices other than just the main center in Port-au-Prince for at least the first of their three required interviews.  Those interviews are as follows:

1.      General interview – topics of adoption in general, children’s rights, and protection are discussed.
2.      Individual family interview with a social worker to discuss reunification options and why the biological family is seeking an adoption plan.  Family preservation is emphasized and encouraged.
3.      Individual family interview with a psychologist.  Again, family preservation is emphasized and encouraged.
4.      Legal relinquishment/consent in court before the Juvenile (Children’s Court) Judge for their jurisdiction.  The document produced is called the Proces Verbal, and it terminates the biological family’s parental rights. 

Abandonment procedures:
There is some vagueness in the new law as to how a child can be ascertained to be legally abandoned.  However, in abandonment cases, the mayor of the child’s birth place will need to sign a relinquishment before the Juvenile Judge for that jurisdiction.  If there is no Juvenile Judge, the mayor will have to come to Port-au-Prince to sign in person.
 
We expect to see the first Proces Verbal for an abandoned child completed within the next few weeks.

Fees:
On August 14th, IBESR released a memo that detailed the allowable fees for adoptions.  You can read a translation here: http://www.allblessings.org/download/IBESRMemoAugust14_2014.pdf.

 All aspects of fees on the Haitian side are closely regulated.  There are two changes of note:

1.      All families whose dossiers were not submitted prior to October 1, 2014, will need to pay IBESR and additional $1,100 upon acceptance of a referral.  We are not yet sure if families whose dossiers were submitted prior to October 1st, 2014 will be required to pay the new fee upon receiving a referral after October 1st.  We will clarify this point when possible.
2.      Child care costs have been set at $6300 US.  This is problematic, as each of our partners and multiple other crèches with high quality child care have independently come up with the exact same cost to care for a child - $7500. 
Matching of families and referrals:

For all dossiers submitted to IBESR prior to October 1, 2014:
IBESR has indicated that they will consider suggestions from crèche directors and others with actual knowledge of the children.

For dossiers submitted after October 1st, 2014:
Families whose dossiers that were not submitted and issued a receipt from IBESR prior to October 1st, 2014, will be referred in one of two ways, depending upon the expressed abilities/desires of the family as regards adopting a child defined as being ‘hard to place’, or special needs.

 Under Haitian law, the definition of special needs is as follows:

 Special needs children:
are considered children with behavior troubles or suffering from a trauma, or having a physical or mental incapacity, or being older than 6 or are members of a sibling group.

 If your family is not approved to adopt a child/children who qualify as special needs, your dossier will be matched by a committee. 

 IBESR intends to create a referral committee, which will consist of professionals of various disciplines, who will analyze the dossiers of prospective adoptive families and waiting children.  The committee will make referral recommendations.  Children from any crèche could be referred to any family working with any agency.  IBESR stated that they intend to form the committee in ‘early 2015’, but it is not yet in existence.

 The committee matching system is used in a number of Hague countries.  Depending upon its constitution and frequency of meeting, it can be more or less effective in creating quality referrals for children.

 If your family is approved to adopt a child/children who meet the definition of special needs as described above, there will be  a new referral procedure as well.

 IBESR intends to contact Adoption Service Providers who have indicated that they have experience placing children with special needs and ask they that help with advocating and recruiting for adoptive families for these identified children. 

 A family and their agency will be able to submit a letter of intent to IBESR indicating their desire and appropriateness to adopt a child with special placement needs.  This letter will be approved or denied by IBESR, and if approved, the family will be allowed to submit their dossier for a particular waiting child.

 IBESR has contracted  for a database to be designed that will help identify families for waiting children.  However, knowing the software development cycle and the operations of government bureaus, ABI has concerns that it might be some time before such a database is complete and implemented.

Summary:
The challenges ahead are significant as Haiti slowly implements its new laws, policies, and procedures.  We don’t know when the committee to make regular referrals will be formed, how often it will meet, or how long such a referral will actually take.  We don’t know how IBESR plans to manage referrals of waiting children before their database is built.  We’re not quite sure how crèches will manage with to provide high quality childcare while limited to collecting a significantly reduced child care fee.

 However, thus far, Haiti has done a remarkable job in becoming a Hague nation.  It is the first developing nation to implement the Hague in the recommended manner and has done so without inadvertently closing their own adoption program.  We do believe that IBESR can and will implement their new referral system, even if we don’t believe that it is the best system for Haiti and we do not know when the proposed committee will be formed or begin to operate.

It’s going to be a bumpy transition, as all has been for the past two years, but we do believe that the Haiti program will survive intact, that once referrals are issued we will be able to have cases processed effectively, and that children will come home.

For now, we must all hope that IBESR is able to swiftly implement its new procedures, and pray that they come to realize that for the first time since initiating the Hague treaty, they have made a grave misstep.  Haiti had the best possible referral method for children.  Now, in an attempt to imitate the systems that are not working well in other nations, IBESR has taken their first step backwards.  Let us pray that they choose to step forwards once again.

Friday, September 19, 2014

They've Got Your Back

USCIS and DOS get a lot of bad press.  They end up in the position of delivering a lot of bad news to adoptive families about denials, false documents, or missing items.  But in my experience both agencies are actually highly dedicated to assisting and protecting adoptive families.

There has been a recent internet rumor that DOS is now requiring adoptive parents to pick up their children's Visas in person.  I can confirm that this is TRUE.  Under a new procedure, one of the people travelling with the child must appear in person to pick up the child's Visa.

The new policy was not designed as one hoop to jump through, but rather as protection for US Citizens adopting in Haiti.  The horrifying fact is that multiple unscrupulous, unethical adoptions facilitators, attorneys, and or crèche directors are picking up children's passports and then holding them until the adoptive parents pay large, unearned sums of money to get them back - extortion, plane and simple!  If DOS gives the passport directly to the adoptive parents, then no extortion over documents can take place.  It's a lot easier to get the Haitian police involved is someone is holding your lawfully adopted child than it is to prove that they have your child's passport.

The Adoptions Unit will send each adoptive family and the facilitator working the case in Haiti a scan of the child's Visa.  This will enable the facilitator to take the scan to IBESR to apply for an exit letter, and will ensure that the adoptive family has confirmation that the Visa has in fact been issued.

Families can email PAPadoptions@state.gov to ask to come in to get their Visas.  Although you will be issued a notice stating that you have an appointment for 8:00 am on the requested date, you may actually appear at any time on that day so long as the Consulate is open.

If for some specific reason your family needs the Adoptions Unit to allow someone else whom you trust completely to pick up your child's precious passport and Visa, you can email PAPadoptions@state.gov and ask for an exception. State specifically who does have permission to pick up your document, and what date that person would like to appear.

ABI strongly approves of this new policy to thwart extortion of adoptive families, many of whom have already been down a long hard road to bring their children home.  Stop by the Consulate, pick up your Visa, bring along your little one to show him off, and let the people who helped to bring your child to the US say goodbye and good luck to your family.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

IBESR Memo

IBESR released a new memo on August 20th regarding the fees for adoptions and clarifying a few points.  An official translation of the memo is available for download here.

A few notable points in the memo are as follows:

7.     From 1st of October 2014, dossiers of children submitted to IBESR won’t be considered as matched in advance with any prospective adoptive parent for whom a dossier is submitted at the same time. The referral decision is from the competency of the Central Authority.

8. Prospective adoptive parents must stay in Haiti for the socialization period with the child during 15 days. They must come back in Haiti for the departure of their child once the adoption has been finalized.

In the case of an intrafamilial adoption, the socialization period between the prospective adoptive parents and the child is not mandatory. However, they must accompany their adopted child when he leaves Haiti.

9. This administrative notice shall take effect from 1st of October 2014. Consequently, IBESR will not accept any dossiers between 1st and 30 September 2014.





Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Progress, We Hope!

Chareyl Moyes, our friend and colleague and Haiti program director for Wasatch International, reports that two Wasatch families received IBSER referrals today! The children in question are all older kids living at Foyer de Sion and include a pair of siblings and a single child. All of them were pre-identified before the new procedures began, and the family dossiers were submitted with requests to be matched to those specific children. We do not yet know if these children had consentments from the Children’s Judge.

Today IBESR issued an update to the crèches regarding abandoned children as well. A translation from Isabelle Gallemaert appears below:

“ Ladies and gentlemen,

I send you my greetings and I take this opportunity to inform you that on 31 July 2014, the General Manager of IBESR, Mrs Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, held a meeting with the Children's Judge of Port-au-Prince and the delegate Children's Judge of  Croix-des-Bouquets regarding the issue of the adoption consent of the legal representative of abandoned children: the Mayors.


We talked at length about the fact that they issue a certificate giving their consent. In conclusion, it has been decided, in the light of articles 43 and 44 of the law of 29 August 2013 that any one who gives his consent to the adoption of a child must appear personnally in front of the Children's Judge or the delegate Children's  Judge 

To that effect, IBESR sends dossiers to relevant Children's Judges, informs the children's home and the corresponding Mayor. The Judge will invite the Mayor at the convenient day and time in order to receive his consent to adoption of his protégées.

Currently, the Multidisciplinary Unit, following that outcome, shall prepare the inventory of these cases and the letter to the Children's Judge for each case. It will send the first dossiers to the Children's Judges  no later than next week. The General Manager will soon organize a meeting with Mayors about the law of 29 August 2013 and these new provisions.
The Multidisciplinary Unit notices that many children's dossiers are incomplete.It will contact very quickly the managers of children's homes concerned for the necessary steps.
 
The mailing list of this message is not complete. Other managers of children's homes are also concerned by this information. In consequence, please inform everybody. Thank you!”

What this means, in short, is that IBESR and the Children’s Judges have devised a procedure by which the mayors will be invited to court to sign off for multiple abandoned children at once.

May this be the beginning of an avalanche of referrals!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Last Meeting and Back Home


Denye monn, genyen monn -
"Behind mountains there are mountains"
Our trip is so short that I don’t have time to go up the mountain to visit New Life Link and God’s Littlest Angels.  It’s a shame.  I would love for Danielle to see the beauty of Thomassin.  The view from Dr. Bernard’s balconies at Bethel guest house and from the roof top playground at GLA are breathtaking.
Today I visit Dr. Bernard in his office downtown.  Margarette and Danielle accompany me.  We discuss IBESR’s progress and lack of progress, exchange tips and tricks, and once again I feel honored to work with the partners ABI has.  Each of them has such dedication and integrity.  All are dedicated to helping children, so if they can help each other, they do so without hesitation.  I have been told that in other countries, adoptions facilitators can be competitive and divided.  Not so in Haiti.  We’re all on the same team. 

Finally my work is done, so I can go where I want to be – back to my kids.  I spend several happy hours at BRESMA talking with kids and staff, evaluating new children, taking photos, and relaxing.  My husband jokingly describes my trips as my Caribbean vacations.  This afternoon, I couldn’t argue with him.  I leave refreshed and ready to fight the next round for my kids.  And the one after that, and the one after that…

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hoping for Action

You’d think after dozens of government meetings, I would worry less over them…  But here I am again, anxious and nervous and wishing it was already over.

I’m meeting with two people at IBESR today, and I’ve met with one of them many, many times before.  First Margarette and I meet with the individual who has just been assigned to cleaning up a very large mess made by an orphanage which has since lost its license.  We’re trying to get four of their old cases out of IBESR.  It’s been an exercise in frustration.  We were very specifically given permission to work on the stalled cases many months ago, but as often happens when something falls outside the conventional process, it’s been uphill work.

I’ve seen this IBESR worker many times in the past, although I didn’t know his name.  Sadly for him, Margarette and I are very aware of him now.  I almost feel sorry for him.  My partner now has a specific person to ask about our cases, and she’s at IBESR a LOT.  And she is a very persistent woman.  I suspect he’ll find himself highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get our repair cases signed out of IBESR as quickly as possible.
Next we meet with Me. Guillaume, Chief Legal Counsel to IBESR.  Sonia has arrived to join us.  Poor Me. Guillaume.  The look on his face when he realizes that once again he’s trapped with the three tiger women is priceless. Tactfully, he keeps his dread to himself.

It is my personal opinion that if there are two specific individuals to whom credit should be given that Haiti successfully transitioned to a Hague compliant nation, he is certainly one of them.  Andolphe Guillaume is intelligent, thoughtful, measured, careful, and precise.  These qualities ensured that all laws and policies were Hague compliant, intentional, and planned. 
Unfortunately, the wheels of government turn far too slowly for children who have been in care for more than two years.  They don’t have time to wait for him to change and write procedures as deliberately as he would like.  They need action NOW.  And so do I.  I’m pushing Me. Guillaume as hard as I dare, reminding him of the damage that every month in an institution causes.

He discusses specific plans for increasing IBESR’s capacity and completing the crafting of their new procedures regarding Children’s Judges and referrals, but I don’t want discussion.  I’m too pressed by the children I serve to listen anymore.  I want referral letters.  Now.
Another skeptic
I leave the meeting satisfied that there is a distinct plan and direction, but still frustrated because even if I’m told a date, I’ve become a skeptic over the years.  I’ll believe the letters are coming when I’m holding them.

In the reception area I’m pleased to meet Ms. Sawadogo, the representative sent by the Hague permanent bureau who has returned to Haiti to assist with the transition.  Ms. Sawadogo speaks a variety of African languages and French.  I speak English and Kreyol, and I can still understand Spanish but I can’t talk anymore.  We smile at each other, but are at a loss until the agency representative for a number of the French and German agencies and her husband offer to help.
Our conversation is amazingly convoluted.  I speak in English to the husband, who repeats what I say to his wife in Spanish.  Then she passes my words to Ms. Sawadogo in French.  Ms. Sawadogo responds in French, which is translated into Spanish.  I can understand, but I can’t answer except for in English.  So my replies go from husband to wife and back to Mrs. Sawadogo.  Danielle stands by watching this scaling of the tower of Babel and giggling.  I can’t blame her.  It’s pretty silly, but it works.  I beg Ms. Sawadogo for expediency for the sake of the waiting children.  She tells me she thinks they’re getting close, and issues are being solved.  My colleagues who are actually able to speak to this woman all really like and respect her, and I like her too.  Kindness radiates from her.  I believe she understands our urgency.

We drive over to AUBE at last.  All this time in Haiti and at last I can do as I please, and that is being with the children I’m here to serve.
Sonia has new children that IBESR has asked her to take.  As usual they’re easy to spot.  Red hair, papery skin, no muscle tone.  They’ll be different children in a few months with feeding and love.

Almost everyone either already had Chikungunya or they’re just getting over it now.  It’s like a dozen different diseases in one.  I seen what one might expect – high fevers, aches and pains, but also a rash that looks like a scabies epidemic and one poor little guy who is recovering from huge boils that burst on his forehead and the back of his skull.  Some children had stomach upset, some had hugely swollen glands that distorted their throats, cheeks, and voices.  Regular dosing with acetaminophen and ibuprofen and lots of fluids made the virus more of a misery than a danger.  No AUBE child had to be hospitalized.
Next we go to BRESMA, where hear similar reports on the disease, see lots of recovered children, and hear the question I’ve come to dread.  All of the older kids want to know when they will go to America.  When will they have a family?  And the hardest one of all; doesn’t anybody want to adopt me?  It is heartbreaking.  It’s also frustrating, because somebody with a waiting dossier wants to adopt almost every single child we have here, and IBESR has approved almost every single one of them for adoption, and yet here they are, waiting. 

I want to bring the IBESR staff here and let them hear these questions for themselves.  But I don’t know if it would do any good.  These children are healthy and fairly happy.  They’re watching the World Cup on television and playing with their dolls.  Supper is cooking upstairs, and they’ll sleep in their beds under their pretty matching sheets and blankets.  The nannies will bring in the fans if it’s hot to cool them as they sleep.  After the horrors that IBESR sees, it’s hard to get them excited about the plight of ‘my’ kids.  It’s all relative, I guess.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Road Trip

Travel day – and it’s a long one.  Thirteen hours out and about!  Sherley is going to scold me when we get home for being so late for supper.  Danielle and I leave the guest house at six o’ clock in the morning in the hopes of beating the worst of the traffic.

Traffic was always terrible in Port-au-Prince, but it’s gotten much worse since the earthquake.  Narrow streets built many decades, or even a century or two in the past are not able to manage today’s constant flow of SUVs driven by foreign NGOs or Haitian citizens.  In the United States, the government would find itself at a stalemate.  Not so in Haiti!  Land titles, building codes, property ownership – all are flexible in Haiti.  So, the roads are being improved.  Margarette tells me seventy percent of Port-au-Prince is now paved!  I can sure see the difference.  At times, I can hardly recognize where I am as smooth, clean streets and well-build sidewalks replace the chaos I’ve grown used to.
More chaos is being generated where the roads are being expanded.  This is the part that would never happen here.  How do you widen a road that is completely surrounded by buildings that line the street?  In Haiti, that’s really quite simple.  You just knock down whatever stands in the six feet or so that you need to widen the road on both sides.

partially demolished home
Dismembered buildings line the streets, blasted or cut apart in the middle of shops, churches, medical clinics, living rooms, and stairways.  The cost of progress is high.  I truly don’t see how else Haiti can create an infrastructure, but only one of my friends and colleagues has been injured by the construction. 
Haiti Foundation Against Poverty had just finished a number of buildings, including a modest but beautiful home at last for founders Frentz and Mallery Neptune, right against the walls of their compound.  In an amazing display of faith and generosity, HFAP’s supporters raised every penny necessary to rebuild their wall and secure the facility just in time to coincide with the scheduled destruction.

We drive over the mountains with a chauffer that my usual professional driver sent in his place.  I’d considered staying in Port today and sending Danielle off by herself, but this guy speaks almost no English and Danielle has to find two places she’s never been to before.
The drive to Jacmel is amazingly beautiful, and the town itself has many old-style, two story colonial houses and buildings.  Jacmel is considered a resort town in Haiti.  There are a number of beaches.  The Caribbean is the same amazing blue here that it is in the Riviera Maya in Mexico, but there will have to be a lot of trash pickup before they can attract traditional tourists.

Hands and Feet Project- Jacmel site
We are visiting the Hands and Feet project.  I haven’t been here for a few years, and the progress is amazing!  New family style group homes are being built in the back for children with no other options, and Hands and Feet has expanded and emphasized their family reunification program.  Their clear goal aligns with that of All Blessings, the Joint Council of International Children’s Services, and so many others: every child has the right to a loving, permanent family.

Next we visit Hands and Feet’s second campus, in Gran Goave.  About four years ago, IBESR asked Hands and Feet to take over a failing, dangerous, abandoned orphanage of thirty-one children.  As is typical for such requests, all Hands and Feet got from the government was permission to take the children into care.  Not one dime of aid, grain of rice, or any paperwork assistance came with them.
Hands and Feet has been nurturing the children, all of whom are older kids who have seen great hardship, neglect, and in many cases abuse.  They go to school, learn to manage a Haitian home, and in some cases, go back home.  Many of the kids have birth families living in Gran Goave.  Hands and Feet has been tracking them down, meeting with them, counseling them, and in many cases, reintegrating children with their families.

I’m fascinated by the poultry project.  They’re growing enough poultry to feed everyone, right on site!  Protein is a constant difficulty in Haiti.  No wonder these kids look so good.  They’re eating well, and learning how to raise, clean, and process chickens at the same time.  Now that’s fresh food!
plucking chickens in Gran Goave