Sunday, December 21, 2014

IBESR Announces Accredited/Re-accredited Agencies

On Friday, December 19th, IBESR announced the foreign adoption agencies accredited or re-accredited to work in Haiti for the next two years.  The US agencies are as follows:
  • A Love Beyond Borders
  • Adoption-Link
  • All Blessings International
  • All God's Children
  • America World Adoption
  • Bethany Christian Services
  • Building Arizona Families
  • Carolina Adoption Services
  • Chinese Children Adoption International
  • Children's Connection
  • Children of all Nations
  • European Adoption Services Consultants
  • Holt International
  • Lifeline Children's Services
  • MLJ Adoptions
  • Nightlight Christian Services
  • Wasatch
  • Wacap
Congratulations to those selected.


Not everyone is so lucky as to be at an orphanage like New Life Link!
The notice included a reinstitution of a quota:

2-     Quota per accredited adoption agency, not including adoption requests for special needs children or inter family adoption, is one dossier per month for the period between October 2014 until September 2016

3-     Each accredited adoption agency can, on top of the planned quota of article 2, send a maximum of five (5) additional dossiers regarding  adoption request of special needs and/or inter family adoption per fiscal year  comprised between October to September for the 2014/2016 time frame

Given that only 49 agencies worldwide have been accredited, if the quota is upheld only 833 children or sibling groups will be placed for adoption each year.  The number of children that IBESR is declaring in need of adoption services seems to be significantly higher.  Hopefully a compromise can be reached so that the needs of vulnerable and homeless children, particularly those with special needs, can be met.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Whirlwind Day

My head is spinning from one of the most frenetic days I have ever spent in Haiti!

 In the morning, Margarette and I reported back to the Consulate to discuss a few challenging cases with DOS and USCIS.  USCIS directed me to this notice, of which I had been completely unaware!

 I expressed my concerns regarding security for families adopting from crèches with which we are not familiar that are far enough from Port-au-Prince that families will be staying in unfamiliar lodgings.  It’s something we’ll all have to consider carefully.

 We then proceeded to IBESR to discuss the same challenging cases with Mme. Villedrouin and Me. Paul Cadet, one of the examining attorneys for the PAP bar association.  He’s trying to help a few families with similar difficulties.  Our meeting became rather – er – energetic as Me. Cadet and a lower level IBESR bureaucrat discussed the law versus procedure, but as usual Mme. Villedrouin came through on the side of child welfare and the law.  I believe that our stuck families will exit IBESR at last, after a delay of well over year for most of them.  Hallelujah!  I’m not sure if it was persistence or stubbornness, but I think we’re going to win this round.

 In a second and much less challenging meeting, the Chief Legal Counsel of IBESR conveyed a few important facts.  IBESR will eventually have a database of ‘hard to place’ children.  Agencies will be able to search for and recruit families for these children.  Naturally, IBESR will make the final determination if they will approve any family we might recommend for a particular child.  All children who qualify under the Haitian law as having special needs will qualify for the program.  This will allow far more agency and crèche participation in making suggestions of which families might best serve older children, siblings, and those with medical, psychological, or developmental needs.

 The second important change since the full enforcement of the Hague and the new policies issued this summer is that pre-identified child adoption will be even more strongly discouraged for dossiers submitted to IBESR following October 1, 2014.  Unless it is an intrafamilial adoption or a US family has been living in Haiti for an extended period of time and is connected to a child who is legally free for adoption in that way, pre-identified adoptions will generally not be possible.  A possible exception might be a US family who has an adopted child and then a sibling of that child becomes legally free for adoption.

 It has been an exhausting but productive day, an exhausting but productive trip, and I am ready to go home.  Until next time.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Visits


Delia and I visit GLA and NLL up in the mountains.  Nobody should come to Haiti without seeing how amazing the views are on the way up towards Kenscoff!

 Little has changed.  The orphanages offer the best care, the views are beautiful, the people are welcoming, and we’re all so frustrated at the lack of referrals and progress that we don’t know where to turn.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Off The Grid

People who haven’t been here tend to think of all of Haiti as being off the grid, but it’s not at all true.  This is one of the most wired places imaginable.  EVERYONE has a cell phone, and it seems that a great many houses use generators and inverters to ensure that everyone can get online at any moment.

 We start our day at AUBE, where I take pictures.  They’ve actually hung out signs welcoming me like I’m some sort of celebrity.  The funny thing is that the kids remember my name and are thrilled to see me too.  I have no idea why.  I never bring candy or presents, and it seems like an eternity since I brought a photo album and the promise of a family.  But today, I carry hope for several kids.  Albums!  Families!

 The nannies get a huge kick out of one of my adoptive families, who already have three adopted African American children at home and no biological children.  The album has a collage of white Daddy and Mommy and six beautiful little brown people surrounding them.  This is one family that has already been there, done that with interracial adoption.  Now they’ll get to experience international, older sibling group adoption.  Three Haitian siblings will have a family again at last.  The family will arrive for their socialization period the day that I leave, which is a shame.  I’d love to be here when they figure out just how amazingly blessed they truly are by the oldest boy in particular.  I have a feeling he’s going to grow up to be someone very special.

 We are met at AUBE by a professional chauffer in a brightly painted taxi.  Today, Delia and I will be traditional tourists!  I’ve never been to Mirebalais before, so this will be an adventure for me too.  Delia has gotten us an invitation, so off we go.

 The road over the mountain is in excellent condition.  I can see huge improvements in the infrastructure of Haiti since I started coming here almost eleven years ago.  Our ride is long, but quite smooth.  After the usual confusion of locating the exact address, we arrive at Haiti Children’s Home.  The crèche is managed by an Canadian woman and her Haitian husband.  They have a large building, but concerns about its structural stability have caused them to move all sleeping and play areas to a smaller building and various temporary structures.  The facilities are worn and unattractive, and I can tell in about two minutes of watching happy children and loving nannies that this is a top-notch child care facility.  Kids don’t care about matching curtains or fresh paint.  They care about having toys and stimulation and love and attention, and this place radiates those things.  We meet several children with significant special needs who are here long term, and a few who are short-timers.

 Haiti Children’s Home is another fine example of an North American run organization that is doing a whole lot more help than harm.  They put great focus on family preservation through their milk program and medical help for families.  There are two Canadian nurses who live there to help their own kids and the community at large.  The director, Lori, serves us a very American/Canadian and really delicious meal of baked pasta, and then we’re off to see their new facility.

 She tells me she feels like they’re moving to the Hilton, and moment after arriving I can see why.  This is what it looks like if you do it right from day one, with excellent funding.  Haiti Children’s Home has purchase a large tract of land – I’m going to guess around twenty acres – and walled it off.  Inside their compound, they’re building the next best thing to home for a child.

 The compound is powered by an amazing state of the art solar power system.  These guys are going to be truly off the grid, with no reliance on diesel for generators either.  They have their own well, and the site manager tells me the wires that marched over the mountains on our drive here are actually high speed internet cable.  Unbelievable!   HCH is going to have complete solar power, a walk-in freezer, a mechanic training center, an irrigated garden to produce all of their own vegetables, and screaming fast internet.  I’m about ready to move in!

 The kids will live in cottage style homes.  I conclude with Lori that many studies have already shown that this model is the best we can do for children living outside of family care.  The cottages are beautiful, spacious houses arranged around a central play area and kitchen, and I suspect that this will end up being one of the best orphanages in Haiti.  Not only will HCH do everything they can to keep a family intact and avoid taking in a child, but if they have no other option, the children will suffer as little damage as possible growing up with stable caretakers in a beautiful, safe, peaceful environment.  I sure wish all the children living away from their families in Haiti could be so lucky.

 If I suddenly disappear off the grid, I guess everyone will know where to look for me…

Friday, November 14, 2014

Various Firsts


First thing in the morning Franck and I go down to the airport to pick up my friend and colleague Delia Ramsbotham, Managing Director of Sunrise Adoption Services out of BC Canada.  This is her first trip to Haiti, and we’re going to have a blast.  Plus, since I’m in the car, I know that her ride will be there to pick her up on time.  She’s one of the first people off the plane, so we are back at the guesthouse in record time.

 Delia’s always game for an adventure, so we head up to BRESMA right away.  I give her the grand tour, assisted by a child whose name is Luke but whom we all call ‘Ti President’, because he’s earned the name.  The kid will make an amazing politician or ambassador someday.

 We just finish our tour when one of the nurses calls me, saying IBESR is here and asking for me.  I am completely bewildered, but I hustle downstairs.

 There I find Mme. Jean from IBESR.  She is the lone IBESR social worker who has been assigned to cover all socialization reports for visits occurring within Port-au-Prince.  She tells me she wants me to interpret.  I tell her I’m not good enough, and that she should use one of our nannies who is far more bilingual than I am.  Mme. Jean insists she wants me to do it, and I’m not foolish enough to argue.  Fortunately for me she has had formal education in foreign language, so she understands how to use small words or use other words to cover for those that I don’t know.

 I’ve never had the opportunity to see an adoptive parent interview, so this is really good luck!  Mme. Jean begins by explaining to my family that she’s not here to frighten or stress them.  Her duty is to observe them and sign off on their visit, thus fulfilling the legal requirements.  Mme. Jean is a trained social worker, and she explains to me as an aside that she’s more interested in observing the family than she is in what they actually have to say.

 She asks a few basic questions, and several that will help her to ascertain how the family feels about the children.  Meanwhile the kids are expressing what they think with their actions.  They show their comfort with and attachment to their prospective parents with every gesture and behavior.  Mme. Jean asks a few tough questions too, about what the family would do in the event of death or divorce or a serious accident to the children.  She asks a trick question to see if the family will obey the regulations of the new Haitian adoption law regarding the interdiction against contact between the biological and adoptive families, which none of us were expecting.  Fortunately my clients are well-educated about the law and understand the duties of the crèche and the agency in upholding the law, no matter what we feel about it.

 Margarette and I are supposed to have a meeting at IBESR this afternoon, so we have to hurry out the door the moment the interview is over.  I eat on the run like an American, and they Margarette and I are off to complete multiple stops and errands before our appointment meeting time.

 First we go by the Justice complex, to Parquet court.  The Dean of Port-au-Prince has let Margarette know that the Proces Verbal for an abandoned child is complete and legalized.  Thank goodness for the Mayor of Delmas, who seems to care about the abandoned children in his jurisdiction!  After an extensive search, we track down the secretary for the Dean and the precious document is in our hands.  This Proces Verbal is for a little girl who came to BRESMA as an unbelievably fragile and tiny preemie.  Our nurse kept Shaika with her every moment, waking and sleeping, for many months.  Now she is a sturdy toddler, glowing with health.  I pray that she will soon get a referral to a family, now that she is finally legally free for adoption.

 Next we stop by Children’s Court where Margarette checks in with a judge and briefly consults with a biological father who is here to sign a P.V for his daughter.   The mother passed away, and the baby he brought in with his pre-school aged daughter died in the hospital shortly after arriving at BRESMA, too weakened by illness and starvation to survive.  It is a harsh world here.  I am grateful that we have a suitable family for the little girl, and that we can hope for a referral letter for her fairly soon.

 On we go to IBESR, where Margarette visits several departments checking on cases.  We are thrilled to learn that the Director has signed a dossier of a very complicated pre-identified adoption and that Autorisation d’ Adoption has been issued!  It is being entered in the computer system, but I can see it for myself in the hands of the staff member working on it.  On Monday, we can come back and take it out of IBESR at last, free to move through the legal process. 

 We stop by the desk of Me. Nathalie Jean, an attorney who was at the meeting on Friday, where we enter into a lively, er, negotiation regarding whether ABI can submit the dossier of a family in which one parent will turn fifty-one very shortly.  I have to mention the memo IBESR issued this summer, which clearly stated that we have until my clients actual fifty-first birthday to submit the dossier.  She expresses concern about USCIS rejecting the case once it gets there.  I ask her to let me argue about the law with USCIS, because that’s my job.  Except in this case the law is quite clear, and there will be no argument.  She concedes, and we get permission to submit the dossier on Monday.

 Margarette and I wait for over an hour before we are finally told that Me. Guillaume and Mme. Villedrouin will not be able to meet with us – their previous meeting is running very late.  But they do reschedule us for Monday.

 In Haiti, you can have plans, you just can’t have expectations.  However, today certainly surpassed any expectations I might have had!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Eye Open

This morning is an adoption round table at the Embassy.  We used to have several of these each year, under the direction of Consul General Donald Moore.  I was very surprised when I was invited to those, and I’m just as honored to have been invited to this one.  Coordinators from two other agencies were also invited, but were unable to come on short notice.

 Most of the participants are Haitian government officials of one kind or another.  We have people from the office of the Mayor of Delmas, the Dean of Port-au-Prince, two of the Children’s Judges, several people from IBESR, Mme. Sawadogo from UNICEF (who is consulting with IBESR on the Hague), the new Consul General, the Vice Consul, the new DOS adoptions officer, and the Chief of USCIS among others.  It’s a large meeting of knowledgeable people.  I have my usual head-shaking moment, wondering how on earth I ended up where I am, because it’s certainly not what I had in mind or asked for.  I guess God puts us where he wants us, and the best we can do is to serve as best we can.

 A translator is available to work between French and English, but as Dixie Bickel and I are the only people in the room who do not speak fluent French and we can both limp along based on our knowledge of Kreyol, we agree to go without in the interests of time management.

 The discussion is lively, sometimes impassioned, and varied.   Because of the composition of the group, much of the conversation centers on the details and execution of Haitian law.  I am very interested to hear what is said, but I imagine not many others would be.

 It is only after the meeting that Margarette mentions something that Mme. Villedrouin said that is very relevant to everything from here on, which I misunderstood due to my lack of skill in French.  I had heard that a crèche director would be on the matching committee.  But what she actually said was that the director of the crèche at which the child lives would be a part of the committee that matches him!  If this is the case, Haiti will not be using a double blind system after all!  One of those making the matches will know the child well and therefore be able to represent his best interests in a way that no stranger ever could.

 I’m still not crazy about doing it this way, but if the crèche directors have some control over what becomes of the children they know and love, I can live with that.

 I feel like a limp dishrag after the meeting.  I have to go back on Monday for another one, just me and some US officials on some difficult cases that I have, but that one should be a lot less stressful and it will be in English which will make things a lot easier.

 I had planned to go up to BRESMA this afternoon, but Margarette goes to the office of the Judge for Children to pick up a Proces Verbal for an abandoned child.  The mayor of Delmas is a doer.  Not only is he paving most of the streets in Delmas, he was the first mayor in Haiti to hustle over to the offices of the Judges for Children to sign relinquishments for the little ones abandoned in his jurisdiction.  So I get to witness Margarette adding the final signature to what might be the first completed Proces Verbal for an abandoned child in Haiti.  We’ll take it with us to IBESR tomorrow.  S. has been at BRESMA for almost two years.  She arrived as a malnourished, desperately fragile premature baby, and now she’s a sturdy little chunker.  May she say her first words elsewhere.

 It has been an exhausting transition for everyone, but I truly believe that we’re getting somewhere at last.  Getting some traction and referrals and forward movement.  Thank goodness!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bittersweet

Arrive in Port – au – Prince on time at 9:10 am, where I am suddenly reminded of all the reminders I have read and even one that I wrote about the tourist tax.  Ten dollars per person upon entry into Haiti!  Good thing they asked at the beginning of the trip, as I tend to leave any extra money I have with me behind to be used, and fly home with empty pockets.  Better keep a few bucks with me this time, or I may end up a permanent resident if they charge again on my way out!

 I leave the airport and am immediately found by my personal deaf and mute porter.  But at this point it doesn't matter that he is deaf.  I've become quite fond of him and wouldn't tell him to go away anyways, which is how I ended up with him in the first place.  After I aggressively chased the other porters away in Kreyol a few years back, they brought me Wadner, who can't hear anyone telling him that they don't want and won't pay for his help.  So now he's my guy.  He's always here at the airport to meet me.
 
Franck, on the other hand, is NOT here to meet me.  Franck will be late to his own funeral.  One of these days he's going to show up on time to get me and I'm going to faint and hit my head, so maybe it's a good thing that I have the most reliably tardy driver in Haiti.

I have a family staying at the guest house on their socialization trip, so I get to meet them as soon as I arrive.  After just a few moments they’re off to the orphanage.  I stay behind to meet with Margarette.  We’re trying to figure out how to get our work done within the constraints laid down by IBESR.  I can see work arounds for the actual legal processing for cases, but I have no idea about how she or any other crèche director who insists on keeping children according to high standards will get by.  The IBESR required childcare charge of $6300 simply isn’t enough to care for kids at the standard each one of them deserves.  We are both frustrated and worried at the end of our talk, with no real solutions in sight.

 After lunch, I join my adopting family at BRESMA.  The crèche and kids look great, and as usual they are all happy to see me (except for several of our babies and toddlers, who are not my biggest fans.)  But the whole experience feels bittersweet to me today.  This is what I came to Haiti to do in the first place.  I wanted to get to know and love individual children, and search for the right family to raise them.  I’ll be able to do so for the children before me now because I have dossiers waiting that we submitted before October 1st, but what about the next ones?  And the ones after that?  Will it even be worth getting to know them here, at the crèche that is my second home, if we’ll have no say at all in where they end up?  I feel blessed to have five or six little people clamoring for my attention all at once, distracting me from maudlin thoughts.  Change is hard, especially when I’m not at all sure that it is a good change.

 One true blessing – the little girl who has asked me on each of my last few trips why no one wants her and her brother has more important questions for me today, like whether her adoptive family who is here visiting has any more candy.  Now there’s a question that I can answer immediately for her.  Yes, my dear one, your mama blan has candy and hugs for you, and yes, some one wants and loves you and your brother very much.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Heroes

It’s a slow day for me, but a really busy one for Danielle.  ABI dossier preparer and social worker Danielle Ward has accompanied me on this trip to write home studies for four American families who live and work in Haiti.  It’s Danielle’s first time out of the US, and what a country to choose for her first adventure!  But she’s a trooper and is putting up with the heat and worries about Chikungunya without complaint.

 Danielle is teaching a class to our eight prospective adoptive parents at the BRESMA guest house.  It’s her duty to educate the families about the risks and rewards of adoption.  I imagine they’ll learn from her, but probably not as much as I have learned from them in just a short time.

 
malnourished infant
These people are the real deal; the full time servants, workers, warriors for change and hope in Haiti.  I flit back and forth and lobby government employees.  It’s almost a glamorous life – or at least, I hear that it looks that way from the outside. 

 There’s no glamour for these folks.  No applause or awards.  No notoriety or fame in the small pond that is Haiti or back home in the States.  They are here on the ground, day after day, year after year, grinding away their lives in tireless, selfless service to others.  Their work is rarely recognized, never mind praised.  They don’t do ‘big’ things.  No policy changes or diplomacy.  No shaking the hands of famous people.

They battle malnutrition, armed robbers, and parasites as they work at an orphanage, gather dust on their clothes as they hike through the mountains searching for the last biological relatives of an abandoned child trying to reunify the family, try not to cover their ears as they listen to true horror stories of sexually abused child slaves.  Tiny battles every day, struggling to make a difference for the least of these.

It takes some courage to face government officials and argue for children’s rights.  It takes a whole lot more courage to leave your friends and your family, live as a stranger in a strange land, and fight the same fight over again every single day without relief.

Let us honor those who sacrifice so much to work beside Haitians in building a better Haiti and a better world.  There are still heroes among us.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Maybe a Silver Lining?


Something is different this visit - I can actually smell it in the air as the plane empties.  The distinctive odor of DEET fills the airport corridor as my fellow passengers, consisting almost entirely of 't-shirt groups' coat themselves in mosquito spray before they even hit the open air.

Chikungunya - it's everywhere.  On everyone's mind, on the news, the topic of constant conversation.  What I'm hearing here on the ground doesn't match what I've been told by medical professionals who are watching closely from a distance.  Duration and intensity of symptoms appears to vary wildly.  So does repetition.  I was told you can only catch this thing once, but Margarette is telling me she knows a lot of people who had already had it more than once.  I'll have to dig into this to see if it's actually one long illness or actual re-infections with a slightly different strain of the virus.  It's a mystery we're all very motivated to solve.

So far, most of the kids in our care have been pretty lucky; miserable for a few days and then bouncing back.  But our housekeeper Sherely was sick for over two weeks, and she tells me that her wrists and ankles are still aching.  She shows me veins risen under her beautiful, sleek skin.  I expect to see veins on me, but not on Sherley who has always had skin fit to make a fashion model weep.  I wonder if it's high blood pressure or stress?  But then she shows me some edema on the back of her neck and I wonder if it's some sort of overall fluid retention.  I'll have to check in with our consulting physicians.

I have been in Haiti less than twelve hours, and despite repeated, thorough dousing in bug spray I've already been bitten three times.  The best way to avoid being bitten by a mosquito in Haiti is to stand next to me!  US 'skeeters don't like me, but perhaps I'm sweeter when I'm down here.  So here's the silver lining - if/when I get Chikungunya too, at least I'll be able to record my symptoms carefully and pass along the information to those who are tracking the virus.

In other news, IBESR released a memo today that appears to clarify several finer points of the law.  I have learned that IBESR interviews with biological families who wish to relinquish their  children are being scheduled, and at long last court visits as required under the new law are being arranged.  I intend to post the translation of IBESR's notice as soon as our translator returns it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Haiti and the Hague - Success

This afternoon the Department of State and USCIS hosted a conference call regarding Haiti's accession to the Hague Convention on International Adoption.

A team from both entities visited Haiti at the beginning of February with three goals:


  1. To assess whether the DOS would be able to verify that requirements in individual adoption cases had been met as specified by the Hague Convention.
  2. To discuss a transition plan for non-Hague cases
  3. To establish a working group between the two governments to manage transition cases
Ambassador Susan Jacobs stated that they "were very, very encouraged but the positive findings they made during the trip."  In other words, the Department of State does not indented to close Haitian adoptions for American Citizens following April 1st, 2014.

This is thrilling news for Haiti, as it becomes one of the first if not the only developing nation to implement the Hague Convention on International Adoption in the prescribed, graduated way and use the Convention as it was intended: as a protection for children and families.