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.