When Helping Hurts: Why Adopting in Haiti Now Could Endanger Children

If you've seen news footage of Haitian children scared, lost, and in palpable danger, you may have felt the urge to reach out in the most personal way - to adopt and take a child out of poverty and crisis.

That urge to help could make the crisis in Haiti even more dangerous for children. A group of U.S. missionaries made headlines for allegedly attempting to traffic children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic.

Organizations that work with developing countries, now actively working to repair the damaged buildings and lives in Haiti following the devastating earthquake last month, say the best thing for the struggling country is to let the government and aid organizations help children, not to rush young Haitians out of the country.

And that process will likely take months.

"There is no way at this point in a crisis we can know whether these children are orphaned," says Amy Parodi, disaster communications manager for World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization involved in the emergency response in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. "We're finding children who have been separated from their families and getting them to reunification groups, but we're asking for a moratorium on new adoptions to give authorities time to trace families and find out if there is extended family or community members who want to care for these children before we slap an orphan label on them."

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Without restrictions on adoption, the chances of children being exploited or trafficked increases. In addition to children being mistakenly labeled orphans, rushed adoptions could lead to children in the chronically poor nation being stolen for slave labor or sold into brothels.

Donating to a relief organization in Haiti is a better move to help Haitian children, Parodi says.

"The best thing for a child is not to take them out of the community, but leave them in the community and strengthen the community," Parodi says. "Leave the children there and make Haiti a better place for everyone to live."

Parodi says adoptions that were already in process prior to the earthquake are a different situation. Those children were legally identified as ready for adoption and it's appropriate for those adoptions to move forward. However, those adoptions may be delayed by the destruction of the quake.

For those moved by the crisis to consider international adoption, Palodi, who adopted a child from Uganda, recommends careful choices to ensure that you adopt a child truly in need of a home from an organization that is following international standards and behaving responsibly .

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Her advice:

  • International adoption takes time. Expect to wait a year or two. If an organization promises to process an adoption more quickly than this, the agency may not be reputable.
  • To ensure you're working with an organization that respects international standards for adoption, check that the agency is certified by the U.S. Council on Accreditation or the State of Colorado Department of Human Services.
  • A good agency should be able to give you a reasonable estimate of costs. If you find yourself in a situation where the agency is suddenly charge two or three times their estimate, that should be a red flag.
  • Learn all you can about the culture of the country where you're adopting. "When you're doing a cross-cultural adoption, this child has a heritage you don't have and it's important to keep them connected with that," Parodi says, "so you have to work at that and find outlets to pass that heritage on to them."

Find out more on adoption from Parents.com.