The zeitgeist is wrong. Writers for the New York Times , Newsweek , others: all wrong. Anyone with the money, spiritual wherewithal, time, and vocation to adopt a child from Haiti should start now. There were 380,000 orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti even before the earthquake. Adopting from Haiti was a slow, arduous process-now, with buildings and records destroyed and adoption officials killed, it will be even more difficult. It might not, to be honest, be the best use of resources (time, money, your personal energy) to help the people of Haiti. And it certainly isn’t the most economical or even the most environmentally friendly way to add a child to your family. But there is value, and lots of it, in changing one life. One life, that is, plus yours.
The media-publicized concerns about adopting from Haiti are vastly overblown. Given the strenuous requirements of international adoption from any country, “adopting [Haitian] children in droves” simply isn’t in the cards. There were all of 310 adoptions from Haiti last year . Families who brought their adopted children home from Haiti in the recent “humanitarian parole” (like this one ) started their adoption processes in 2007. Among other things, an international adoption (or a domestic adoption, in many states) requires multiple visits from a social worker, interviews with family members, letters of recommendation, and dozens of affidavits attesting to everything from one’s birth to marriage to lack of a police record from every place one has ever lived-each of which may need to be printed in one place, signed in another, notarized in a third, certified in a fourth, translated in a fifth, and then blessed by an Indonesian medicine man with a rabbinical degree. (Last part: exaggeration. But you will have to trust me that that is what if feels like.) It requires hours of education on cultural differences, bonding issues, abandonment, trauma, and the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome or memories of abuse.
It would be far, far easier to bring home a Birkin from Hermes-making Newsweek writer Allison Samuels’ comments about “eager white Americans … adopting minority kids because it’s trendy” or to “keep up with the Jolie-Pitts” a little offensive. And uninformed-actually, international adoptions are down in recent years ( 22,728 in 2005, 20,679 in 2006 , and 17, 229 in 2008 , compared to 55,000 domestic adoptions from foster care ), and not because there’s no longer a need. Across Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Carribean, there were an estimated 109 million children living without any available caregivers in 2005 . Very, very few of those will eventually find a home at all, in any country-but some of those who do will someday return, healthier and better educated, to help other children who find themselves alone. I am not arguing against adopting domestically, from foster care or privately-far from it. But children aren’t carrots. There’s nothing inherently better about going local. There are as many reason to adopt as there are adopting families, and almost any adoption is for the greater good.
I think we can all agree that airlifting children willy-nilly from Haiti and then handing them out like kittens to Americans who’ve expressed a casual interest would be a mistake. I think we can all also recognize that that isn’t going to happen. There’s no reason to use it as a stick with which to discourage those few (and it will be very few) families who are moved to find a social worker, begin gathering papers, and wait for the inevitable need for adoptive families to return.
Photograph of children in Haiti by Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images.