Tammy Gage of Stanberry, Mo., cries every time she turns on the TV and sees the devastation in Haiti. And though she already has three daughters, she didn’t hesitate when her husband suggested that they adopt from Haiti.
“That’s all he needed to say,” she said.
Gage and her husband, Brad, are among many Americans expressing interest in adopting children who have been left orphans from the quake last week. Adoption advocacy groups are reporting dozens of calls a day.
“The agencies are being flooded with phone calls and e-mails,” said Tom Difilipo, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Joint Council on International Children’s Services. “The response is ‘Can we help with these children by adopting them?'”
The need is vast. Even before the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, had 380,000 orphans, according to UNICEF. There is no counting of children newly orphaned by the quake, but aid groups estimate that they number in the tens of thousands.
“Everybody here and in the world wants to do something. I think it’s a way that people are opening up their heads and their hearts,” said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, which has offered temporary housing for children until they are either placed with extended family, put in foster care or adopted.
The orphans coming to the U.S. now are children who either had already established a relationship with potential parents in the country or who were certified as orphans before the quake but hadn’t been placed with parents, said Chris Bentley, a U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services spokesman.
Before new adoptions can occur, officials need to establish that the children are identified by the Haitian government as orphans, and potential families need to be cleared, too.
The Department of Homeland Security has set up an e-mail address for information on Haitian adoptions, [email protected], where people can get questions answered about ongoing adoptions. Bentley also said there will be a task force to help Haitian children come into the U.S. for adoption.
After a week-and-a-half wondering when her new little girl would finally arrive from Haiti, Bonnie Winarski of Fort Saskatchewan got the news she has been waiting for.
Winarski’s adopted daughter, 22-month-old Sarah-Marie, is expected to fly into Montreal on Monday.
“I don’t quite know the time yet on Monday. All I know is she’s coming in on Monday,” Winarski said Saturday.
“I’m feeling way better than I have in days because this is the most firm information that I’ve had in two weeks, just about, since the earthquake–that my daughter, for sure, is coming home and there is actually a flight that is planned for her. I’m elated, in that regard.”
A liaison with God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti contacted Winarski on Saturday to tell her Sarah-Marie will be on the Montreal-bound flight carrying about 20 children from the orphanage to their adoptive families in Canada.
Winarski and her fiance plan to fly to Montreal today so they are in the city when their little girl arrives.
Winarski said she doesn’t know how things will unfold once her daughter’s flight gets in to Montreal.
“I know that, from what happened in the States, the kids had to be processed through immigration before they were allowed to see their parents, and so I know a lot of the parents were at the airport at the same time as their kids, but it took about 10 hours before they let the parents see their children,” she said.
“I have no idea what the immigration process is going to be like in Canada.”
Winarski started trying to adopt a child from Haiti three and a half years ago. Nearly two years ago, she was matched with Sarah-Marie, who was a month old.
Winarski was in the final stages of the adoption process and getting packed to go to Haiti when the earthquake hit Jan. 12.
As many as 24 Haitian orphans destined to join their Albertan families are expected to arrive in Canada this weekend.
“What we know is that this weekend, families in Alberta will begin to see their children,” Children’s Services Minister Yvonne Fritz said Saturday.
“I know that parents have been very anxious. . . . It’s been very traumatic for parents, for their children to be in a country that’s had such devastation with this earthquake.”
Twenty-one Alberta families expect their children to arrive in Canada in the days to come, some as soon as Sunday.
The families involved have been waiting for their children for as long as two years, as adoption documents were being finalized in Haiti.
Each year, Alberta families welcome an average 20 Haitian orphans. There has been a renewed emphasis, however, on speeding up the process since the earthquake in the ravaged developing nation. Alberta Justice and Alberta Children’s Services are working with the families and federal government.
“They want their children home as soon as possible,” Fritz said of the Alberta families. “There’s a lot of excitement in the air now. . . .
“It’s such good news that our children are being united with their families and their loved ones.”
There are 154 chi ldren who were in the final stages of adoption by Canadian families prior to the earthquake, which is now estimated to have killed as many as 200,000 people. At least 18 Canadians are among the dead, the federal government said Saturday.
Ottawa has been reviewing these pending adoptions “to determine what steps may be taken to process the cases while respecting Haitian laws,” Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Kelli Fraser said.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has directed officials to issue temporary resident permits so Haitian children can live with their adoptive Canadian parents before all legal steps for adoption are completed, Fraser said. However, she said, the ministry is avoiding shortcuts “that could enable unscrupulous people to obtain children for the purpose of human trafficking.”
A first planeload of Haitian children will arrive in Ottawa at 6:30 a.m. local time today, Kenney said Saturday.
“Our ministry is working at getting as many of the adopted children out of Haiti as quickly as possible,” he said.