The Quiet Tension Over International Adoption: NPR Interview on Haiti’s Orphans

NPR’s Talk of the Nation today focused on Haiti’s orphans in an interview with our friend, Tom Difilipo, who heads the Joint Council on International Children’s Services.  The show, titled “Where will All the Haitian Orphans Go?”,  addressed a number of important questions, including somewhat indirect references to an issue that is often a quiet  but powerful tension within international aid operations:  should children that appear to have been orphaned by disaster be adopted internationally?

Difililipo did a good job of affirming two equally important realities:

First, in the short run, the disaster response needs to be on meeting emergency needs locally, not shipping kids overseas.  Even as order is restored and first-wave needs are met, it is vital that full time and diligent effort be allowed to ensure that each apparent orphan truly has no extended family or other local homes willing to take them in.

Equally important, though, once a child has been clearly identified as an orphan and local home options exhausted, government and aid organizations should progress as rapidly as possible toward adoption—wherever that option may be available.

Some groups (see “Earthquake Appeal:  Do Not Adopt Earthquake Orphans”) are so vested in their model of humanitarian program, so passionate about the idea of preserving a child’s birth culture, and so resistant to the idea of international adoption  that they find an endless number of reasons to keep children in institutions and other non-family settings indefinitely.  We respect and value such organizations’ desire to care for orphans, but would respectfully disagree with this approach.  Certainly, there are times when group care is necessary.  But the simple truth is that the very best place for a child is a permanent, loving family.  When such homes are available, after extended family and local homes have been shown in a timely manner to not be options, children should be given the opportunity for a permanent home.

From the NPR Transcript:

Difilipo: …So we’ve learned those lessons over the past decade, so when things happen like the tsunami, just about every credible aid and relief organization, UNICEF, Save the Children, Joint Council and others, we all said the same thing. Let’s wait until we can determine that these children are true orphans. And then if they are, then aggressively use international adoption or other local solutions.

Certainly, we support local solutions before international adoption, but they should be used aggressively once you’ve determined the child is, in fact, an orphan. One of the problems with this that some have is the reunification efforts, reunifying the child with the parent is (unintelligible) can sometime take years. And we don’t support that either.

We’ve had instances where children go in the refugee camps. They live there 10 years. That’s not healthy for a kid. Two or three years is not healthy for a kid. There should be an aggressive move, very aggressive to get these kids reunited, so we can determine their status.

For interview link and full text, click here.