Haiti adoption deal offers hope for hundreds trapped in waiting game
There has been very significant progress this week in the area of inter-country adoption. There is now a very real possibility that an agreement between Ireland and Haiti will be concluded later this year.
At the invitation of two Irish charities which have been active in Haiti for a number of years, the Soul of Haiti Foundation and The Haven Foundation, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and the acting CEO, Kiernan Gildea, have been in Haiti this week for intensive meetings with the Haitian adoption body, the IBESR.
The purpose of the visit was to start a dialogue to establish an administrative adoption agreement between Ireland and Haiti to allow for inter-country adoptions of children from Haiti to Ireland.
Ireland is the first country to engage in discussions with Haiti, post the ratification this week.
The schedule of meetings, arranged and facilitated by Sharon Dagg, Chief Operations Officer of the Soul of Haiti Foundation, included the Director General of the IBESR (which is the Central Authority in Haiti), the Haitian Minister for Social Affairs with responsibility for adoption, Minister Charles Jean Jacques, as well as UNICEF, and a number of embassies from countries which currently adopt from Haiti. These countries include Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, USA, Canada and the Netherlands.
At the moment, the only countries from which any Irish couple or sole adopter with a post-November 2010 Declaration can adopt are the USA, Vietnam, India and Bulgaria.
Because very small numbers of children have been available for inter-country adoption from these countries, an agreement with Haiti would allow far more Irish people to adopt children.
Children in Haitian orphanages which are deemed adoptable have been approved only after a rigorous investigation into their circumstances which establishes that there is no likelihood of being placed with any of their biological family members or within Haiti itself.
Since Ireland ratified Hague in 2010, Irish people can only adopt from countries which are members of The Hague Convention, or countries with which they have a bi-lateral agreement.
This has meant that instead of 400 to 500 inter-country adoptions annually into Ireland up to 2010, there has been a significant decline since Hague was ratified.
There are approximately 700 prospective couples/sole-parents currently in possession of a Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability to Adopt (many of whom have spent between five and six years going through the HSE assessment process).
Many hundreds more are either in the HSE Assessment system or waiting for their application to be processed.
According to UNICEF, there are 30,000 children in Haitian orphanages who could be available for adoption, many as a result of the 2010 earthquake.
Despite the perception of a weak governance, UNICEF confirmed that there has been impressive progress with the development of a robust child protection system in which inter-country adoption remains just one of a variety of different available options.
Haiti enjoys very strong links with Ireland.
After the 2010 earthquake, major work was undertaken by GOAL, Trocaire, The Haven Partnership, Soul of Haiti and other Irish charities.
Irish-owned mobile phone operator Digicel is the country's largest employer.
The visit to Haiti by the AAI concluded yesterday with a visit to two orphanages run by the Fondation Enfant Jesus and Chances for Children in Kenscoff, close to Port au Prince.
These orphanages combined look after 116 children – all of whom have been matched to their future parent(s) or are still awaiting placement.
If Haiti is open to Irish adoptions later this year, it will finally offer Irish people the chance to complete their family and provide Haitian children currently in institutions, with the opportunity to grow up in a loving family environment.
MICHAEL CULLEN IS DIRECTOR OF SOUL OF HAITI CEO BEACON MEDICAL GROUP