By CHRIS FRANCESCANI with ABC News
In the wake of the earthquake that devastated Haiti earlier this month, thousands of “Good Morning America” viewers have contacted the show, asking how they can help the many children orphaned by the quake. ABCNews.com spoke with U.S. government officials, aid organizations and non-governmental organizations to get the latest information on adoption of Haitian orphans.
Question: Can I adopt a Haitian Orphan?
Answer: No, not at present. In the wake of the earthquake that devastated the island nation earlier this month, new adoption applications for Haitian orphans are not being processed and are on hold indefinitely, according to the U.S. State Department. It’s unclear when the process will begin again.
Question: Why won’t the Haitian government allow the adoption of orphans?
Answer: The Haitian government is still in the process of identifying and registering children who were orphaned after the earthquake. In addition to concerns about child-sex trafficking, officials in Haiti need time to clearly identify a child as an orphan. Because of the number of missing and displaced Haitians, the process is long and arduous.
Question: Are any adoptions of Haitian orphans underway?
Answer: Yes. About 700 U.S. families who were already “far along” in the process are being allowed to complete their adoptions, according to Chuck Johnson, vice president of the National Council for Adoption in Washington, D.C. About 1,000 children are expected to be taken out of Haiti under the initiative, according to the U.S. State Department.
Question: What are the Haitian government’s requirements for prospective adoptive parents?
Answer: “It’s quite a lengthy and detailed process [with] a lot of very strict and rather unusual requirements that do not apply in most countries,” Michele Bond, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services, said. “You have to be married at least 10 years; you can’t be accepted as [adoptive parents] in Haiti if [you] already have a biological child, and you can’t be accepted if one parent is less than 19 years older than the child.”
So, for example, an adoption of a 10 year old would not be allowed if one spouse is 35 and the other is 28. Should prospective parents fall into any of these categories, they would need a presidential dispensation. “They would have to wait for the [Haitian] president to review your file, and then it goes to the courts there,” Bond said, adding that she doesn’t know of any other government that has such criteria. Information on same-sex couples was not immediately available, according to State Department officials.
Adopting Haitian Orphans
Question: How long does the process of adopting a Haitian orphan take?
Answer: It could take up to three or more years to adopt a Haitian orphan under pre-earthquake conditions. It’s unclear how long it would take now.
There are two parts to the process. The first part is a petition to the U.S. government to be declared eligible to adopt a child. That process, known as the I-600 process because of the name of the form, takes between 60 and 90 days, according to U.S. government officials and aid organizations. It involves a criminal background check, a medical background check and a suitability determination that involves visits to the home and interview with the prospective parents.
The second part of the process involves gaining approval from the Haitian government. That process takes two to three years, once the U.S. government approves the I-600 petition, according to U.S. government officials and aid organizations.
Question: Is that a long time compared to adoptions from other countries?
Answer: It is relatively long. Ethiopia, for example, matches adoptive parents to orphans in as little as 14 months, Johnson said, while countries such as China can take up to five years.
Question: Approximately how much does it cost to adopt a Haitian orphan?
Answer: The cost of adopting a child from Haiti can range from $10,000 to $25,000, according to Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Issues.
“The costs vary depending on the agency used and the services they provide (some are a one-stop shop, others do basic services) [the] State Department reports that the cost of the adoption itself is approximately $3,000 and the remaining are travel and agency fees,” Strottman wrote in an e-mail.