Chris and Leslie Rollings knew, when they took tiny 15-day-old Olivia home from Heartline Ministries orphanage in January 2008, that it could take years to be legally recognized as her adoptive parents. Having run a nongovernmental agency for several years already in this rural seaside village, Mr. Rollings was familiar with navigating the Haitian bureaucracy.
The Canadian couple vowed to go the course without offering the traditional palm-greasing “incentives” key to speeding any official process. They also vowed not to go on a vacation abroad until Olivia had the documents to come too.
It has been two years, and they’re still waiting to take that vacation.
And it promises to be even longer because of the effects of the earthquake that rumbled through this poor nation Jan. 12.
Olivia – a bouncy 2-year-old with a penchant for the sweet bananas growing in her yard – doesn’t seem to be lacking anything, except the Haitian government’s approval of her adoption.
Given the vow to play the process completely aboveboard, the Rollingses say they were not surprised at some delay. With all their paperwork complete, they’d been just biding their time.
But now the added complications brought by the quake really concern them. The event scattered government staff and destroyed offices and documents. It resulted in the death of the nation’s leading adoption judge.
Added to the complications is the intentional slowdown of adoption procedures. Highly publicized cases of suspected illegal child trafficking by adults trying to take kids out of the country without the proper legal papers have heightened vigilance and wariness on the part of the Haitian government and other child protection agencies.
So the Haitian government is taking no new cases of adoption. How many mid-process adoptions are in limbo is unclear, but US Embassy officials in Port-au-Prince confirm that at the time of the quake 1,600 to 2,400 cases of American adoptions were open.
The Rollingses say they fear that the adoption climate might even be turning hostile here. Late last month a group of adults legally taking six orphans on a flight to the United States were set upon at the airport by angry Haitians accusing them of kidnapping. Police seized the children, who were detained while the legalities could be sorted out. (They eventually made it to the US.)
The Rollingses worry that until they have the finalized adoption documents, Olivia is in danger of being taken from them,
“We have everything we need [for the adoption]” says Mrs. Rollings, who is a pastor and helps out with the water-filtration project, Clean Water for Haiti, that her husband runs here. “It’s not that complicated,” she says. “At the most, it should take 30 minutes to read our dossier, not 14 months.”
Making appointments with the government agency overseeing adoptions – the Social Welfare and Research Institute (IBESR) – was, before the quake, difficult at best. Today, Mr. Rollings says, it’s all but impossible. Only after the Canadian embassy intervened a few weeks ago did the agency director agree to meet with the Rollingses. On the appointed day, she was a no-show.
A call from the social affairs minister secured the family their first face-to-face meeting with IBESR in the whole two-year process. But even after producing all the documentation necessary at that meeting, they still have no final sign-off.
The Rollingses’ case may be unusual in that, as adoptive parents, they plan to continue to live in Haiti. Most adoptions are international. Still, the Canadian couple, who chose to adopt rather than have a biological child, want their daughter to be a Canadian citizen. But without a Haitian passport first, even that’s not possible.
While her parents puzzle over the future, a wide-eyed and energetic Olivia runs with abandon across the tiles of the home her parents built, oblivious to borders and nationalities, and cocooned in Dr. Seuss, toys, and the love of family.