Located in the Caribbean ocean, the Republic of Haiti, as it is officially known, is a small island which shares the border with the Dominican Republic. A massive earthquake hit the country in 2010 and today, nine years later, the nation is still recovering. Ranked the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, many children are available for adoption due to poverty or natural disasters. At the height of Haiti adoption to the United States, in 2014, 464 adoptions took place. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of Haiti adoptions to the United States dropped to 227.
Who Can Adopt
Every country differs in their eligibility requirements so it is important for prospective adoptive families to check country guidelines before beginning the adoption process. To adopt from Haiti, one parent must be a United States citizen, both parents must be between the ages of 30 and 49, and one of the parents must be at least 21 years older than the prospective adoptive child. No prospective adoptive parent may be over the age of 50 unless they are intending to adopt a relative. Haiti’s marital requirements state that prospective adoptive parents must be married at least five years. Couples in a common-law relationship must prove at least five years of co-residence. Haiti does not recognize or allow couples in same-sex marriages. Single women are eligible to adopt, provided they meet the same age and income requirements as married couples. Though Haiti has no specific health or income requirements, all prospective adoptive parents must meet the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines for intercountry adoption. Prospective adoptive parents with a criminal history of child abuse, violence, or domestic violence will not be allowed to adopt.
Additionally, for families with any adopted or biological children in the home over the age of 8, the children must state their opinion regarding adoption from Haiti. For families wishing to pursue a second Haiti adoption, they must wait to begin the process until at least two years after their previous adoption was finalized in a Haitian court.
In Haiti, both boys and girls are available for intercountry adoption. Children are between the ages of 6 months to 16 years at the time of referral with the average age at placement falling between 2-9 years of age. Many children are in good health though special needs adoption occurs frequently. Haiti’s Central Adoption Authority, Institut du Bien-Être Social et de Recherches, classifies special needs adoption as any child who has behavioral disorders, has suffered trauma, has any physical or mental disabilities, is over the age of 6, and/or is a member of a sibling group. The most common special needs seen in Haiti adoption are malnutrition, anemia, HIV, and neglect.
Not all children who reside in the orphanages, or crèches as they are referred to in Haiti, are eligible for adoption. Due to financial hardship, in many countries families will place their children in the temporary care of an orphanage or children’s home. The adoption of these children is not possible due to lack of parental consent and the rules and regulations outlined in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
For a child to be eligible for adoption in Haiti, first a Tribunal of First Instance must declare the child has been abandoned. The child will then be moved to a creche for six months before IBESR, Haiti’s Central Adoption Authority, will conduct a six-week search for the child’s biological family. If no family is found, IBESR will present the case to a local mayor who will then rule the child to be a ward of the state. Once a child is a ward of the state they are eligible for domestic adoption. Per the terms of the Hague Convention, of which Haiti is a signatory, no intercountry adoption may take place until every attempt has been made to place the child domestically. If domestic adoption fails, then the child is placed on IBESR’s intercountry adoption list.
The first step in the process of Haiti adoption is to identify an adoption agency. When selecting an agency it is important to ask the right questions, such as how long the agency has operated in Haiti, what the agency’s experiences in-country have been like, and how effectively does the agency communicate with prospective adoptive families. As Haiti is a signatory of the Hague Convention, an accredited U.S. adoption service provider must be used, a complete list of which can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. On October 1, 2016, Haiti passed a law stating each U.S. adoption service provider would be allowed to present only one dossier/application to the IBESR per month for a non-special needs adoption. Further, U.S. adoption service providers are only permitted 10 dossier/application submissions per year for special needs Haiti adoptions.
Once an agency has been selected, families will begin their home study process. A home study is essentially an overview of the prospective adoptive family’s educational, medical, financial, social, and employment history. During the home study, the family will meet with a state-licensed social worker a minimum of two to three times to discuss the family’s history and to decide what type of child the family is open to adopting. Families will also complete a number of hours of pre-adoption certification classes. The number of pre-adoption certification hours required varies from state to state but the Hague Convention requires a minimum of 20 hours of instruction on topics ranging from transracial adoption to parenting children from hard places. Typically the application and home study process take between three to six months.
Upon home study completion, families will work to assemble a dossier. A dossier is very similar to a home study and many families will have a sense of déjà vu at the process. At the same time, families will submit an I-800A form to USCIS to be approved to adopt internationally. When the dossier is completed and authenticated and USCIS approval is granted the family’s adoption service provider will translate and submit everything to IBESR, for registration. This process typically takes between two to three months. IBESR will review the family’s dossier and then, pending approval, add the prospective adoptive family to the “waiting families list.”
In Haiti adoption, prospective adoptive parents may choose the age range, health conditions (special needs or non-special needs), and gender of the child they wish to adopt. Because there is a long list of approved applicants the wait for a referral may be the longest part of the process. Many agencies list a timeline of between six to 18 months to receive a referral, though there is no specific required timeline during which IBESR must make a match. Haiti adoption law dictates that neither adoption service providers nor crèhe/orphanage directors are allowed to make a match. Any official referral of a Haitian child eligible for adoption must come from IBESR directly. Additionally, any families adopting children who are not relatives must do so from a crèche (orphanage) that has been rated a “green light” facility by IBESR.
When a match is received, IBESR will issue an Article 16 report and prospective adoptive parents will have 15 days to decide whether or not they will accept the match. Along with Article 16, families will receive a description of the child, the child’s medical history, the child’s social history, and photographs of the child. At this time many families will have their referral evaluated by an adoption medical specialist. If the prospective adoptive parents approve the match they will inform IBESR in writing, through their adoption service provider, then travel to Haiti to meet the child.
The first trip to Haiti to meet the child will last approximately 15 days. During this time, called the socialization visit, families will bond with the child, appear before a judge to give consent for the adoption to move forward, and sign all necessary paperwork at the U.S. Embassy. After the family has met the child, IBESR will issue the authorization to adopt (autorisation d’adoption). There is no required timeline for IBESR to issue this authorization and current estimates list roughly six to eight months.
Families will return to the U.S. and move on to file an I-800 with USCIS. Once USICS issues provisional approval, the family will apply for DS-260, an online visa application, on behalf of their new child. A consular officer will evaluate everything and finally issue an Article 5, which informs IBESR the prospective adoptive parents have been found suitable to adopt the intended child and the intended child has been found suitable to be adopted, per the Hague Convention guidelines. Once Article 5 is obtained, and the authorization to adopt has been obtained, the family’s dossier will move on to the local court in Haiti for adoption. While the family is awaiting court approval they can expect to receive updates and photographs of their child from their adoption service provider’s in-country representative.
Finalizing the Adoption
Once the court approves the adoption it will issue a court decree called an Acte d’Adoption, or an Adoption Act, which effectively finalizes the adoption. An attorney will file and obtain a new birth certificate for the child and apply for the child’s passport. Obtaining the child’s passport may take anywhere from two to three months. Once the child’s passport has been obtained, the adoption service provider will alert the family they are cleared to travel and the family will make plans to travel to bring their new child home.
The second trip to Haiti will last approximately six to 10 days. During this time the adoptive parents will travel to pick up their child, visit the U.S. Embassy to obtain the child’s visa so they may enter the United States, and obtain an exit letter (called travel authorization) from IBESR to allow the minor child to leave Haiti. Upon entry into the United States, the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen. Though readoption is not necessary, as Haiti is a Hague Convention country, readoption may still be a good idea. Families can expect to begin the process of readoption once they have completed their six-month post-adoption placement visit and report. The cost of Haiti adoption, including travel, is roughly $30,000–$45,000.
Upon returning home adoptive families are required to conduct post-adoption placement visits and reports in compliance with both the state of their residency and Haiti. Post-adoption reporting is important as it allows the sending country, Haiti, to see their children continue to be kept happy, healthy, and safe. Haiti adoption requires a total of nine post-adoption reports at six months after the adoptive child arrives home, one year, two years, three years, four years, five years, six years, seven years, and eight years. The first three reports must be completed by the adoption service provider. The last six reports (years three through eight) may be self-reported and submitted directly to the IBESR by the adoptive parents.
Families interested in Haiti adoption should check with both their adoption agency and the U.S. Department of State as to the current state of affairs in Haiti. As of February 2019, the Department of State lists Haiti as a Level 4 Threat due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnappings. On February 14, 2019, the Department of State recalled all non-emergency Embassy personally leading to a halt in the processing of all visas. Ongoing, widespread violence still persists in Haiti and the U.S. cautions there is limited ability to help U.S. citizens in case of emergency in Haiti. On February 25, 2019, Embassy Port-au-Price resumed processing visas for adoption cases for families currently in-country, but prospective adoptive parents are advised there are continued delays in visa processing. Families who are waiting to travel either to meet their child or to finalize their adoption are cautioned not to travel to Haiti until further notice.