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'Orphan' efforts may be premature

Plan announced by Miami social service group may not be best for children, others say

BY SIMON GRAF | BALTIMORE | January 20, 2010

Of the many ways U.S. disaster response organizations are providing aid to Haitians affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake, a group in Miami wants to bring some of the affected children out of the disaster zone, a move that other organizations say is premature. Meanwhile, 53 Haitian orphans have arrived in Pittsburgh after the U.S. government announced it would let such orphans into the country on a case-by-case basis.


Less than 24 hours after the disaster struck, the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, pledged to bring in Haitian orphans and provide permanent homes for them. The announcement brought back for many in the Miami area memories of of the Archdiocese's largely secret efforts in the early 1960s to bring about 14,000 Cuban children to the United States in what is now known as "Operation Pedro Pan." 


The so-called "Peter Pan" program has elicited a number of comments on the Archdiocese's site -- from as far away as Boston -- from people who want to adopt the Haitian children.


"We are waiting on news from you for the Peter Pan flights to bring Haitian children to Miami. I am happy and anxious to adopt a baby," a person, who left the name 'Cristina', wrote on the Web site.


Christopher de Bono, a spokesman for UNICEF, said Wednesday that it could take months before officials are able to sort out whether Haiti children are in fact have been orphaned by the earthquake or if their families merely have been displaced.


"In our experience it's neither good for the child nor good for their community for children to be removed in the middle of a disaster area. It's just not the right way to do things," he said. "What the children in Haiti need right now are urgent needs, help providing food, water and shelter in Haiti."


De Bono said past disasters, such as hurricanes, have forced some parents to seek care for their children in orphanages even though the children are not "orphans."


"There are a lot of children in institutions in Haiti, what we would in a loose way call 'orphanages,'" he said. "Many of them are not orphans. A lot of children are placed by their parents in orphanages when their parents feel they are not able to feed them or give them health care they need. That's a temporary arrangement."


Randy McGorty with Catholic Charities Legal Services did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. An e-mail message to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami Inc. was not immediately returned on Wednesday.


On Monday, the government announced what it called a humanitarian parole policy that allows some Haitian orphans to come to the United States temporarily to "ensure that they receive the care they need" as part of the government's international recovery efforts. That resulted in 53 Haitian orphans arriving in Pittsburgh on Wednesday after Pennsylvania worked with federal officials to clear legal hurdles to bring the children to the U.S.


The U.S. humanitarian parole policy affects children legally confirmed as orphans by the Haitian government who are being adopted by U.S. citizens and children who previously were matched to prospective adoption parents in the U.S.


"We are committed to doing everything we can to help reunite families in Haiti during this very difficult time," said Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano in a statement. "While we remain focused on family reunification in Haiti, authorizing the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States will allow them to receive the care they need here."


The department said Napolitano is able to grant humanitarian parole to bring "otherwise inadmissable individuals" to the country for urgent humanitarian reasons or other emergencies.


De Bono said UNICEF has no problems with officials transporting Haitian orphans who were properly vetted prior to the earthquake by Haitian and U.S. authorities to determine if they are orphans.


But he said it's too early to consider relocating other children out of the country.


"I completely understand the reaction of people wanting to bring those people (children) into their homes. It's just not in the best interest of the children at the moment," he said.


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What makes a community resilient?

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

More links on Disaster Recovery

More links on Children


Related Links:

Archdiocese of Miami

Department of Homeland Security statement regarding Haitian orphans

Operation Pedro Pan

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