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Haiti adoption inquiries surge, but is now the best time?

Peacekeepers help out in Haiti following this week's earthquake. Adopting children in the wake of a natural disaster can be extremely tricky, as well as raising some ethical issues.

Marco Dormino

The devastation created by Haiti's massive earthquake is prompting countless Canadians to open their wallets for relief efforts. But some are hoping to go even further by rescuing newly orphaned children and giving them a home in Canada.

Adoption agencies in Canada say they are experiencing a spike in inquiries from people who want to know how they can adopt Haitian children.

"The phone's been ringing, that's for sure," said Roberta Galbraith, executive director of Canadian Advocate for the Adoption of Children, a Manitoba-based adoption agency. Also "swamped" with about 700 requests is God's Littlest Angels, a U.S.-based agency that operates an orphanage in Haiti and has status as a registered charity in Canada, co-ordinator Jean Bell said in an e-mail.

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While these inquiries are well-meaning, adopting children in the wake of a natural disaster or other calamitous event can be extremely tricky, as well as raising some ethical issues. Adoption workers also say that would-be adoptive parents should be prepared to settle in for longer than normal waits.

But many experts say there should be a moratorium on new adoption applications, at least until the after the chaos settles.

The Joint Council on International Children's Services, a U.S.-based advocacy group, said adopting or

airlifting children out of Haiti right now could create a serious risk of fraud, abuse or trafficking. In addition, such efforts could undermine reunification with a child's family.

"Every effort must be made in a timely fashion to locate living parents and extended family members," says a statement on the group's website. "Many children, who might appear to be orphaned, may in fact be only temporarily separated from their family. Once the situation in Haiti stabilizes and timely reunification has taken place, adoption may be an option for the children who remain outside of permanent parental care."

The spike in adoption inquiries isn't unique to Haiti's earthquake, said Lorne Welwood, executive director of Hope Adoption Services in Abbotsford, B.C. Every time there's a major disaster, such as the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004, people interested in adopting swamp agencies with calls. But many don't realize that emergencies usually make already-lengthy adoption processes more onerous. Efforts to find a child's family members could take months. And even if children are eligible for adoption, many child advocates say that removing them from their home environment during a disaster could be traumatizing.

"I think the interest is good [but]I think it's somewhat naive and misguided," Mr. Welwood said.

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International adoptions have been popular in Canada for years. While a large number of Canadians have adopted Haitian children in the past, that figure has been eclipsed in recent years by adoptions from countries such as China. Ms. Galbraith said it's a trend that could be explained, at least in part, by the onerous restrictions and long waiting periods that usually come with Haitian adoptions (although many other countries have also tightened their rules in recent years).

The federal government has said it will give priority treatment to Haitian children being adopted by Canadians in order to ensure they can be united with their new families as quickly as possible. Other countries, such as the United States and the Netherlands, have also sped up pending adoptions. Just yesterday, Dutch authorities sent a chartered plane to Haiti to pick up about 100 children in the process of being adopted.

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