February 5, 2010

Catholic Service Agencies Serving Haitians Call For Rigorous Safeguards In Protecting Haitian Children

WASHINGTON — In a letter to three Cabinet secretaries February 4, the heads of five major Catholic agencies serving Haitian earthquake victims outlined steps that should be taken to ensure the protection of unaccompanied Haitian children in the aftermath of the January 12th earthquake. 
The leaders of Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and the International Catholic Migration Commission wrote on the topic of Haitian children, February 4, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“The compassion of the American people has been evident in their response to Haitian children who have been left alone after the earthquake,” the executives wrote.  “As social service providers with experience in handling unaccompanied children, we believe that certain processes should be established before such children are brought to the United States and placed in adoption proceedings.”
The letter outlined the following procedures to protect Haitian children:
  • The establishment of safe havens in Haiti so children would have security and proper care;
  • The assignment of child welfare experts to make best interest determinations for each child, including the best placements for children;
  • Family tracing efforts so that children could be reunited with their parents and families;
  • Placement in foster care with refugee benefits for those children whose best interest is served by relocation to the United States; and
  • Expedited consular processing for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with minor children in Haiti, as well as for those with approved petitions for family reunification.

The agency heads stressed that Haitian children who are not already matched with adoptive parents in the United States should only be brought to the United States after it is determined that it is in the interest of the child.
“Family reunification is an important goal and must be protected to the greatest extent possible, while placement with a guardian within Haiti will sometimes prove to be the appropriate course,” they wrote.  “If no family or appropriate guardian is found, and if it is further determined that it is in the child’s best interest not to remain in Haiti, the child should be considered for international placement.”
The executives concluded that, in the long-term, reconstruction funds should include resources to the Government of Haiti to provide protection to unaccompanied children who remain in Haiti.
Read the full text of the letter. 

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