Local families face infinite adoption delay from Congolese government
By Nancy Edwards
Like any other mother that has adopted children from overseas, three local women have completed the typical lengthy, rigorous process to welcome their new family members.
Background checks were successfully completed. Eager parents bonded with their kids after a long flight abroad. Rooms at home have been painted blue or pink and filled with toys and stuffed animals.
Birthdays have been celebrated. Older siblings proudly draw pictures of their new brothers and sisters.
The only difference is that the children have not come home. And the parents don’t know when they will.
An interrupted journey
Amanda Larner, AJ Hibbert and Heather Long are friends that have bonded through their journey of adopting. The women felt called to add to their families through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country located in the African Great Lakes region of Central Africa.
The families worked with adoption agencies while going through background investigations. All the steps required to legally adopt from the country, including passing required classes, had been taken. US visas were issued. Parents and children were ready to become a permanent family.
The last official step was the issue of an exit letter, an obligatory document needed before the children left their native country.
In late September, the Congolese government suspended the release of an exit letter, due to concerns over falsified documents, child abandonment or abuse by adoptive parents. The sudden decision prevented hundreds of children from uniting with their new families, indefinitely.
“I never would have imagined that we’d see our boys grow up through pictures,” Amanda, 32, said. She and her husband, Daniel, also 32, have two biological children: Cecilia, 4, and Sebastian, 2.
The Larners decided to adopt after son, Sebastian, was born, and were in the process of adopting Rosalie, 7, Malachi, 2, and Dominic, 2, when they received news of the suspended adoptions.
“My daughter (Rosalie) is 7 and not in school,” Amanda said. “There are clothes that they’ll never get to wear and so much that they’ll never get to do.”
Like the Larner family, AJ, 36, and her husband, Chris, communicate with their son Isaac Bahati, 2, with photos. “I try to send Isaac duplicates so he will have a sense of sameness when he gets home,” AJ said. “Our only connection to Isaac is pictures and care packages.”
Missing their siblings
“Adoption affects older siblings too,” AJ said. The Hibberts have a 9-year-old biological child, Elizabeth, who is excited about having a brother. “She and her Girl Scout troop 1675 represented Congo as part of World Thinking Day. I was reduced to tears because I was so proud of her as a big sister but my heart hurt because I knew she missed Isaac as much as we did.”
Heather and her husband, Brad, are also waiting to give their children, biological daughter Madeline, 5, and Harper, a 20-month-old girl they adopted from the Congo in July, a baby brother.
“We learned in February that Harper has a biological brother,” Heather said.
The Longs met Harper’s brother, Ethan, at 10 days old. Ethan is now 12 weeks.
Heather, 31, will become a big sister as well: her parents are also adopting a girl from the DRC.
“We went through the adoption process at the same time,” she said. “My (new) sister is the same age as my older daughter. I’m so excited.”
As the families hope, pray and wait, weeks have turned into months. Some families have already lost children in orphanages to diseases or malnutrition. Fortunately, for the three Fishers families, their children have better care in foster homes, and their adoption agencies are communicating with them as often as possible to ensure the children are doing well. However, frustration with the adoption delay remains.
“Up until now, we’ve not said anything and stayed quiet in hopes getting our children,” Amanda said. “We wanted to hide, but we’re not getting our children home. Friends have decided to help us be brave.”
These friends of families waiting to bring their children home have written Congress—more than 111,000 letters have been sent thus far—through the following web site: http://www.petition2congress.com/14960/please-help-resolve-pending-adoptions-from-democratic-republic-co/.
State senators and congressmen have taken notice. Senators Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly, as well as U.S. Reps. Andre Carson and Susan Brooks have all signed a congressional letter to appeal to the DRC.
“It was the first time I felt someone really cared and would try to help us,” Amanda said.
The Larner family, meanwhile, will travel to the Congo to meet with the three children they are anxious to bring home someday—all while keeping the faith.
“I don’t take one minute for granted; that’s the gift,” Amanda said. “I don’t know if I’d make it through without faith. It’s a huge blessing.”
Adoptions Process (from mljadoptions.com)
Step 1: Gather Initial Information
Receive initial information about international adoption by completing an Information Request via mljadoptions.com.
Step 2: Become an MLJ Adoptions Family
Complete and submit MLJ Adoptions’ International Adoption Application and application fee for pre-screening and approval and submit materials.
Step 3: Home Study
Receive a guide explaining the home study process. Collect and submit the required documents, including background checks, letters of recommendation, financial documents, etc. Meet with your Home Study Assistant—at least one visit will occur in your home.
Step 4: Adoption Preparation Education
Begin the required 10-20 hours of pre-adoption educational training. Your education is personalized based on your family situation and the country from which you are adopting.
Step 5: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Begin the immigration approval and international process for adoption with your program director. Receive information on obtaining fingerprints after acceptance by USCIS.
Step 6: Dossier Compilation
Start the dossier after completion of your home study. Instructions and forms for the dossier will be provided to you on your Client Care page. Documents must be certified/authenticated/apostilled as required by the country from which you are adopting.
Step 7: Dossier Submission
Submit your completed dossier to MLJ Adoptions. MLJ Adoptions arranges to have your dossier translated and sent to the appropriate international officials.
Step 8: Referral
Referral information may include pictures, medical reports, social history, date of birth, etc., as permitted by the country. Schedule a recommended consultation with an international Adoption Medical Specialist to best prepare for the child’s arrival. After you have a referral, you will petition USCIS to issue an orphan visa for your child.
In the case of the Congo, this takes approximately 6 months because the embassy investigates each case to ensure children meet the definition of an orphan.
Step 9: Travel
Receive a Travel Guidebook containing information needed prior to travel. Receive travel dates for visit and/or to pick up your child from MLJ Adoptions. Work with country staff while traveling to coordinate attendance at various required appointments.
Step 10: Post-Adoption
Completing a Post Adoption Report (PAR) is required by MLJ Adoptions and the child’s country of origin. A home visit will typically be required. These reports are submitted to the child’s country of origin.
Complete the legal process of readoption in your respective state of residence. The state accepts the child’s foreign adoption decree as if the child had been adopted in your state so that he or she may receive the same rights and benefits as a child who had been adopted in your state and will also allow your child to obtain an in-state birth certificate.
Step 11: Support Services
Seek support as needed once your child is home. Counseling, support calls, and support groups are available to assist your family with the transition.