Last January, Melinda Randa retired after 27 years as an adoption caseworker. She was back at work for Adoption Services Inc. in Glendale six weeks later.
“There’s too much need in the world,” said the member of St. Robert Parish, Shorewood. Now she believes there was a divine reason for her short retirement.
In December 2011, Randa got a call from her longtime friend and associate Margaret Flemming, executive director of Adoption-Link in Oak Park, Ill., for whom Randa’s company is the Wisconsin agency. Adoption-Link works with the Fondation Enfant Jesus, which maintains two facilities in Haiti that care for abandoned or orphaned children.
“She said to me, ‘Melinda, help me find families – I’ve got babies, I’ve got toddlers from Haiti, and we’re getting them placed in families within a year,’” she said. “It stayed with me, and I just couldn’t let it go. It was someone saying do this, try this.”
Randa is committed to spreading the word about the ready-to-adopt Haitian children, as well as similar orphans from the Democratic Republic of Congo who are desperately in need of homes. The Congolese adoptions are facilitated by Adoption International in Texas, run by a friend of Randa’s (for whom Adoption Services Inc. is also the Wisconsin contact).
“Because the world of international adoption has changed so much since 2008 (due to the United States’ ratification of the Hague Convention, a treaty intended to increase protection for children, birthparents and prospective adoptive families), many people think it’s dead,” said Randa. “Well, it’s not. My goal is just to get the word out there.”
Randa hosted an informational meeting at her office on Feb. 29. Along with Heather Breems of Adoption-Link, she gave presentations on the adoption programs available in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
She explained the situation in the DRC, where the capital city of Kinshasa is home to 10 million people – 5 million of them orphaned children. The DRC has been plagued in recent years by civil wars, internal strife and exploitation of natural resources. Infant mortality rate is 78 deaths for every 1,000 live births – usually due to poverty and malnutrition.
The orphanage in the DRC has toddler boys who are ready for adoption and who have been placed in their new families in a process that takes less than a year, Randa said. She stressed that travel to the DRC is not required for couples adopting; they can send a lawyer in their stead to complete the government-mandated exit interview.
“We will walk you through it step by step,” she said of the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in international adoption. “We’re with you the whole way.”
Anyone interested in learning more about adoptions from Haiti and the DRC should contact Melinda Randa at (414) 332-1800 or email@example.com.
Breems gave the presentation on the Haiti adoption program. Herself an adoptive mother to a Haitian child, she gave details on the process, which occurs through Le Fondation Enfant Jesus. Founded in 2003, this apolitical, non-government organization operates two crèche (orphanage) sites in the rural areas of Lamardelle and Kenscoff that care for orphaned, abandoned or special-needs children.
Breems noted that many UN workers choose to adopt through Le Fondation Enfant Jesus because of its unusually high standard of care for their children. Adoptions through Le Fondation are also somewhat expedited due to the organization’s good record of reuniting non-adoptable children with their birth families.
The current wait for a child from Haiti, explained Breems, is about 13 months. The children in need of homes are currently 6-12 months old, although a very few number are older than that.
The process is quicker and more flexible with special-needs children, who are less likely to be chosen by a family for adoption.
“If a child is born to an HIV-positive parent in Haiti, they are termed ‘special needs’ even if they don’t end up having the virus,” said Breems. “Their saliva contains antibodies from the virus that cause their HIV tests to come back positive. A year later, however, the same test can come back negative. So many children who are HIV-negative are still termed special needs because they tested positive at birth.”
The fees of adoption vary according to program and country, but Randa stressed that Adoption Services would help couples understand and plan for the cost. She also pointed out that the expenses of the DRC and Haiti adoption programs are comparatively low, especially for such a short wait.
“When you add up fees and travel, it often approaches $20,000,” Randa said. “And a lot of people are shocked by that. But adopting children from Russia is around $40,000; China has a four-year wait, and Guatemala is around $25,000 to $28,000. And you only wait a year for this program.”
Because not all Third World countries that have ratified The Hague Convention on International Adoption have been able to comply fully with its stipulations, adoptions between those countries and the U.S. have come to a standstill. The State Department reports that adoption rates from Guatemala dropped from 4,112 in 2008 to 754 in 2009; there were only 32 adoptions from Guatemala in 2011.
Since Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo did not ratify the Hague Convention, their adoption processes have been unaffected.
For Randa, increasing awareness in southeastern Wisconsin of the adoption opportunities in Haiti and the DRC is a mission.
“I try to start every day by asking the Lord how he wants to use me,” she said. “This just sort of hit me. Infertility is running something like 20 percent of all married couples – and these babies need a home.”