Couple able to adopt quickly in wake of ruinous earthquake

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Two-year-old Jamesley Louis flashes a rare smile on a night when he’s tired and insisting on being held by his adoptive mom, Jessica Stephens. Jamesley survived the earthquake but was suffering from dehydration and conjunctivitis in both eyes when the Stephens picked him up in Florida.

At the outset of 2010, Greg and Jessica Stephens thought the Haitian orphan they were adopting wouldn’t call Grand Junction home for at least another year.

Then came Jan. 12 and the earthquake that devastated Haiti, particularly its capital, Port-au-Prince, and the Stephenses immediately were left to wonder if Jamesley, the child they were trying to adopt, was alive. He was.

Then the question arose about the status of the adoption. How would it be affected? Would the wait become longer?

The answer was good news. While the adoption wouldn’t be official until much later, they would take custody of Jamesley as foster parents within weeks, thanks to the United States government’s efforts to expedite adoptions of children from Haitian orphanages. For a family to qualify for the fast-tracked process, adoption proceedings had to have begun before the earthquake hit. The Stephenses qualified.

But the ups and downs were far from over in the process that ultimately ended with Jamesley in their loving home.

To say the least, the last few weeks have been chaotic and frustrating for the Stephenses, who were told nearly two weeks ago to be in Denver to pick up Jamesley. But that coincided with news out of Haiti that the expedition of adoptions was yielding to a slower approach.

Still, when the Stephenses headed to Denver along with Canyon View Vineyard Church senior pastor Kirk Yamaguchi and his wife, who also were adopting a Haitian orphan, they thought they were going to pick up Jamesley, Greg Stephens said.

“Through a series of events, he wasn’t on that plane,” Greg Stephens said. “Not only was he not on the plane, but the president of Haiti was requesting all adoptions would be approved individually by him. It was a real low point for us. Not only was he not on the plane, but the process is clogged up.”

Devastated, the Stephenses decided to visit Greg’s parents in Pueblo, where they got a midnight call that restored hope, but with a few more hurdles to clear.

“Our adoption agency said, ‘We don’t know how, but your son is in Orlando (Fla.), and we need you there in the morning to claim custody,’ ” Greg Stephens said. “We were on Orbitz at 3 in the morning finding one-way flights. Then we took a taxi to Sanford (Fla.) to a holding facility.”

That was more than a week ago. The Stephenses flew to Florida, picked up Jamesley and stayed there for a day. They flew back to Colorado and stayed a couple days in Pueblo, then returned to Grand Junction last Friday.

The Stephenses, despite the whirlwind of hope and despair they encountered in recent weeks, were fortunate to bring home Jamesley. Adoptions were suspended until further notice two weeks ago by U.S. government officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of the Haitian government’s concern about children being removed from the country illegally. Now, the Haitian government is allowing the departure of orphaned children only if their paperwork has been examined and approved.

The Stephenses are friends with another Grand Junction family that is on the other end of the adoption spectrum, waiting to receive three children from Haiti, even though they started the adoption process before the earthquake. The expedited timelines for taking custody have been replaced by uncertainty and waiting.

“The children coming in right now from Haiti has reached its end,” said Dixie van de Flier Davis, executive director of the Adoption Exchange Organization of Denver. “Families interested in adopting there are going to have a long wait.

“I think what is going to happen after today may depend on the orphanage as well as the government. There is a lot of concern with trafficking. (The Haitian government) is paying close attention to it. There could be some changes.”

The desire of people to adopt Haitian children is similar to the sentiment many Americans feel after any major crisis or disaster affecting children, she said.

“I’m remembering all the institutionalized children in Romania in 1990,” van de Flier Davis said. “There was a flood of Americans and Europeans who wanted to rescue the children.”

Emotions run high, and intentions are good in such instances, but van de Flier Davis said care must be taken to do what is best for the children.

“There are opportunities for crossing the ethical lines, and things can get out of hand if it’s not regulated and monitored,” she said.

The most important question that must be answered by people who want to help is: What’s best for the child?

“It is a fine line,” van de Flier Davis said, adding avenues other than adoption can be equally beneficial for the children. “There are people working in the arena that are qualified to do this work. The best way to help is to support those organizations.”

Concerned people can do that by donating financially and volunteering, she said.


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