Adoption delays causing silent suffering


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalists DEREK RASOR and ERIN COKER

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 10:25 PM

Updated Friday, May 10 at 7:12 AM

AUSTIN -- They speak a different language, but it's easy to understand what they want. They are children in Haiti, Central America, and Asia who all want parents.

Parents, just like Michael and Kimberly Stewart in Austin. The couple discovered their son, Kelly, in Haiti a few years ago.

“I got to the bottom of the stairs and looked across the toddler room and saw him,” said Michael, talking about one of the first times he met Kelly in a Haiti orphanage.

After prayer, piles of paperwork and thousands of dollars in fees later, the Haiti orphanage approved moving forward with his adoption.

Two years later though, Kelly remains stuck thousands of miles away from the two people he considers his parents.

Kimberly says visiting him every few months helps, but it's confusing to their son.

"These trips are wonderful, and I wouldn't not go because you're bonding. But the more you bond, the harder it gets to say bye because you're family and you realize it's not right and he realizes it's not right," Kelly said.

Austin parents Maggie and Chris Rometty filed to adopt their daughter, Vania, from Guatemala in 2007.

"We were in the hotel and I remember getting ready and being so nervous, so nervous and we got the call that she was there," said Maggie, describing the first day she met Vania.

Her bedroom in Austin is full of dolls and pictures, but their daughter has never seen it.

The Romettys have been waiting nearly six years to bring Vania home from Guatemala. They blame a lengthy adoption process for the delays.

Their visits are bittersweet.

“Before I left she said to me, ‘If I'm going with you, then why am I still here?’ And, I don't have an answer for that. There's no good answer for that," Maggie said, as she wiped away tears.

According to U.S. State Department records reviewed by the KVUE Defenders, international adoptions have dropped more than 50 percent in the past few years. From 19,608 in 2007 to 9,319 in 2011.

Adoption agencies say the average adoption process takes nearly three years and cost about $28,000.

"These children matter and that they deserve our attention,” said Craig Juntunen, a film producer on a mission to improve the international adoption process.

After adopting three children from Haiti a few years ago, Juntunen produced a documentary titled "Stuck," that puts a spotlight on the problem. He now travels the country on a bus to raise awareness.

He says most issues centers on a multi-national policy called the Hague Treaty. Originally designed to prevent human trafficking, parents say the treaty actually causes unneeded delays by forcing agencies to spend years trying to find biological parents who gave their children up.

“What if, instead of 33 months, it took nine months? And, what if instead of $28,000 it costs maybe $7,000? How many more children would find their way into a family? While I don't have the exact number, the answer is a lot," Juntunen said.

Parents, like Maggie, say they're missing out on precious moments.

"We missed the first lost tooth and of course we missed all the first walking," Maggie said.

Juntunen plans to petition Congress to amend the Hague treaty. His goal is to get one million signatures and present it to the president and Congress in Washington, D.C. on May 17th.

Click here for the petition. Click here for more information on the Hague Convention.