Friday, September 6, 2013

Bekah's Story: Too many red flags to ignore

In April/ early May of 2012, my husband and I started the process to adopt a child with special needs through Voice of the Orphan. Our contact was Heather Elyse, the founder of Giving Hope Rescue Mission. I spoke with Heather several times by phone and email as we considered signing a contract.
She was very passionate and well-spoken, very charming.

We filled out an application with Voice of the Orphan, located in Indiana and found a fairly large and reputable agency in our home state to complete our homestudy.

In May 2012, I had a conversation with Heather by phone.  She asked me what home study agency we were using.  I told her and she seemed frustrated, said that she had some bad experiences with them, that they were very difficult to work with, and encouraged us not to use them. This was strange since the agency has a good and long-standing reputation in our state and as far as we knew Heather had not been working as an adoption facilitator for very long. 

As the conversation went on, Heather suggested that she was hoping that we could find a small agency or independent social worker to do our home study.  When I asked why that would be better, she said that it would be best if we could find someone who would be more "flexible".  She wanted us to leave our biological child out of our home study, so that we wouldn't have to go through the dispensation process in Haiti.

I told her that we planned to continue with the agency we had chosen and that we would not leave our bio child off our home study.  She then proceeded to ask me if I knew of any independent social workers in the area who might be willing to be more flexible in the way they write their home study, to help get kids home faster.  She stated that she wanted to find someone locally who would partner with her, so she (Heather) could write the home studies exactly how she wanted, and the social worker would sign off on it.

She stated that she had an adoptive family who were "famous Christian authors" in Colorado and that they were starting the adoption process too, and that she was looking for a social worker who would "help them get their kids home faster."

I informed her that, no, I didn't know of any such social worker. Privately I was shocked by this request. We weren’t sure if she was actually having families falsify information in their homestudies or if this was just an idea she had. We foolishly chalked it up to a “this is Haiti” type of situation.

The next month or two, we went back and forth with Heather regarding a match with a little girl from the Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche. There were a few waiting girls with special needs that she talked to us about, but they turned out to be "unadoptable" after a short while. We asked but weren’t able to receive any specific health or social history or “referral” for any of the available girls we discussed.

In July 2012 Heather sent me a text message stating that she had "found our girl".  According to Heather, a 2 year old HIV-infected girl had been dropped of at a hospital nearby and she was very sick and dehydrated.  We were matched with her almost immediately and told that we needed to have our completed dossier in Haiti by August 10.

We worked like crazy to get it done and to Haiti in time.  It was a huge and frustrating rush but again, we thought it was just a Haiti thing. 

We were told that our daughter arrived in care without a name. So we named her “E”, hung her photo in our home, began to love her and plan for her. Our two children became excited about the possibility of a little sister.

Our dossier arrived to Haiti “in time” and then, according to Heather, we passed through pre-IBESR in a couple weeks and she tried to submit us to IBESR (one of the most important first steps in a Haitian adoption) in late August 2012.  For unknown reasons she said that IBESR refused to accept our dossier and several others near the end of August.  Over the following months, IBESR opened for brief periods of time and were accepting dossiers, but each time (August and October 2012 and January 2013) Heather stated that she attempted to submit our dossier, but it was denied. We asked for an explanation but could not get a response from her.
We never received official information from Voice of the Orphan (our contracted agency) or Heather about little “E.” We never received any medical information, any information about birth family, or any sort of relinquishment information.  At one point, Heather said that one of the American doctors that volunteers at the creche was there when she arrived at the hospital and took care of her.  She told us that we could contact him directly and hear her story from him.  But she would never tell us his name, or give us any contact info.

After we were matched, signed our contract and paid half of our adoption fees up front, Heather became very difficult to reach – rarely responding to emails or texts. We were told we could not visit “E” in Haiti because no visits were allowed while Haiti was “going Hague.” Meanwhile we were aware that VOTO staff and leadership were allowed to visit their children at the creche. 

We admittedly became defeated and didn’t know what to do. We decided to just watch and wait.

By early February 2013, we had been a part of a private Voice of the Orphan adoptive families facebook group (moderated by Heather and other "staff") for 9 months and had seen enough of Heather's lies and cruelty with our own eyes. Her posts were at times threatening, there was a sense of spiritual abuse towards those who asked questions, and it seemed to us that very few adoptions were progressing. “E” was almost never included in photo updates and we knew almost nothing about her or our adoption despite having paid half of our adoption fees as well as monthly sponsorship of $300 since we had been matched.

We began to realize, with VERY sinking hearts, that our adoption was going nowhere. And we did not want to be involved with this organization any longer.  

Over the course of the months we were involved with Heather and VOTO we saw too many red flags to ignore:

--I attended a baby shower for Heather in Colorado and were shocked to watch a video of Heather’s 7 adopted children reenacting the trauma of their various abuses at the hands of their birthparents. The video was shown in front of a packed chapel of 75-100 people.  The children seemed to range in age from 7-15 years old.

--We had seen Heather threaten to cancel adoptions, stating that she was "known for canceling adoptions", seemingly because certain people had asked too many questions or made her angry.

--We saw a disturbing video on the VOTO Facebook group, of a birth mom at the Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche relinquishing her child, while Heather filmed her and asked her "You want your baby to go to America, Oui?  America, Oui?"

--We heard Heather talk on the VOTO facebook group about a group of birth mothers that banded together to try to get their children back.  Heather's response was to go "rescue" all the children back from their birth families, and post pictures of the birthmothers "saying sorry" to all the poor adoptive parents who had their children stolen.

--We heard Heather's strange stories on the Facebook page of children who died at the creche, whether murdered on the streets, or were murdered by birth parents.

--We saw Heather post on the VOTO Facebook group that she wanted families to add an extra child to their adoption, so that they could get them to the US to be adopted by other families who did not qualify under Haitian law for adoption.  She stated that Tim Rowe would “fix things up legally” in the U.S.

--We saw Heather post on the Facebook group that she charged $700 each time a family visited the creche, because that was how she got more money for the creche, and she would not give receipts for this money.  This money did not go for room and board during the visit--families paid that out of pocket.  All the while, we were paying $300 per month for supporting the child we were matched with.

(a note regarding the VOTO Facebook page:  Heather used the facebook page as the primary means of communications with families in process.  Many of the things that Heather posted that were among our more significant concerns, were posted and then removed relatively quickly by someone who wisely realized their incriminating nature.  However, as you may know, if you subscribe by email to a facebook page, all of those posts can be sent to your email, leaving you with full documentation of everything that was said.  So some families, who weren't receiving emails of these posts, often did not realize or see that they were ever posted)

There's more to the story, but ultimately, we decided in March 2013 that we would no longer be moving forward with our adoption.  

We were devastated.  We pray daily for our sweet little “E.” At one point Heather posted on facebook that all of the babies with HIV had been “healed by Jesus.” We are not sure what that means as we were never provided with information on E’s HIV care. We hope that means that she is healthy and being well cared for.

Our kids pray for her and still talk about her all the time. Our hearts continue to grieve for this little girl.