Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brenda's Story: We lost a year to a scam

I never thought I would be in this position.  I have read about people being scammed or cheated through their adoption process and I felt very blessed to believe I had found a good Christian organization to work with so I wouldn’t have to worry about that.  This Christian organization, Giving Hope Rescue Mission, was even one of the voices speaking out against corruption in the Haitian adoption system. Unfortunately we ended up in the very position we never wanted to be in - feeling scammed.

We began our adoption journey one year ago, in September of 2012, following a visit to Haiti.  Our daughter lives in Haiti and we went down to visit. We stayed at the orphanage she works for (unrelated to Giving Hope.)  

That was my first trip to Haiti and my husband’s second trip.  I did not go there with the intent to adopt but God had other plans and we felt compelled to bring four of the girls from the orphanage into our family.  Those of you who have felt this call know that it is a strong and persistent call that cannot be ignored.  We began to pursue this adoption with a passion and were on a tight timeframe given that our oldest adopted daughter would be turning 16 (the cutoff age for adoption from Haiti.) My husband found Voice of the Orphan (VOTO) online through a blog post that he read by Heather Elyse, the director of Giving Hope Rescue Mission (GHRM).  She was speaking of how she was fighting the injustices of the adoption process in Haiti and we were drawn to her passion and her love of God and the children of Haiti. 

On September 19, 2012 we sent an initial application to Voice of the Orphan who advertise on their web site that  Voice of the Orphan is committed to providing ethical and God honoring adoptions in Haiti. We are guided by the Bible and believe that caring for widows and orphans is a clear obligation of the Christian Church. Our goal is to process adoptions with integrity, honesty and compassion.” 

They also note that “Voice of the Orphan has been able to help families process the adoption of a child in other orphanages (more information coming soon). These situations will be evaluated on a case by case basis.  If you need more information about this we invite you to contact us.” 

This second paragraph was what we were looking for since the children we planned to adopt were in another orphanage.  

At that time we were not aware of the new draft adoption laws being discussed in Haiti that would limit which agencies and orphanages families could adopt from.  VOTO assured us that they could process our adoption and that Heather Elyse was a miracle worker in Haiti and could get adoptions processed much faster than anyone else. Their explanation for this fast processing was because Heather supposedly had a strong relationship with IBESR (Haitian Children’s Services).  They told us that the whole process would take 9 months to a year.  We were very excited. 

We have since learned that VOTO was not even licensed as an adoption agency in their state of Indiana until June 2013.

On October 11th  2012 VOTO accepted our adoption application and told us we could begin preparing our dossier.  We had not received a contract from VOTO yet but they kept reassuring us that we would receive it.  This was finally received on January 3, 2013.  I’m not sure why it took so long to just get a contract but during this time we were able to complete our dossier preparation.  We were just waiting for VOTO to give our Home Study agency their license number to put on our home study so we could get it authenticated.   At this time we were told that IBESR was closing down to get ready to switch to the Hague policies so nothing would be done until they re-opened after the first of the year.  Once they re-opened under the Hague laws we would be able to enter the adoption system in Haiti.

On January 13th, 2013 we received a call from our dossier coach at VOTO stating that IBESR was going to open for a short time to take dossiers under the old policy. We were told to rush our documents to them as soon as possible.  They told us to have the homestudy completed without VOTO's license number since we were filing this as a non-Hague homestudy and a license number was not needed.   We spent the next few days running around like crazy people trying to get the county and state authentications done and overnight our paperwork to someone at VOTO to take to the Haitian consulate in Chicago for authentication. We were told that someone was traveling to Haiti on February 1st and would take our dossier there to be submitted. We were so excited that things were moving.

On February 7th we got a call saying that the laws had changed and that the Haitian government would only allow each agency to submit one dossier for one adoptive family per month.  VOTO had told us that previously Heather had been able to submit 20 dossiers a month.  This was a serious blow and we were disappointed to say the least. 

On March 11th I received my first phone call from Heather Elyse.  She spent almost an hour with me on the phone answering my many questions and assuring me that she could process our adoption even though our children were not in Giving Hope Rescue Mission and even though she could only submit one adoptive family per month for adoption.  

She said it was fine to have our children remain at their previous orphanage and that Giving Hope Rescue Mission could take custody of the girls in name/paperwork only. We told her at this time that we were planning to adopt all 4 girls and gave her the information on the girls and the orphanage where they lived.  She informed us at that time that this constituted us being “pre-matched” with these 4 girls.  She said they would begin processing the girl’s adoption paperwork in Haiti.  She said she loved our hearts and was so excited that we were willing to take 4 children because she had never had anyone willing to adopt so many besides herself. 

When I told her the age of the children and that the oldest was then 15 years old, she immediately informed me that we would need to change her age.  She said that it was not a big deal and that we just needed to have her father go file for a new birth certificate in the town where they live and say that she is only 13.  She said they could give the father money to do it but that we should make it very clear to him that he could never say that we told him to do it or that he received any money to do it.  She said it was normal process in Haiti. 

The next day, after prayerfully considering what Heather had told us, I emailed Heather back and told her that we were not comfortable forging a birth certificate for our oldest child.  She never responded to that email.

It was during this conversation that we first heard from Heather that Voice of the Orphan was no longer an approved agency to process adoptions in Haiti, although I am still unclear as to whether or not they were ever an approved agency.   

Heather told us that she was working hard at trying to get IBESR to allow Voice of the Orphan to continue to submit adoption dossiers.  She gave us the option to switch to MLJ Adoptions (an adoption agency she had just begun to partner with) but told us that it would be much more expensive and that MLJ Adoptions was "all about the money and not really interested in the children’s well being."  

We opted to not jump ship and to continue in our contract with Voice of the Orphan believing that Heather would get approval from IBESR to continue working with VOTO soon.

Heather also came up with a plan at that time to have us write a letter of appeal to IBESR explaining our circumstances and that we had tried to begin this process before the policy changes and see if they would accept our dossier directly.  We were planning a trip to Haiti on March 19th so the plan was to get an appointment with IBESR while we were there. 

We drafted the appeal letter and were waiting to find out what we were supposed to do with it and if we were supposed to go into IBESR when we got there.  I emailed Heather, and 3 other members of VOTO to try to get an answer before heading to Haiti.  I got a reply on March 17th saying to hold off on the appeal letter and that there was another window of opportunity opening up with IBESR and that MLJ Adoptions could submit our dossier right away. We were so excited that they were willing to do that!

On March 19th as I sat in the airport waiting for our connecting flight to Haiti, I messaged a member of the VOTO staff and was told that MLJ Adoptions had refused to submit our dossier because our children were not living at the Giving Hope Rescue Mission crèche.  We were confused and devastated.  We were about to see our girls and now did not have any good news to report. 

When we returned home to the US we emailed asking for updates and to see what we should do now.  On March 28th we received an email from Heather saying that they found other options for us so we would be able to “adopt this year” and they would give us more information soon.   On April 9th I received a call from VOTO stating that MLJ Adoptions had agreed to take our case and would work with us even though our children were not in GHRM creche. Things were getting confusing.

On April 15th we received an email from VOTO that was sent to all of their clients who were waiting to be submitted to IBESR for Haitian adoptions.  It outlined 3 options for their clients.  Option 1 was to transfer to MLJ Adoptions, Option 2 was to wait for VOTO to receive Hague accreditation in the fall and then try to complete an adoption and Option 3 was to find another agency that would take us.  Since we believed we had already been accepted by MLJ Adoptions and were being submitted by them to IBESR I was confused as to why I had received this letter.

I called MLJ adoptions that very day and had my first conversation with "L" the director of Haitian adoptions for MLJ.  L had no idea who I was! And MLJ Adoptions had never heard of our case and had never agreed to take us on or submit us to IBESR. I was shocked.  

I couldn’t understand why this was happening when I had specifically asked VOTO if they were sure that MLJ had agreed to take us under the special circumstance of our children being in a different orphanage.  They assured me they had.  

L asked me to forward her the email I had received and then informed me that the information on that email from VOTO was incorrect.  L told me that she would attempt to contact Heather to find out why Heather had given us this misinformation. She said that she often had a hard time contacting Heather.  I told her that Heather had told us that she was waiting on MLJ to complete the contract work or she would have had us submitted already.  

This was the first of many contradictory stories we would receive, the lies appearing to come from Heather and Voice of the Orphan.

I also must note at this time that L was very professional and accommodating.  Through our conversation that day and in all future conversations with her, I found L to be a caring, compassionate person and an advocate for orphans.  This is very contrary to the picture that Heather painted of MLJ Adoptions.  

We spent the next couple of weeks trying to contact Heather by phone, text, and email.  On May 1st 2013 my husband sent a thank you email to Heather for the work she is doing in Haiti.  This finally got her to respond to us.  She sent us a glowing email telling us “I just want your girls home in your arms?  I am cheering you all on, and am willing to stand beside you and fight so they can come home.  I also put in a good word for you all at MLJ – explaining it is critical we get your dossier in ASAP.”  She ended the email saying “I am busy---but never to busy to serve my adoptive parents.”

On May 14th Heather sent a text stating that she was preparing our 4 girls’ adoption documents and asked us for their orphanage contact information again.  We texted her back and asked when we would be submitted and she said “either this Friday or next Monday”. 

On May 21st we received an email from Heather in response to our inquiries stating that IBESR was not taking any agency dossiers at that time but reassuring us that we were first on the list to go in when they started taking them.

On May 25th I received a call from Heather stating that IBESR would never accept a submission for 4 children that were not siblings.  We were devastated.  We had never been given even a hint of this during any of our previous correspondence with VOTO or Heather even though all of them were aware the entire time that we were trying to adopt 4 children.  

Heather acted like we should have know this would be the case but since we don’t know anything about adoptions we were completely taken by surprise.  

She asked us to pick which two we would like to submit first and if they would allow 3 which child would be next.  She vowed to fight to get all 4 but assured us that if she couldn’t get them all submitted at once that as soon as we exited IBESR with the first ones, we could immediately re-enter with the remaining children.  We have since learned that this is not possible.

On June 4th after texting Heather to receive an update, since we were assured we were being submitted, we received this text:

"Let me reassure you:

You are not being ignored.
… Neither is your case.

You are with an agency so there will be no issue with getting you in…

My issue is: I feel like if you want me to get you in tomorrow I can-but I will only be with two or three girls.  If you can please give us some time to fight your case—I would feel better knowing we did all we could to get all four in;);)

I promise once you have Ibesr numbers we will shout it from the rooftops

I simply adore you guys and promise to do your adoption with honor !!!  Excited about this!!! I need like 200 more families like you all."

This was the last response we ever received from Heather.  We sent repeated emails and texts but never received a reply.  L at MLJ was also trying to obtain information for us.
We received an email from Heather's assistant via Heather’s email stating that Heather was still trying to submit for all 4 girls and that we should email back in a couple of weeks if we hadn't heard anything.

L at MLJ went to Haiti to meet with GHRM in July and called us on July 18th when she returned from there to inform us that Heather was not able to get all 4 girls into IBESR but that we were matched with the oldest 2. 

Through some reading of things online we realized that we needed to get our immigration application filed before our oldest turned 16 so we began asking questions on what we needed to do.  During this process we found out that Giving Hope Rescue Mission was no longer a licensed creche in Haiti or able to submit dossiers.  

We also found out that our children’s dossiers (adoption paperwork) were never even started.  Nothing had been done for our adoption from September 2012-July 2013.

We began hearing other things about GHRM which prompted us to contact MLJ Adoptions to ask some very pointed questions. 

I spoke to L at MLJ on July 29th and she told me that one of the reasons for her visit to Haiti was to look into the accusations being made against Heather.  She assured me that she had met with Heather and was confident that the accusations were false and that there were no problems with GHRM.  She told me that Heather had assured her that she could submit dossiers and that we were matched with our 2 oldest girls.  Also, in an email dated July 23rd, L assured us that Heather had submitted us for the match with the 2 girls.

Since we knew that these statements were not true and that Heather had not even obtained basic information on our children from their orphanage, we contacted another agency to try to get some help in rescuing our adoption. 

On August 2nd we spoke to MLJ about terminating our agreement with them and getting our dossier and money back.  MLJ was able to make arrangements to get our dossier back and were very helpful and accommodating to us.  Since that time we have learned that they also terminated their relationship with Giving Hope Rescue Mission.  We also got a refund of what we paid to Voice of the Orphan but were unable to get any money back that was donated by our friends and family to them in our name.  According to my records that amounts to $2200 but I am not sure I have a record of everything that was sent to them.  The only way I ever received notification of donations sent was if I sent an email requesting confirmation of money received when friends told me they donated.  If someone did not tell me they made a donation then I didn’t know to ask so they may have more of our money than I think.

When our new adoption agency got our dossier they informed us that it was never legalized with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Haiti, which should have been done when our dossier arrived in Haiti in February, 2013.  

This made it even more clear to us that Heather Elyse had never attempted to submit our dossier to IBESR (despite her repeated and ongoing assurances that she had tried) since this step would have been done if she had.

This entire ordeal has been an emotional roller coaster ride.  I have no idea what it profited Heather or anyone in VOTO to lie to us or string us along the way they did.  I do not write any of this down in an effort to hurt or slander anyone.  I just want everyone considering starting this process to know all of the facts about Giving Hope Rescue Mission and Heather Elyse before they put their trust in them.

We feel like we are starting over now after a year of this ordeal.  It is disappointing to us and to the girls, who unfortunately know that we are trying to adopt them and have been strung along in this process.  Ultimately, we know that this is all in God’s hands and He will work things out according to His perfect plan and His perfect timing.  We pray that we will still be able to bring all 4 of our daughters home some day soon.  Thank you for reading our story and praying with us. 


Our girls. Still waiting.