Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brian and Anne's Story: Supporting a mother to reunite with her child

We found Heather Elyse and Giving Hope Rescue Mission via a comment/recommendation from a missionary on Facebook in late 2011. At the time Heather had a lot of strong social media.

We reached out to Heather and asked if she could give us more information about adoption. She responded that she would would connect us to Michelle See (cofounder) and that she would like to take us to lunch next time we were in Haiti. When Heather emailed Michelle about us she copied us on the email and told Michelle that she had been "stalking" our family on Facebook and had all kinds of flattering things to say about was odd because we don't post very much on Facebook.

Brian and I were intent on doing things the right way. We volunteer with an organization in Haiti and would never want to be involved in anything that isn't above-board.

We began researching. Brian and our daughter visited the Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche in April of 2012. They visited the crèche the week that one of the VOTO staff who was also adopting was there and she had very good things to tell Brian about the crèche and Heather. (She has since quit working for VOTO.)
Heather and her husband Steve took Brian and our daughter to dinner at Club Indigo (the resort where they lived) but Heather had to leave abruptly to go to a hospital in Port au Prince because a child from the creche had a seizure related to a very high fever.

There was one major red flag during this trip that we unfortunately chose to ignore. A woman approached Brian in Haiti and said: "if you are talking about Heather Elyse my advice is to run as fast as you can away from her". We talked about this and searched online to learn more about Heather but couldn't find anything. (We now know that her last name had only recently been changed to Elyse approximately a year prior so we were not getting accurate search results.) Everything online about "Heather Elyse" looked fine.

We signed our contract with Voice of the Orphan, Giving Hope Rescue Mission's partner adoption agency from Indianapolis, that summer of 2012. We believed that Voice of the Orphan was a licensed adoption agency. Our main contact was Heather, the Vice President of Voice of the Orphan and co-founder of Giving Hope.

In Oct 2012 I (Anne) visited the crèche for a day and had lunch with the missionaries who had just moved there to work for Giving Hope Rescue Mission. Heather was not there and I was curious about her life between two countries while raising 7 children of her own. I asked the missionaries if the kids travel back and forth with her or if they stay put somewhere. Specifically if they stay with her husband when she is gone. The missionaries didn't know who Heather's husband was. It was very awkward. Apparently since the previous spring he was no longer in the picture.

In November of 2012 we received a phone call from one of the missionaries from the ministry we volunteer with in Haiti. There was a couple at the gate with a 17 day old baby they (baby's aunt and uncle) were trying to surrender for care. We were all very concerned about the baby as things can go terribly wrong quickly if a baby that young is not cared for. We called neighboring missions to see if they could help since we don't accept babies/children at our gates but no one had space available. 

We got in touch with the missionary working for Giving Hope Rescue Mission and he talked with Heather Elyse who agreed to take the baby. 
Ryan, the missionary, and a translator came the next morning and met with our Exec Director who happened to be in Haiti and the aunt and uncle. Ryan and Wesmin took the baby to Giving Hope Rescue Mission. 

We were concerned about next steps for the baby and asked a lot of questions. Would they send someone to investigate whether the baby was adoptable? (GHRM is a creche which means that children who live there are supposed to be in the adoption process. If she was not going to be adopted then we would need to look for another placement.) We also wanted to know if they could find the baby's mom and see if she was able to parent her.

Heather responded that that's not how they operate - they don't track down birth parents to ask them to parent their children. 

On Nov 20, 2012, at 5:17 PM, Brian (address removed) wrote:
Thanks Heather.  For the girl, we are wondering does the family plan to go to IBESR to fill out paper work? Do you have to bring baby girl to IBESR? How about her med exam -- do you do that at Giving Hope or do you have to take her someplace for that? Is she adoptable?  Has the family visited her?  What are the next steps for her?
On Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 6:29 PM, <> wrote:

Great questions. 

No the family doesn't go to IBESR. 

The family goes before a judge in Montrouis, to relinquish their rights, and agrees to adoption. Specifically to you adopting her.

Then she is added to our crèche license. A birth certificate has to be created and archived. Then we start preparing her dossier.  

She has to have blood work done, and our crèche doctor has to give her a medical exam and certificate. 

As long as the family agrees to adoption- there should be no issue. 

On the Voto Facebook group - there is a file called what goes into a child's dossier. All those items will have to be created in order for an adoption to take place. 

Hope this helps.

Sent from my iPhone

On Nov 20, 2012, at 6:24 PM, Brian (email removed) wrote:

Couple follow-up questions.  Did the family visit her on 11/15?  Also is Giving Hope going to see the family and inquire if adoption is truly the best option for everyone (baby and her family)? 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 1:18 PM
Subject: Re: Donation: $2,500 McNeill Family Adoption
To: Brian (address removed for privacy)

The family did not visit her on the 15th. 
That is an optional thing that bio parents can do. Many just don't care, and they just don't visit. We will not be pursuing the family--- that's not how we do things. 

I have an organized system that is ethical - I don't go hunting down birth parents begging to sign over their child. 

Here are the steps: 

- the bio family is invited to an adoption training class by me and a Haitian attorney. 
- they sign an integrity agreement 
- then they have a court appointment 
- then the child is registered into IBESR for adoption 
- the child's dossier is completed 
- the birth parents meet adoptive parents and agree verbally to an adoption--- they ask questions galore
- bio parents fill out all kinds of paperwork 
- bio parents are welcome to visit on the 15th of the month 
- bio parents are included and invited to participate during the entire adoption process 
- bio parents have an interview with the US embassy 

Etc etc Etc etc 

I could keep going --- but hopefully that gives you a glimpse of the process. 

I handle everything from this end.... 

Now you are not allowed to worry! :) once an investigation is made and I can tell you 100% that she is adoptable - then we will send you an official referral. ;) so be on the look out! 

I promise you this.... I have your best interest at heart ---and keep in mind--- I'm here to protect your heart and the heart of your potential child's ----until adoption is final ! 

Let me know how else we can serve you or explain the process. 


Sent from my iPhone

(We later learned that this information ie. "we will not be pursuing the birth family - that's not how we do things" is in direct contradiction to Eric Ludy's online "Defense of Heather Elyse" click for link.)

"The first condition was that the child genuinely did not have anywhere else to go. Taking in a child was always a “last resort” for Miss Elyse. Before she brought them into her ministry, she always searched for the biological family of the child (if they were alive) and attempted to reunify that child with family members, if at all possible. In many situations, Miss Elyse even financially supported the biological families of the children she rescued, in order to make it possible for the child to remain with family. But if the biological family was truly unable or unwilling to care for the child, Miss Elyse took the child, cared for him/her and sought to find a loving home for the child to grow up in."

We inquired if the baby's family ever visited or showed any interest in her and Heather responded with confusing information - no, they never visited. Then said they are dangerous people. Then said they are liars. 

Voice of the Orphan told us there was a window for submitting our dossier for adoption in early Jan 2013 so we rushed and had our dossier sent down then. We waited for our referral, waited for word of anything really. It was never clear what we were waiting for.

In April of 2013 we received and accepted our "official referral" for the baby that had been transferred from our ministry to Giving Hope Rescue Mission. We assumed that in that time the proper investigation into her adoptability had taken place and the proper paperwork was in place.

Brian was going to be in Haiti a few weeks later with our daughter for a baptism and they were given special permission to visit the baby. (At that point families were not being allowed to visit their children.)

By this time we had begun hearing some disturbing things about Heather and her operation via the missionary and expat community in Haiti. However, we had been matched with this baby and felt that she would have nowhere to go if we didn't adopt her.

Brian and our daughter arrived in Haiti and spent a few days in Port au Prince then went up to the resort where Heather was living to spend a weekend with baby girl. 

Sheena, one of the young missionaries working for Heather, texted Brian - "we are on our way, we just have to stop at the crèche and get the baby." 
Brian began texting me at the same time, updating me with what they were doing, how our daughter was reacting to the anticipation of meeting her baby sister, etc. While waiting Brian got another text from Sheena - "we're on our way, will be there soon."

Within minutes I received texts from Heather:

Knowing what we had heard about Heather and children disappearing from Giving Hope Rescue Mission, and already being hesitant and fearful about working with Heather, we were initially terrified. I texted Brian and told him to lock our daughter in their room and go see why the missionaries were coming if they didn't have the baby. He went down and met two scared women -- he said they were meek, scared and apologetic. We didn't understand why were weren't given this information in time to prevent Brian and our daughter from going all the way to Montrouis to visit.

In our opinion, knowing the control that Heather operates over the creche and volunteers, we find it highly unlikely that Heather had not been informed the night before when the little girl was removed....

We felt extremely concerned about the baby so we sent a Haitian friend to find the family and get the real story. Our friends found the family and the baby. The mother, who was young and had initially been afraid of parenting her newborn, said that she had decided to go to visit her daughter at Giving Hope Rescue Mission and they tried to give her the wrong baby. That was enough for the mom to know she had to get her out. She decided to take custody of her.

Brian and I began to maneuver our way out of this disaster, quickly realizing that we had made a mistake in working with an agency and creche that gave so little respect to birth families. We were wrong to have believed Heather's stories about the baby's birth family being liars. 

We were contacted by another staff member (NB) of VOTO who told us "I don't want you to be too discouraged. This same thing happened to a close friend and Heather was able to work over the situation and now they have their baby"  and we were even more disgusted. Our eyes were opened to the way Heather operated and in our opinion this statement was evidence that Heather was coercing birth families.

We sent an email to Heather, Michelle, Tim and AM (former staff) to tell them that we believed that God was closing the door for our adoption and we would like our money back. Heather texted me and said that we should consider adopting from Columbia - she has a friend that does adoptions there and it only takes 9 months. We were not impressed at all. A speedy adoption was not our goal. We wanted an ethical adoption.

The mother of baby girl, since removing her from Giving Hope Rescue Mission, has done a great job with a little support. She has brought her baby to our ministry for church and to see our doctor regularly. We sent formula and the clothes that we bought when we thought we were going to adopt her. We have realized that with a little support this baby can be well cared for by her birthmother and she is very obviously healthy and very much beloved. 

She is a miracle to our family, she educated us, and we stand in solidarity with the birthparents in Haiti who want to remove their children from Giving Hope Rescue Mission and parent them.

Brian and Anne

Visiting baby girl and her birthmother.