Wednesday, October 23, 2013

James and Rachelle's Story: Wading through deception longing to know the truth about 3 precious children

We debated as to whether we would share our story publicly, but after prayerful consideration, we have decided to speak up. We will not continue to sit in the dark and ignore what has been done, pretending it hasn't affected our family and many others. As Christ's followers, we have a responsibility to speak the truth, especially when the truth will act as a voice for children that God loves so much!  We are desperate for others to know the truth and then be moved to action. We long for others to see the truth for what it is, not what they wish it to be. We also desire to protect others from experiencing something similar, so we are being vulnerable with our messy adoption story. 

Some people have been criticized for standing up and sharing on a public forum, but the truth is, they have a voice, and we have a voice. Despite the fact that our family does not belong to a well known organization who can "publicly make a statement" and it be just fine, we have just as much a right as any other to speak the truth, and we will. Following is our experience thus far, however we are certain that the Lord is not finished with us and is going to make beauty from ashes. 

James went to Haiti to help friends start their mission in March of 2011. It was during this trip that he met Heather Elyse and learned of her organizations, Giving Hope Rescue Mission and Voice of the Orphan. We began following her on FB and the Voice of the Orphan and Giving Hope Rescue Mission websites so we could keep up with what was happening. We already knew we were called to Haiti and both agreed that we would go through her organizations when we did finally decide to pursue an adoption. The reasons we chose VOTO and GHRM were because we were told the kids learned about the love of Jesus there and that nobody made money off the adoptions; it appeared that everyone truly had pure hearts and cared deeply about the children. Another reason we chose to go through this agency/crèche was because we were promised that our fees and documents would be returned to us if staff was unable to get us into IBESR (the Haitian government's department of children and family services). The main deciding factor was that the children at GHRM were all "legally free for adoption" as stated by Heather and posted on the GHRM website. It was and is very important to our family that the kids at the crèche we adopted from were legitimately there and had nobody who could or wished to care for them. Heather also shared that she had completed over 50 adoptions in Haiti and had a 100% success rate, so we felt confident in her ability to complete ours as well.

In August of 2012, we began our adoption journey through VOTO and Giving Hope Rescue Mission.
We didn't meet any of the criteria and were informed our case was "high risk," but Heather felt that we would be approved. We were told that a dispensation would grant us forgiveness for not meeting the criteria. We were also asked to write a cohabitation letter and have our doctor write an infertility letter. Heather told us it should take 12-18 months to complete our adoption. We had our completed dossier turned in by September/October of 2012. We rushed to get it there and sent money immediately ($12,000) to cover half of our adoption fees. We requested a boy and girl both under the age of 3 (younger than our biological daughter) and wanted a sibling set. 

We went on a mission trip to Giving Hope Rescue Mission September 2012. During this trip, We were allowed to spend the afternoon at the beach with two children from GHRM that we felt a strong connection with. There were two babies, who were living at Club Indigo at the time, that we asked to spend time with and were allowed to. We also met the children that we eventually received a referral for during this trip, spending quite a bit of time with the youngest girl. 

After this, we waited...and waited for a referral. We kept being told that it was nearing time for a referral but never would receive one. Heather contacted us throughout the next few months on a few occasions, asking us to consider 3 children. The final time that Heather asked us to consider three children, we prayed about it and then told her that we would consider a set of three but that we still wanted them to be siblings and not be older than 4.  In April 2013, we got our referral of a sibling set of 3, who we were told needed a family desperately and were all legally free for adoption. We were initially told that they were true orphans (no living parents) and it should be an easy case since the bio parents were no longer living but then many weeks after accepting our referral and paying our fees, we were told it was one of the most difficult messy cases they had seen and that the boy may have a living father. We were also told that their family who they lived with prior to coming to GHRM had severely neglected them and that if they did try to come back and get the kids that Heather would take them to court to prove that it was not in the best interest of the kids. We officially and excitedly accepted our referral a few short days after receiving it and immediately sent in the other $6000 to cover half of the fees for adding a 3rd child. We also immediately began paying $947 a month to Room for Grace International (our contract stated we must send payment through them) to cover child care costs. While talking with Heather about our referral she explained how she came to match us with the specific children. She shared that as she listened to my husband's testimony, their faces kept playing over in her head and that she knew they belonged to us.

In May 2013, myself, my husband and our 5 year old daughter went to spend 3 days with our new children. We paid a fee of $700 to travel. In addition we paid for airfare, hotel, all food, and brought everything our children needed while they stayed with us. They spent the night with us two nights and spent 3 full days with us. The oldest one called me Momma, and we were told by GHRM missionaries they had been practicing saying Momma and Daddy so they would know who we were.
Shortly after this trip, we were told that there was going to be an opportunity for dossiers to be submitted but that we would need to send $3000 per dossier to pay an "influence" to get the dossiers into IBESR. We sent the money ($9000) without question and immediately. We didn't want to miss an opportunity to be submitted and actually start the process to bring our kids home. We were also told during this time that our dossier was in IBESR and that it was a guarantee that we would be assigned a number once the missing documents were added to our file. 

On June 3rd, we received a text message from Heather stating that court did not go well. We had no idea our kids had court that day and immediately called Heather because we were under the impression that they would have already had any court dates to secure an abandonment document, since we were told they were "legally available for adoption." At this time we were told that the "uncle" said he was the father in court and refused to sign the abandonment doc and that he then fled and could not be found. Heather said that she could not have seen this coming and that she was going to send out a search for the uncle/dad and take him to court and/or send out a search to find 6 different family members to sit in the 6 member council so we could get the documents we needed. We expressed our concern about it to Heather and several other VOTO people. They all seemed to understand and assured us they would be working to find out what the next steps would be. For the next 6-7 weeks, we continued to ask what was being done about our case but never got an answer. 

There is an Adopting from Haiti page that we are members of and saw at one point a particular attorney posted that if somebody hadn't gotten into IBESR to let him know so he could help. We had heard of several other VOTO families using an independent attorney so we messaged him and asked if it was possible for him to help us. This was the same attorney that the other families were using, as we found out in corresponding with him and the other families. He said he could try to find the uncle/dad but that he would have to have Heather's permission to help with the case. We then asked Heather if we could allow him to help. She adamantly refused, telling us he is not a real attorney and that he will create false documents which will hurt our adoption when it heads to immigration in the US. Heather told us that we could use this attorney but that she could have nothing to do with him adoption related and that we would have to transfer our kids to another creche if we chose to use him.

We stopped asking questions about this because we didn't want to lose our kids indefinitely and weren't sure how Heather would take our constant asking to change things up; Heather had told us in person that she was known for cancelling adoptions when parents chose not to wait well.

It was shortly after this that "Wesmin" posted on the Voice of the Orphan page that all children were part of the GHRM family and would not be moved, that if families wanted their money back, they could have it but the children would not transfer.

We also found out through this season of our journey that this attorney who we were told was not a real attorney had represented GHRM against other adoptive parents in the past in Haiti. We wonder if he is not a real attorney, why Heather/GHRM would or could use him.

We had continued to ask several times what the status was of finding the uncle/dad of our son. Heather replied to us early July and told us that she did not have the money or manpower to have a man hunt for the uncle and that "per Wesmin, the kids are simply not adoptable." She then told us that she had 3 other kids for us to adopt that were paper ready and could send us a referral immediately and submit our dossiers that upcoming Friday, which was only 4 days later. She directed us to a picture of one of the little girls and said it was a cousin to one of her daughters and that this girl lived at the Justice Rescue creche. 

Just 4 days after finding out our kids were "not adoptable," we received an email from VOTO telling us that adoptions were frozen through GHRM and VOTO due to false allegations of 3 formerly contracted families. They asked that we write letters of praise about VOTO and GHRM and send them to our state rep, IBESR and USCIS. 

With just losing our referral, we were not ready to accept another one yet. We also needed to do some more research into what exactly was going on before continuing with an adoption in Haiti. We wrote a letter to VOTO and asked for our money and dossier back. We cc'd Heather Elyse and Tim Rowe. 

Then began a month of horror for our family. August 2013. We will never forget it. We talked to an authority who gave us facts only and also gave us multiple phone numbers, including a contact in Indiana to check on the VOTO license at the time we signed our contract. She said she didn't want us to take her word for any of it but wanted us to find the facts ourselves. It was at this point we found out that VOTO was not even legally able to perform adoptions AS AN AGENCY when we signed our contract last year and that they and GHRM should never have sent us a referral at all because they were not allowing pre-matched dossiers any longer. We also talked to many other families like ourselves in similar situations, most far worse than ours. 

After 4-5 weeks from the date we initially asked, we were given a refund of our adoption fees. Our dossier, however, has still not been returned. We had been asking for it multiple times a week for around 7 weeks and kept being told that VOTO staff were looking into it. We were told 3 different stories by 3 different staff members. The final story we received was that when Heather was detained at the airport on July 31, that all her belongings were with her and that our dossier was one of those items. We were told that her things were stolen and have still not been returned and that they have exhausted all efforts to get them back. We were told that we should consider them stolen. We were also told that the embassy was aware of the situation. When we called the embassy, they denied having any knowledge of this situation. After calling multiple people of authority to verify this story and attempt to report our missing dossier, we have become aware that the story of our dossier being stolen is not true and that the only thing taken at the airport that day was Heather's passport. AUTHORITIES TOLD US THAT OUR DOSSIER LIKELY INCLUDED FALSE DOCUMENTATION which made it appear that we met criteria to adopt and therefor could have been destroyed rather than being returned to us. We will now have to recreate our entire dossier to proceed with an adoption in Haiti, which will cost nearly $6,000.

We sent an email to VOTO, Heather and Time Rowe, explaining what authorities told us about our dossier and begging them to transfer the kids we were matched with to a licensed creche so we could work with an approved agency to find the truth of their past, and if they are adoptable, attempt to adopt them. We were responded to by "Wesmin" and told that this could not be done unless Heather made an exception (which she had already told us in a previous message we could do). He also told us that now GHRM has information on our kids and has found the missing family member so we could continue with our adoption through MLJ (who isn't even working with Giving Hope Rescue Mission any longer).

Heather responded by telling us how much the email hurt her and that she would have to heal before responding to us. She still has not addressed our email other than to say "I would not do that to your dossier."

Despite our questions regarding new information about the kids' situation, we still have received no new information. We question whether there is new information to share due to the lack of transparency by GHRM. We have received zero answers to the many questions we have asked regarding our children but have received plenty of texts and correspondence bullying us, specifically regarding emails we sent in confidence to an entity in Indiana as a complaint against the way our adoption was done. The way our family has been treated has been unprofessional, at best.

We have recently been in contact with Tim Rowe, president of Voice of the Orphan. Due to the constant emotional manipulation from Heather, we have chosen to stop communication with her and only communicate with Tim. We requested from VOTO that they pay a fee in place of our missing dossier, and Tim shared that Heather agreed to reimburse us for our missing dossier (approximately $4700, because that is what we kept receipts from) and to transfer the children to a place that we and GHRM both agreed upon. We continue to wait to receive a check for the dossier amount, and it has been several weeks since this agreement was made. We also continue to wait for just under $3,000 reimbursement for child care costs that Heather offered to pay back WITHOUT OUR REQUEST.

 It has been three months since Heather stated she would pay that back. In no way has Heather or GHRM assisted us as they relayed to Tim Rowe that they would do. Nothing has been followed through with. Because of this, we see that there was never intention to "reconcile" as Heather stated she wanted to do. After talking with IBESR in person, we now realize how many lies we have been told. We have much more insight as to the way adoptions in Haiti are to be done and also now realize that aside from IBESR, nobody can give permission to move children elsewhere. WE HAVE BEEN TO IBESR AND TALKED TO THE DIRECTOR OURSELVES. Do to the number of false documents USCIS has retrieved from numerous other dossiers from GHRM and the small number of GHRM children actually registered with IBESR, AUTHORITIES QUESTION WHETHER THE CHILDREN WE WERE REFERRED AND OTHER CHILDREN AT GHRM ARE LEGALLY ELIGIBLE FOR ADOPTION. In our kids' case, it has not ever been determined.

In speaking with other adoptive moms, it has come to our attention that the oldest girl we received a referral for was also proposed to another family, unofficially. She was proposed to family A in October 2012 and was given the name "Naomi" and was supposedly alone and without siblings. We received the referral for the same child in April 2013. The name given to us was "Biance" and she came with a younger sister and male cousin. The photos shared with us for our referral and the other family are THE EXACT SAME CHILD. Now on top of the confusion we have already experienced, we question whether these children truly are related and if we have even been given their correct names. At this point we question everything we were told.

Our 5 year old still prays for her sisters and brother in Haiti. She still cries at night when she asks if they will come home, and we are honest and have to tell her probably not.

There are too many inconsistencies with our kids' story and whether they have a living parent or not or if they are even really siblings. However, we still have hope that we will know the truth about "our" children and stay in contact in some way. We would be willing to sponsor them in school and help provide for their needs if it is found that they are not able to be adopted. If they truly are adoptable, we pray they are moved elsewhere so we can pursue them once again. We love them very much and intend to be their voice and advocate on their behalf until the Lord asks us to remain silent. We appreciate your prayers for our family as well as the other families and children affected.