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U.S. Foster Care Programs Preparing to Help Haitian Orphans

February 22, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - The Haitian government and U.S.-based organizations are redoubling efforts to keep children orphaned since the earthquake in Haiti almost six weeks ago from falling prey to human trafficking or undocumented adoption. And some of those children could eventually be coming to Michigan. The push to protect the children comes after a group of 10 Americans had been arrested for trying to bring more than 30 children to the U.S. without following proper protocol.

Sallie Campbell, Refugee Foster Care Supervisor with Lutheran Social Services (LSS)-Michigan, says countries generally aren't set up to help unaccompanied minors from another nation. Hers is one of few non-governmental organizations in the U.S. that provides services for unaccompanied minor children.

"To the best of my knowledge, at this time the United States is still the only country in the world that resettles unaccompanied minors. And the reason that we can do that is because of our domestic foster care system; the unaccompanied-minor program mirrors that system."

Currently there are about 200 refugee children, including many that have come from Malaysia, in Michigan's foster care system. Campbell says it can be difficult to place unaccompanied minors for adoption because often there is no way to get permission from their biological parents. But she says protecting vulnerable children, once they are identified as unaccompanied, is the first step.

"They don't have any way to support themselves; they're exposed to the elements; they're exposed to all kinds of disease; they're also exposed to exploitation. The buying and selling of human beings is the third-largest organized crime, right here in the United States."

It's not clear how many Haitian children may wind up in Michigan or elsewhere in the country, but Campbell says agencies such as Lutheran Social Services and the U.S. foster care system are fortifying resources and looking for additional foster families.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI