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High profile “Baby Jenny” (or “baby Jean”) manages to avoid an American adoption, set to be returned to parents

It’s taken me a few days, but this post has been brewing for some time now.

Baby Jean or Baby Jenny’s journey makes for a kind of a real case study in just how much of the South Florida child care system has been outsourced to a variety of religious subcontractors, and how despite how these Haitian children have been assumed to be “orphans,” family reunions are sometimes possible, when attention and resources put behind efforts to reunite them.

That said, she is but one of many kids, “unaccompanied minors” who have traveled from Haiti.

Clearly these other kids, by and large glossed over in the media accounts, and unlikely to have such resources brought to bear on their cases may not be so fortunate.

So let’s look at her case. While all the focus has been on her journey and eventual reunification, very little attention has been given to the fact that from the moment she landed in the Florida system, she was being dual tracked, in other words, aim for a reunion if possible, but simultaneously she was tracked for adoption.

I first reported back on January 27th on the plight of the “unnamed Baby Girl” found in the rubble in Haiti, and taken by an ABC News journalist to a field hospital. Thereafter, she was taken out of the country on to the U.S. for the necessary medical care. See my post  Adopting kids out of Satan’s Haiti, the For His Glory kids & the slowing of child export flights.

She was described in this article at the time as:

…the first survivor of Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake to enter foster care in Florida. A Miami judge ordered the baby — who is being claimed by a family in Port-au-Prince — into the custody of state child welfare administrators.

As I emphasized this piece of the article at the time, Florida DCF:

…asked Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen to place the infant under the state’s care while investigators try to determine whether she has family in Haiti.

Cohen asked the agency to look “diligently” for the girl’s family, while at the same time beginning efforts to place the girl up for adoption in Miami should no family be found.

“We want to help,” Cohen said in court. “We don’t want to further traumatize this family. We must make sure we work very diligently to find her family. That is very, very important.”

The baby girl, whose name remains unknown, is believed to be the first child brought from Haiti to enter foster care in Florida. Another child may have been sheltered by federal immigration workers last week, Colyer said.

I noted:

So in Miami at least, they’re dual tracking those kids coming in under medical necessity; search for family, BUT AT THE SAME TIME begin adoption proceedings.

Yet another tale of yet another kid not in any adoption mechanism pre-quake undergoing at least the preliminary steps towards an American adoption now that they’re on American soil.

The article continued:

While the infant was recovering at JMH last week, her identity a mystery, a man and woman who thought their baby daughter had died in the rubble got word that their child had been found and flown to Miami.

A journalist working for ABC News who was passing by the rescue took the baby to a field hospital in Port-au-Prince and later returned to the crumbled home to find the family.

There, a relative gave her contact information for Junior Alexis and Nadine Devilme, who believe the baby in Miami is their daughter Jenny. Alexis, 24, had searched for the baby for days after the quake, which knocked Devilme, 23, unconscious.

The couple moved to a camp in front of the Canapé Vert Hospital.

Last week, they told a Miami Herald reporter that they had no proof that the baby in Miami was theirs. But Alexis said he was prepared to take any test necessary to prove fatherhood.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was contacted by officials at the hospital as well as the journalists who brought the baby to the triage center in Haiti.

Workers with the organization in Haiti have been trying to get in touch with the couple, according to the Red Cross.

“Baby Jenny’s” case was spotlighted across multiple news channels. Here’s just one of many such typical pieces, Haitian Baby Isn’t Orphan, After All. Once again, we see all those assumptions about how these children somehow must be “orphans.”

She was dubbed “Haiti’s miracle baby” and used as an archetypal metaphor for Haiti’s children surviving in the rubble and remains. She has in effect, been turned into a poster child of sorts, despite the extraordinary circumstances surrounding her rescue, news crews seeking her parents out etc.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families placed her in fostercare with a lay guardian at His House in Miami Gardens, where she’s been for the past two months as both efforts to reunite her with her family and place her for adoption have continued as she underwent physical therapy. (We’ll get to “His House” down below.)

After weeks of news crews following each twist and turn in the “Baby Jenny” saga, last Tuesday news finally came of a DNA match between the child and her mother.

A match: DNA in Haiti leads to infant in Miami (see link for pictures of the girl’s parents.)

Junior Alexis and Nadine Devilme are still sleeping in a tent in Haiti’s crumbling capital, but on Tuesday, the couple’s lives improved dramatically:

An infant — known in Miami courthouse records as “Unnamed Baby Girl” — was identified by DNA as their missing daughter.

The infant, found by an ABC News crew under the rubble of the couple’s Port-au-Prince home shortly after the earthquake, was whisked to Jackson Memorial Hospital by a University of Miami medical crew, and is recovering from life-threatening injuries at a Miami Gardens shelter.

Though recent DNA tests confirm the infant’s identity, Devilme said Tuesday she still had not been given the news.

Devilme provided DNA samples to the International Committee of the Red Cross earlier this month, and the samples matched those of “Baby Jenny,” sources told The Miami Herald Tuesday. Alexis did not provide a sample.

Red Cross workers drove Devilme and Alexis to their offices for an important phone call Tuesday, Devilme said, adding that the call did not come.

Meanwhile, here in America,

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, who has been overseeing Jenny’s odyssey in child welfare court, will be given the test results at a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Eunice Sigler, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade courts, wrote in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon.

Jenny was flown to Miami by doctors with Project Medishare, who began treating trauma patients in Haiti almost immediately after the magnitude 7.0 quake on Jan. 12.

Though Jenny has been under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children & Families for only two months, child welfare administrators and children’s advocates already see the girl as a relatively rare happy ending — both for Haiti and the state’s child welfare system.

At a hearing before Lederman last week, the infant’s court-appointed lay guardian and her attorney said she was recovering remarkably well, and meeting all the developmental milestones one would expect from a 4-month-old.

But this article also makes small mention of what is in fact the larger story here (emphasis added)

Olga Miltcheva, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Port-au-Prince, said Tuesday that the agency is following 70 cases of unaccompanied children as a result of the earthquake. So far, they have assisted in four family reunions.

“We have a lot of children that were brought out of the country just after the earthquake,” Miltcheva said.

Despite the attention spent on this one case, there are in fact, a number of children who have been removed from Haiti.

Without the glare of the cameras, it remains to be seen whether these other kids cases will receive the attention, the DNA testing, and other such measures towards reunifications. Those who landed in Miami for example may be somewhere in the course of the dual tracked system, resulting in reunions for some, but potential eventual adoptions or foster care for others.

Miracle Baby’s Fate Decided Today

The results of a DNA test on the unidentified infant who became known as Baby Jean or Baby Jenny will determine whether she’ll return to the parents in Haiti who have claimed her.

A family court judge will make the announcement during a 9:30 a.m. hearing.

In this one high profile case though, DNA testing was done.

Baby Jean, at just two months old, was found buried under rubble, covered in dust and maggots and clinging to life a day after the Jan. 12 earthquake hit in Port-au-Prince. She taken in by UM doctors and flown to Miami, where she was quickly nursed to health by doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital and dubbed “Haiti’s Miracle Baby.”

Thought to be an orphan, Jean has remained in South Florida until parents Junior Alexis and Nadine Devilme came forward.

The DNA test confirmed Jean belonged to Alexis and Devilme, and now legal procedure is all that stands between them and their miracle baby.

Most of the attention, even in this case has been put on the ‘rescue’ aspects, ignoring the feelings of the parents, searching through the rubble for their child who had been taken out of the country:

Back when the story first broke, a lawyer involved in the case talked about the agony of a parents not knowing the fate of their child.

“I try and put myself in the position of a parent frantically trying to find their son or daughter only to find they have been taken to another country, Jesse Eaves said.

After Wednesday morning’s hearing, it was determined the child would be returned to her parents. See  Next for miracle Haiti baby: reunion with parents:

Junior Alexis and Nadine Devilme, a couple in Port-au-Prince who lost their infant daughter during the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake, were told Tuesday that the girl recovering in a Miami Gardens shelter is, indeed, their daughter. Devilme had provided a DNA sample that was tested against the DNA of “Baby Jenny.”

Florida utilizes a “Guardian-ad-litem” system of volunteers (“faith based” or otherwise) to aid in making decisions on behalf of dependent kids (often victims of abuse or neglect) allegedly based on notions of the child’s “best interests”:

Donald “DJ” Cannava, an attorney for the state Department of Children & Families, delivered the news in court Wednesday morning that many in both Haiti and South Florida had been anticipating: “I am happy to report that, within a 99.9 precent chance of certainty, Mrs. Devilme is the biological mother of the child.”

As Cannava spoke, Jenny’s court-appointed guardian-ad-litem, Gail Appelrouth, clapped her hands quietly. “Yay!” she said.

Baby Jenny has become a kind of touchstone for the hopes of Haitians, Haitian-Americans and well-wishers who see her journey as a blueprint for the embattled island nation.

It appears her parents will receive humanitarian parole status for the time being, in part so the girl can continue therapy relating to her long term recovery:

A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency could not comment on the couple’s status or travel to the United States because of privacy laws. But Cannava, as well as attorneys for both Jenny and her parents, told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman Wednesday that federal immigration authorities had agreed to provide Alexis and Devilme humanitarian parole so they can reunite with their daughter while she continues to receive therapy in Miami.

“I’m happy that it’s finally known that it’s our baby, even though I have always known she was our baby,” Alexis said Wednesday in Port-au-Prince.

Not surprisingly, her mother has expressed her desire to remain in the States:

Devilme said she would like to stay in the United States with her baby.

“We lost everything,” she said. “Haiti is not safe for a baby. The doctors are dead, the teachers are dead and a lot of great people are dead.”

Sure enough, just as I’d suspected, the article confirms the role “His House” christian orphanage and academy has been playing in Baby Jean’s case:

Jenny — who was taken by an ABC News crew to a United Nations triage hospital shortly after workers freed her from the rubble of her parents’ home — is receiving occupational and physical therapy at His House children’s home while she recovers from her trauma, said the shelter’s lawyer, Liz Anon.

I’ve been working on a longer piece about His House in Maimi, but a number of the Haitian kids being brought into the south Florida system are being entrusted to it.  You can find a brief characterization of it here, in this important piece pertaining to how the history of Korean American adoptions holds important lessons pertaining to the current situation, Korea to Haiti: Lessons in Overseas Adoption Corruption:

Lessons from Korea further suggest that the best interests of the child need slower and thorough consideration rather than giving into the religious zeal of missionaries whose real purpose “is religious conversion. Some families have taken four or five children. Certainly, the literature of His House, a large Christian orphanage in Miami which is coordinating adoptions, says it aims to turn children into ‘Christ-like beings’ ”.

Returning to the Miami Herald piece:

“We want to make sure the baby’s best interests are protected, and the family is reunified as soon as possible,” said Markenzy Lapointe, a private attorney who is representing Jenny.

At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, the judge said the state will not need to oversee Jenny’s care after Alexis and Devilme arrive because “these parents are clearly good parents, which is not something you see here often” in Miami’s child welfare court.

Interestingly, the lawyers are talking about a return to Haiti even as her mother, Nadine speaks of her desire to stay in the States:

After the hearing, Lapointe told reporters that he and Bob Martinez, the attorney representing Devilme and Alexis, informed the parents in Port-au-Prince Tuesday of the DNA match. “Of course, they always knew that,” he said, “but they were absolutely ecstatic. They look forward to seeing their child.”

Eventually, the two lawyers said, both Jenny and her parents will return to Haiti. But first, Lapointe said, “I want to make sure she gets a full, clean bill of health.”

Even the University of Miami physician who made the decision to send Jean to the United States cannot frame her flight and medical care as anything other than a useful christian parable:

Dr. Arthur Fournier, a University of Miami physician who was working in a field hospital in Haiti when the critically injured baby was brought in for care and made the decision to fly her to Miami, said he was thrilled that she would be reunited with her parents.

“Easter is coming,” he said. “This is death and resurrection. This child was dead and she’s rising up again and her family’s rising up again.”

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