Long Road Home: A Story of Adoption from Haiti

ABC News Nightline
Nightline Fix

There are hundreds of orphanages here in Haiti. This is one of the better ones where the kids sleep in little cubby holes and play in the rubble. Everyone wants to be held. Nearly all the kids you see here have families waiting for them in America. But they are still here. Stuck.

ABC News “Nightline” correspondent Cynthia McFadden traveled here looking for two little girls, sisters who have lived in limbo for 3 years. Adopted by an American woman but unable to leave Haiti.

Suddenly they appear: Ericka, 5, and Rickza, 9.

For the past year, Ruth Kerr of Seattle says she has been Rickza's and Ericka's legal mother. Their adoption completed. But still they are growing up, with nothing and no one to call their own.

Kerr runs a successful consulting business from home. Nearly 4 years ago, the images of the Haitian earthquake so seared her heart that she jumped on a plane to help. She spent her days washing the feet of the weary, fitting shoes for people who had none. It was a journey that would change three lives.

“I looked outside the bus window and locked eyes with Rickza, we just locked, and it was like electricity that came through my body and I jumped up out of my sleep and exclaimed I found my little girl,” said Kerr.

She surprised even herself by this, she wasn't looking to become a mother. After months of reflection, she decided to return to Haiti to see the girls. They laughed together and played and they learned to trust her. She began the adoption process, taking seven trips to be with them over the next 2 years. The girls started to look forward to her week-long visits and the overnight trips to her hotel. The told her they loved her. And she told them the same. But every time she left, they were left behind to wonder if their adoption could be believed.

Craig Juntunen is an international adoption expert. Retired at 40, a high-tech millionaire, he and his wife Kathi adopted three kids from Haiti 8 years ago. He was lucky. His kids’ adoptions went smoothly. And ever since, he has been on a mission to make it easier for everyone else. He's even made a film about the tens of thousands of kids stuck in the system all over the world.

“I don't think safeguards and transparency and efficiency are mutually exclusive,” Juntunen said. “I really think in many cases these dossiers sit on people’s desks for an extended period of time because they want they want to make their jobs seem important.”

His wife now runs an orphanage in Haiti and made some calls on the girls’ behalf. Perhaps the combination of the "Nightline" cameras and the Juntunens’ contacts might just get the kids to Seattle this week. All that remains is for them to get U.S. visas.

Kerr has not seen the girls for 9 months, but she has been spending money to support them for years. When they finally meet, Ericka is delighted, but Rickza gives her a bit of a cold shoulder.

Then: good news. The visas have come through. But one critical form was never in question -- finalized years ago -- the relinquishment document proving that the girls’ biological parents voluntarily terminated their rights. That's right -- like more than 90 percent of the world's orphans, these girls have parents unable to care for them.

Kerr and her girls head to Seattle. But for every Rickza and Ericka there are tens of thousands of kids growing up alone. Tonight, two more little girls have a home.