Northeast Tarrant

April 19, 2014

Keller family fights for adoptive children to be released from Congo

A North Texas couple adopted two children — son Josias and daughter Mercy — from Africa but can’t bring them home because government officials won’t issue paperwork children need to leave the country.

Laura and Greg Richardson won’t give up.

Nearly every other month, they receive photos of their adopted son and daughter, Josias and Mercy, in the mail.

The pictures, which they carefully place in frames and put on the mantel, give the Keller couple a glimpse into their children’s lives halfway around the world, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But the Richardsons say photos aren’t enough. They want their two youngest children home with them.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Laura Richardson said. “We are watching our children grow up in pictures. We don’t know what’s going on over there, if they are healthy or safe.

“We don’t know anything,” she said. “It’s absolutely frustrating.”

The Richardsons formally adopted the two children from Congo last summer, but officials there won’t let them leave the country.

In September, the government there, amid concerns that included potential abuse by adoptive families, stopped issuing exit papers for up to a year, preventing hundreds of children adopted by parents in other countries from joining their forever families.

But Laura and Greg Richardson won’t stop trying to bring their children home.

They and other families stuck in similar situations are raising their voices, asking members of Congress members to join those encouraging the Congolese government to let their children leave the country.

Congolese orphans

Parents to four biological children who range in age from 2 to 8, the Richardsons said they have long wanted to adopt children and further grow their family.

They watched as friends went through the process of adopting a son from Congo, learning about the great need for adoptive families there.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest country in Africa, but millions died in a civil war more than a decade ago. Poverty, armed conflict and more have taken a toll on the Congolese population, which includes more than 4 million orphaned children.

There, 1 in 7 children dies before turning 5. Fewer than half who survive have access to clean water, nearly nearly one-fourth are underweight and nearly half aren’t vaccinated for common childhood diseases, according to UNICEF research.

“We were praying about it for the longest time, trying to figure out where we were being called,” Laura Richardson said. “We saw the great need in Congo.”

So they formally began the adoption process in October 2012, which included filling out paperwork and going through a home study.

By March last year, they learned that Josias and Mercy were their chosen family members.

When they saw the photos of their children, “we fell in love.”

By June, the adoption process was final. Officials moved forward with the investigation to prove that the children truly were orphans, and workers wrapped up all the required paperwork and issue the children visas.

“We are legally their parents,” Laura Richardson said. “It’s irreversible.”

But the Richardsons couldn’t — and still can’t — bring their children home.

In September, the Democratic Republic of the Congo stopped issuing exit papers after hearing reports that some children from Congo might have been abused by their adoptive families or adopted by other people once they left their homeland, according to the State Department.

Congolese officials haven’t said when they will resume issuing the papers.

“We are finished with the process,” Laura Richardson said. “We are just wanting the Congolese government to let us bring our children home.”

Needing help

For months, the Richardsons and other families in their situation have been quiet about their situation, hoping the State Department and other leaders could persuade Congolese officials to let children who had been adopted leave.

Then they and others realized they needed to share their stories, asking publicly for help, so the world would know about their plight.

They have asked residents nationwide to send letters to members of Congress, seeking help. “The lives of hundreds of innocent orphan children are depending upon you,” according to the petition to Congress.

Sen. John Cornyn’s office is among those stepping up, trying to help four Texas families who have pending adoptions of children from Congo.

“He has pressed the State Department and [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] for more information … and requested an update on the diplomatic situation,” said Jessica Sandlin, a spokeswoman with the senator’s office.

Cornyn was among 171 members of Congress — along with fellow Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Reps. Roger Williams, R-Austin, Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth — who signed a letter last week asking Congo leaders in a “spirit of goodwill and respect” to help resolve the 460 adoption cases left in limbo.

“While we work together to ensure that all Congolese children are protected, we hope you will consider allowing the hundreds of American families who have legally completed the adoption process to move forward,” the letter said. “The unexpected delay in the completion of these adoptions has resulted in over 460 children continuing to languish in institutions without the care of a permanent family.”

Workers with the National Council for Adoption, one of the many groups trying to ease the process along, say they realize how difficult this situation is for parents and children alike.

“As hard as it is to know your kid can’t come home, we encourage reasonable patience,” said Megan Lindsey, director of public policy and education for the council. “Don’t try to find a back door out.

“We do want to see a long-term result that’s positive.”

Congolese officials had planned to visit the U.S. through April 26, to talk with officials about the intercountry adoption process and welfare options for adopted children.

The trip was canceled.

‘Worth the wait’

At the Richardson home in Keller, rooms have long been ready for Josias and Mercy — who for now are living in the same foster home in Congo — to come home.

Each will share a room with siblings.

Wooden cutouts in the shape of Africa adorn the doors to those rooms, each bearing the child’s name and the message “Worth the wait.”

“We are ready for them to come home and sleep in their own beds,” Laura Richardson said.

The couple plan to travel to Congo next month to meet their youngest children for the first time.

They’ll finally see Josias, now 15 months, and Mercy, 18 months, face to face.

“We are just going to meet them and make sure they are OK,” Laura Richardson said. “We don’t really expect they will be able to come home at that point.

“But we will pray for a miracle.”

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