You see heart rending photos and newscasts of weeping children, some only two or three years old, wandering the streets without any idea of where their parents are. Many of them are injured or hungry. All of them are scared to death. You want to help these children that have been left orphaned in the latest shocking natural disaster, but how?

Should You Consider a Haiti Adoption?

The first idea many people have for helping orphans is that they can open their home to one or more of
those children. It is wonderful to want to give a home to a child who doesn't have one, but these orphans aren't going to be immediately available for adoption, and for good reason. Here are just a few reasons that children orphaned in disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami in Sri Lanka, should not be made available for immediate adoption:

They may not really be orphans.

What if a parent with a case of amnesia or severe injuries that temporarily placed him or her in a coma is located still alive several weeks or months after the disaster? He or she will have to spend time and money to track down the adopted child in another country. In the meantime, the child will have started to settle in to the new family situation. This means that he or she will suffer a new loss when leaving the new family. A child left in an orphanage or foster care for a few months while officials make sure no family members have survived won't make those more permanent ties and won't have to break them.

Someone else may have a claim on the child.

Those Haiti children may be orphans, but that doesn't mean they don't have any relatives left. A grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling may have survived and may want to raise the child you are planning to adopt. While no one can replace a parent, a family member, who has many of the same memories and a shared cultural history, is often a better fit for the orphaned child than someone in a completely different country that has no family ties at all.

The children's country may want to keep them.

A country that has already lost its history and many of its people doesn't really want to give up its future, too. When you're asking to take boatloads of orphans from one country to give to prospective parents in another country, you're asking that country to give you hundreds or thousands of the next generation.

Orphaned children aren't pets.

If you've been going through adoption channels and want to adopt an orphaned child, I couldn't be happier. I myself would like to adopt a foster child or two some day. And when the time is right, I will. Seeing a few shocking images on the television or in the newspaper isn't a good reason for deciding to adopt, though. You need to be prepared for 10 to 20 years of doctor visits, counselor visits and messy bedrooms. You need to be prepared for teens prone to angry outbursts or problems with drugs and alcohol as they struggle to work through feelings of loss, frustration and the unfairness of losing their birth families to a natural disaster while their adoptive family members are surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. If you adopt on a whim or an understandable desire to help, you may realize you can't cope with a child that needs so much attention, love, patience and understanding. If you grow to regret what you've done, you could damage that child more than any orphanage could.

So, how do your help children after a natural disaster?

You give. Give your money to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. Give your time to rebuilding efforts when the country has stabilized in a few months. Give your prayers every night. And then, when everyone else has forgotten about these children because a new disaster has come along, you still give.

Here are several ways to give to people in need of disaster relief:
- Setting up a scholarship for a child who lost one or both parents in the disaster.
- Offering a micro loan to someone restarting a business after losing everything.
- Holding a fundraiser to help a child who needs reconstructive surgery get the care he or she needs.
- Sponsoring a child or several children who are orphans, either personally or through a charity.

Then, a year or so after the disaster, if you still feel that you should help one of these children by bringing him or her into your family, check with your local adoption agency about starting the long process of adopting a child who is truly an orphan in need of a loving home.

Photo via SXC