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How to handle the orphans?

Even before the earthquake, 300,000 Haitian children had neither homes nor parents.

Many were true orphans: children of the dead. Others’ families, too poor to provide, abandoned their sons and daughters at group homes and orphanages — and sometimes to the streets.

Authorities tallying the dead and homeless following the calamitous Jan. 12 temblor fear that the number of lost children could more than double, which has left child-welfare, relief and faith-based groups asking what can be done to save them.

One adoption agency’s spokesman reported that colleagues saw 27 infants and toddlers sleeping inside a truck on the side of a Port-au-Prince road.

Days after the catastrophic quake, the Archdiocese of Miami suggested a kind of Pierre Pan rescue, similar to the 1960s-era Pedro Pan airlift that brought to the United States more than 14,000 Cuban children whose parents wanted them to escape the perils of Communism.

The announcement set off a wave of interest from Americans eager to help the children of Haiti.

“Those children have no parents; they have no one,” said Sharria Makeda, a 47-year-old student and legal secretary from Baltimore County, Md., who began making inquiries almost immediately after seeing pictures of the devastation on television. “I saw this as an opportunity to help an orphan, someone who has no one in this world.”

But almost immediately, child-welfare and immigration advocates suggested the plan was, though well-intentioned, impractical.

“A lot has changed since the 1960s,” said Tripp Baltz, whose foundation, Chances for Children, helps arrange the adoption of abandoned or orphaned children from Haiti.

Virtually everyone agrees the decision about the future of Haiti’s children belongs squarely with the Haitian people, or their government — which is still recovering from the catastrophe.

Most signs point to a reluctance on Haiti’s part to embrace a large-scale airlift of orphaned or homeless children.

“I don’t think any government would want its children placed in planes and taken elsewhere,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. “I don’t know of any government that would allow that to happen.”

A senior State Department official told adoption and immigrant advocacy groups Thursday that the Obama administration is weighing what policy to adopt regarding Haitian orphans and “vulnerable” children who have not already been adopted by American families.