Thousands of Haitian children - frightened, hungry, wounded - suffer before our eyes.

Thousands of Haitian children - frightened, hungry, wounded - suffer before our eyes.

Adoption advocates know that such images stir Americans, some so deeply that they vow to make a place not only in their hearts but their homes. "It's the most natural thing in the world to want to care for these children," said Dawn Davenport of, an online adoption resource. "But that's not something that can happen immediately."

Davenport began fielding calls and e-mails almost as soon as the earthquake struck. "I think it's a good thing, but the reality is, there have been many children in need in Haiti for a long time," she said. "It's about continuing interest."

In a memo last month, the U.S. State Department urged families to help in other ways first, mostly by sending money to a reputable relief organization working in Haiti. With the impoverished country in chaos, it likely will take several months before aid workers know how many children truly are orphans, experts say.

"A lot of people think that when there's this level of chaos, it quickens the process. Actually, the opposite occurs," said Diahanna Roberson of Bellefaire JCB in Cleveland, one of the nation's oldest and largest adoption agencies.

Susan Garner Eisenman, an Upper Arlington adoption attorney, said those who call after a disaster mean well and usually are sincere. It's one of those need-to-rescue things," she said. "We get lots and lots of inquiries, but if you don't have a court system in the country, it's tough."

Catholic Charities and other Florida-based organizations said last month that they were planning a mass airlift of Haitian children, one similar to the Pedro Pan operation that took children from Cuba to the United States 40 years ago. Even if that happens, Davenport said, it wouldn't necessarily change the prospects. "The chances are extraordinarily good that these children would not themselves be available for adoption," she said.

The most important thing is for governments and aid organizations to protect the children, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. That also means working on family reunification, caregiver planning and trauma, said Pertman, who wrote about intercountry adoption in emergencies after the tsunami struck southern Asia in 2004.

"After a disaster, people's hearts go out and they want to do the right thing for kids," he said. "But if we act precipitously, we wind up not doing the right thing for the long term."

Still, if the tragedy spurs interest in fostering and adoption anywhere, not just in Haiti, that's a good thing, said Brett Katz of Bellefaire JCB. "That's our mission - to help all children in need."