As the coronavirus shutters courtrooms around the world, international adoptions have dramatically slowed since March.
Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which has 10 U.S. offices, completed 13 international adoptions from April to August, compared to the 50 it would typically do in a five-month period.
“The courts in foreign countries are (mostly) closed,” said Daniel Nehrbass, president of Nightlight, which normally oversees about 250 domestic and international adoptions a year. “And the consulates or embassies abroad have not been taking visa appointments for families that have to get a visa for their child.”
But his agency is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Incertain countries a few courtrooms and embassies are starting to open with limited hours. Clients have
recently brought children home from Colombia, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Nigeria and Romania.
“Haiti is starting to set court dates,’’ Nehrbass said. “We had one family get their visa in China.”
Alarming trend in domestic adoptions
The pandemic has sparked other significant shifts in domestic adoption and foster care, Nehrbass said.
“Birth mothers are changing their minds (about going forward with adoptions) in the hospital at an unprecedented rate,’’ he said. “We normally have one birth mom a year change her mind and we’ve seen 10 so far this year.”
Nehrbass meets with colleagues from 10 other adoption organizations every other month and they are seeing the same trend.
Because of the pandemic, it has been much harder for adoptive parents and birth mothers to bond, especially during the birth at the hospital. Without that connection, birth mothers don’t feel as comfortable handing their baby over to someone else, Nehrbass said.
Prior to COVID-19, adoptive parents were often in the delivery room for hours as the baby was born. If birth mothers chose not to have them there, the adoptive parents were still waiting at the hospital. In either case, the adoptive parents leave the hospital with the baby.
Now they are not allowed in the hospital, so the birth mother checks out with the baby and releases the infant at an office or hotel. It’s always a very emotional and hard time for the mother to say goodbye to her child. But it is even harder now when there are more steps involved in letting go to someone she doesn’t know as well.
It’s heartbreaking for adoptive parents to travel to another state and find out they can’t take the child home. But Nehrbass stressed if a mother really is capable of keeping her own child that’s a good outcome. If the decision is made at the last minute, however, often the child ends up in foster care down the road.
Abuse going unreported
Referrals of abused children to many of the foster care agencies Nehrbass and his colleagues work with are down. This is another troubling trend he attributes to the effects of COVID-19.
It’s often teachers who notice signs of abuse, but when children aren’t in school, many are suffering without a watchdog.
“The reports of abuse have gone down, but there’s no reason to believe there is less abuse happening,” Nehrbass said. With more time at home, more financial stress, more alcohol consumption, there’s likely more abuse.
One positive side effect of COVID-19, however, is there are more applications coming in for adoptions and foster care.
“All 10 agencies I talk with have seen an increase in numbers of applicants,” Nehrbass said. “Adoption takes a lot of paperwork and a lot of time. People have more time on their hands now.”
He predicts when courts and consulates open regularly and more children are accessible, there will be a backlog of families waiting.
COVID-19 delaying a longtime dream of adopting
Sara Jo and Michael Floyd started trying to adopt a special needs child from another country in August 2018. After months of paperwork, home inspections and financial reviews, on January 21, 2019, they were matched with a blind baby girl in India.
More than 18 months later, the couple in rural Kansas are still waiting to bring her home. Courts have finally started to open, but an Aug. 4 hearing was cancelled at the eleventh hour because three people required for the proceedings tested positive for COVID-19.
“In my heart, the process started when I was seven years old. I’ve always wanted to adopt from another country since I was a little girl,” Sara Jo Floyd, 35, said recently. “My mom’s best friend adopted a little boy from Korea. I was sitting on the floor holding him in my lap listening to her describe the orphanage with cribs in a row, sometimes with multiple babies in a crib, and nobody to love them.”
Years later when she was dating her future husband, she told him this was her plan. He was on board. When the Floyds were ready to start a family, they learned the adoption process involved a myriad of costs totaling about $40,000.
They put the plan on hold. They had two biological daughters, bought a small Kansas farm and started restoring the property and house. Two years ago, after learning many adoptive parents fundraise to afford it, they started a Go Fund Me campaign.
“We had an Instagram feed about restoring our farm. We asked our social media following to join arms with our family and bring our daughter home,’’ she said. “People who loved our family would donate $100, $20 or $10. It was so humbling.”
One donor they didn’t know gave $7,000. She got a grant for $4,000. Most donations were under $1,000, but within a while, the $40,000 came together.
In filling out forms for Lifeline Children’s Services adoption agency, the Floyds faced a list of disabilities and asked to check a box if they thought they could emotionally and financially handle the issue.
“This was the only paper I cried over out of thousands of papers we had to go through. When you check ‘no’ you feel like you are saying no to a child,” Floyd recounted. “We said ‘yes’ to almost everything.”
Their daughter waiting in India has anophthalmia, which means she was born without eyes.
“As soon as I saw her picture I was like: ‘That’s our baby.’ My husband is a little more level headed, and he said ‘Let’s think about it and pray about it for a week.’ We researched anophthalmia,” she said. “We learned everything we could about India and fell in love with the country and culture.”
They decided to welcome the little girl to their family and farm, which offers a wealth of tactile stimulation, not to mention love.
“We have another hearing scheduled for September 10,” she said. “We are hoping and praying everyone will be well and able to be there.”
Contact Katherine Snow Smith at Katherine@legalexaminer.com. Follow her on Twitter at @snowsmith.