How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Adoption Community
"It looks like he has a lot of age-appropriate toys and books, which is great," a social worker, Lisa, observed about my son's nursery. She was conducting a post-placement visit of our home, a requirement to finalize his adoption. We were chatting in my son's room about everything from how he was developing to how often he takes his bottle and when his next pediatrician's visit would take place. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa wasn't with us, exactly. She was observing everything about him over video chat, talking to us from her home office on Skype.
Adoption, like most of what's going on in the world, has pivoted in recent months. Everyone involved in the process, including adoption agencies, birth parents, adoptive families, and adoption attorneys, has been affected in some way. Here's a look at how the pandemic has impacted adoption.
Increases in Adoption
Even though it feels like a lot in the world has been put on hold in the last few months, babies are still, of course, being born. And families continue to be formed via foster care and private adoption, too.
Rebecca Gruenspan, an adoption consultant and founder of RG Adoption Consulting in Evanston, Illinois, says she has helped many families start the domestic infant adoption process (adopting in the United States) since March. "We have seen a record number of families beginning the adoption process, as people likely have more time to sit down together and embark on a journey that begins with mounds of paperwork," she says.
Gruenspan also saw an increase in the number of pregnant women hoping to make an adoption plan in March and April, although that has since leveled off a bit. "We saw more and more expectant mothers choosing to make last-minute adoption plans, which meant more matches and placements for the families we work with. In May, it started to level out a bit more. That might be because people started to receive financial support and maybe started to feel a bit more secure in being able to parent."
Adjustments to the Adoption Process
The home study is an important piece of the adoption process puzzle. Potential adoptive families are vetted with background checks. A social worker also usually comes to inspect their home with at least one or two in-person visits.
Private adoption agencies are being flexible and allowing some families to conduct home study visits over video chat, something that Gruenspan says never would have been allowed pre-pandemic. The video home study can be challenging, though, as you might not learn as much about a potential parent as if you were face-to-face.
That's why how best to vet families is being determined on a case-by-case basis, explains Jennifer Kelly, medical director at Special Angels Adoption in Jackson, Ohio. "We are still meeting with prospective adoptive families even with COVID-19 restrictions in place. However, we are modifying as needed to meet the needs of the situation. There is a great need for flexibility right now in order to keep everyone safe, while also assessing a family's strengths and needs as an adoptive family. We are utilizing virtual meeting platforms, but still meeting in person for some evaluations."
How birth mothers (and sometimes fathers) and prospective adoptive parents connect with one another has changed, too. In the past, they may have had the opportunity to meet in person to get to know one another prior to the birth. Now, due to quarantine and travel restrictions, they have to build a relationship via video chat or texting.
Gruenspan says families are making this work, although it isn't without its challenges. "I had one family who did a Zoom call with their child's birth mom right from her hospital bed after giving birth. It was really sweet."
Many adoptive families travel to the birth of their child, oftentimes crossing state lines to get there. With travel restrictions in place, this has become more challenging in recent months. Gruenspan says some adoptive parents are choosing to take two- or three-day road trips instead of flying to get to the hospital in time. Some are even renting fully-equipped RVs to avoid staying in hotels and having to eat out in restaurants.
Hospitals, too, are limiting visitors and even limiting who is allowed to be in the room for the birth. In normal times, birth mothers can have multiple support people around as they deliver. This may include their own family members, a social worker or adoption agency representative, and even one or both of the adoptive parents, if they wish.
Due to COVID-19 hospital restrictions, Enchanta Jenkins, M.D. and OB-GYN at Ellehcal OB-GYN and Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, says restrictions can vary greatly, depending on where the adoption is to take place. At her hospital, only one support person is now allowed to be with the birth mother when she's admitted, and that designated person must remain there the entire time. (Once they leave, they can't come back.)
"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adoptive parents (but only one parent) are allowed to come be with the baby after birth. If adoptive parents [are] not available, they can send a representative as long as that person has proper legal paperwork showing they have temporary guardianship (or right to care for) of the child," she says.
These new restrictions might mean adoptive parents don't get to meet their new child until they are released from the hospital. This might sound difficult, but can work out OK for everyone with a little patience and understanding, says Gruenspan.
"The period between a child's birth and a birth mother signing a paternal relinquishment can be especially difficult for everyone involved, and COVID-19 has eliminated some of the added stress in some ways and added stress in other ways," she says. "Hopeful parents no longer have the added stress about navigating their relationship with a birth mother while at the hospital and while she still has parental rights. At the same time, it may alleviate some added pressure to the birth mom. And on the flip side, she may also be looking for that added layer of support from her child's soon-to-be parents."
Remaining flexible is key. If you are adopting, check in with your hospital and adoption agency about their current policies, as they are constantly changing.
Finalizations Over Zoom
After years of paperwork, home visits, and oftentimes one or two adoption situations that fall through, finalization in court is the celebration at the end of the finish line for adoptive parents.
During finalization, the adoptive parents and their child typically appear in person in a courtroom in front of a judge. The judge declares the adoption final, giving permanent legal custody to the adoptive parents.
This week, like many adoptive families are now doing, we'll finalize my son's adoption over Zoom. Although it won't quite have the same opulence as going to the courthouse in person (let's be honest, we'll probably be in comfy sweats instead of dressing up), it will be special nonetheless. We can invite our families to join the video call and we plan to celebrate after with cake.
A video call might not be exactly how I envisioned our journey to becoming a family coming to a close. But I'm thankful adoption isn't stopping due to the pandemic, just pivoting instead.