The adoption journey can be a trying experience already for many, but adoption in the time of Coronavirus adds a totally new dimension. Adoption already involves unique challenges, from saving up money to afford the adoption costs, finding agencies to work with, waiting, etc. It’s harder even for birth parents who have lots of decisions to make. When a pandemic hits, these decisions and financial hardships make this process all the more difficult. Thankfully, despite these issues, adoptions are still happening, but in a new and unique way.

However, despite these adoption processes continuing, the adoption journeys happening now are definitely different, and adoptive parents, those who support, and birth parents are feeling these challenges.

Supporting Adopting Families During a Pandemic

We know that adoption is costly and for people who were struggling to come up with these funds, with the change in our economy and with potential job loss, this struggle just became all the more difficult for many families on the path to adoption. Furthermore, those adopting internationally may be separated from seeing children the families were planning to adopt, and with travel bans, it will be long before hopeful adoptive parents will get to go to those countries. (Not sure about the cost of adoption? Read this article.)

Helpusadopt.org is a non-profit that helps support families with grants in the amount of up to $15,000 to help offset the costs of adoption. Becky Fawcett, the cofounder of Helpusadopt.org, understands better than anyone these costs as a mother through adoption herself. As families who were in the adoption process may suffer even more from financial hardship at this time, Becky and her team have pivoted to change fundraising efforts to grassroots bracelet sales to holding the Spring Gala as a virtual event.

Charities are not the only ones coming to the aid of those adopting. Social workers, adoption agencies, and even judges have gotten creative to move to more virtual meetings, home studies, etc. to ensure that families can still be built through adoption.

There are also people who have stepped up to support those who adopt at this time. It’s not easy to get everything you need for a baby, and I’ve seen stories of people dropping off items, having clothes shipped, and supporting new parents with meals being delivered to the families’ houses (which also supports our restaurants in need). This is not usual—we come together to support new parents, but people are getting creative.

It’s been interesting, sad, and beautiful to see new babies being introduced through windows and FaceTime instead of being cuddled by loved ones, but babies bring hope, and it’s optimistic to see so many people taking health so seriously. Children are the future and we will always remember the year that those close to us were born, how hopeful adoptive parents’ home study took place, and that the adoption finalization wasn’t typical.

Despite the difficulty in this situation, the good news is this: pandemic or not, adoptions are still happening.

The Home Study Process: The Virtual Home Study

Home studies are critical in the adoption process and are necessary in order to proceed in all cases. Unfortunately, these meetings, including the home visit and interviews tend to take place face to face. However, with what is going on, this is changing.

For many people, this is an already daunting experience. Throw in a major global illness and change in employees, who can go out, who is working, etc., and this process takes on a whole new meaning.

When Rachel started the adoption process, she and her spouse were prepared to go through it the way everyone else in the past had, according to the couple. With a date in the calendar, both she and her husband geared up to be interviewed and share the home with the caseworker. However, as we know, things changed drastically here, and very quickly. Though agencies were quick to pivot to this new way of completing these home visits to move on with adoptions, it didn’t come easily and of course, made things trickier for both parties.

Rachel and her husband started the home study process in person in January, and due to COVID-19, have been finishing it up virtually. Having to reschedule the in-person visit was not optimal, but Rachel and her husband have met virtually with the caseworker twice, going through the interview process that way. However, as we are growing to learn more and more each day, speaking to someone or meeting over Zoom just isn’t the same anymore. You lose connection and you may not be highlighting everything you had hoped.

“I don’t feel like the virtual home study showcased our home very well,” noted Rachel, who said her husband had to carry around his phone to show the caseworker the house, inside or out. “You didn’t get a true sense of distances and perspectives.” She noted that it was hard to see certain areas and she even wondered if the social worker was able to understand how far the house was from the road with outside traffic noise.

Rachel and her husband will still have to have an in-person visit and both are hopeful that this happens soon. Overall, she noted that she felt less anxious to show her house virtually, but it has been frustrating because, throughout the process, she has had to work with different caseworkers, and with the unknown, it’s been hard to schedule things to move forward in the adoption process.

However, she is grateful that she and her husband have been able to still proceed, no matter the pace. As states begin to open up, we likely can expect to see a hybrid of how home studies are performed in adoptions moving forward. Those of us that have been through a home study know that no two are alike and it’s hard enough to feel prepared, let alone when you are doing it over the phone.

Learn more about the adoption home study process here. You can read more about my personal home study experience here.

Adoption Hearings: Finalizing the Adoption Virtually

One of the things I’ve loved is seeing that adoptions are still being finalized and court cases are still happening but in new ways. Whether it be through Zoom, Facetime, or via telephone, judges are celebrating new families being built. Though it gives me joy to see this, it also makes me a little sad that families aren’t being able to celebrate in a way that is typical. We are so excited when we have new additions to our family, and after waiting to be matched, going through failed adoptions, working through paperwork, we are ready to celebrate that we finally are a family. Yet, this is very different today.

Cara and her family were anticipating a court date being set to finalize the adoption of the family’s daughter when the pandemic began. Though the couple might have had to wait to hold that court date, it was moved to a phone call. These hopeful adoptive parents would be on the phone at home and the judge, clerk and the attorney would be in the courtroom using a landline to speak with the couple over a speaker.

“The day before our court date, we spoke with our attorney to understand how things would take place. He advised us to pause for one second after anyone stopped speaking in order to account for the delay of being on a speaker in the courtroom,” she said. “On the day of our court date, the clerk called us at the appointed time and placed on us a speakerphone in the courtroom where our attorney was present.”

Cara’s court hearing went very much as an in-person hearing goes. She and her husband were asked a series of questions, and the couple was even asked to raise his and her right hands and take the judicial oath. (She notes that he even asked both her and her husband if both had raised those hands.) “At the end, they told us to have fun celebrating in our home and to be safe,” Cara said. Like other court hearings, the couple was asked the same questions and the same rituals were followed, but over the phone instead of face to face.

The court experience was different since Cara, her husband, and the attorney wasn’t physically present. “It felt more formal in many ways by phone because we could only hear voices and couldn’t’ see any smiles or reactions,” Cara notes.

The finalization of adoptions is my favorite, and I love this court date. This was a special day for my family personally, both with the adoption of my daughter in 2015, and when my niece was adopted this past Fall. So, I knew that though families were grateful to continue to be able to finalize adoptions and that this would be memorable, not being able to share it with others was definitely upsetting.

“Not having our family in the courtroom with us was sad,” Cara said. “It was a day we had been looking forward to celebrating for a long time. Our family had taken the day off work to be there and instead, we missed out on it. It felt really weird to do this huge thing we had been waiting so long for and then just to go about our day almost as though nothing important had happened.”

In fact, Cara’s husband noted that this wasn’t as momentous, and seemed more transactional. Since many families take this time to do group photos with the judge in the courtroom and celebrate with a meal after, I definitely feel for couples in this situation.

Otherwise, logistically, this was typical adoption finalization. However, due to the city where this family’s adoption took place being under a more strict lockdown, getting the daughter’s birth certificate will be delayed. The end outcome is otherwise the same, and the family has already received the adoption decree usually handed out at the court.

For more information about adoption finalization, here are some articles:

5 Things to do at or After the Finalization

What to Expect at Finalization

What to Expect Moving Forward

Right now, there is still a lot of uncertainty and frustration as adoption professionals consider how to best support clients and to do so safely. With different states being in various stages of reopening and international travel not as readily available, this becomes tricky.

Birth parents and adoptive parents alike are struggling with this. Birth parents may not have the opportunity to meet with families face to face when choosing parents for the children. Furthermore, births have been complicated, and in some instances, only an immediate family member can be in the delivery room, and adoptive parents may not be able to be present at the hospital when children are born. Ultimately, each experience will be different as we continue to navigate what is being called our “new normal.”

There have been no changes to the adoption process at this time, which could cause frustration to families who have been thinking about how this will happen for some time, and in all honesty, we can’t for sure say when these processes will return to as adoptions were.

Yet, adoptions will continue to move forward as each can in the best way possible. In the coming months, we are likely to see more and more virtual situations, but as things open up, in-person home studies will remain and court finalizations will likely resume, still with maybe just the immediate family members and other restrictions that we are seeing in public areas.

I, for one, anticipate more of these Zoom meetings happening as we try to social distance and keep people safe and healthy through this process.

Adoption Professionals Working to Make This Happen

One thing is for certain–adoption professionals are hard at work supporting families. In talking to individuals, I’ve heard nothing but great things about agencies, caseworkers, social workers, attorneys, and judges. Foster care visitations are being monitored, kids in dangerous situations are still able to get placed into foster care. Adoptions are still being finalized. Attorneys are working to help families navigate new processes. Social workers and counselors are helping to advise parents and birth parents, finding funds to support birth parents, and ensuring that birth mothers have what they need even though delivering a baby looks different today. These are the heroes continuing to ensure that families are being built and everyone is being supported.