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COVID Pandemic Brings New Difficulties to International Adoption Process

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- COVID-19 restrictions have left many hopeful Bay Area parents to be with open but empty arms as the pandemic has slowed down or suspended their adoption plans.

Jessica, who preferred not to use her last name, learned sign language as she prepared to adopt a little boy in China who os hearing impaired. Her problem: she can't bring him home to San Jose.

"Sometimes I feel anxious, impatient; and really saddened," she said.

She got matched with the 7-year-old boy last year, but China had stopped all foreign travel during the pandemic.

"The waiting is difficult because I'd expected to travel and complete the adoption long before now," she said.

Susan Soonkeum Cox of Holt International Children's Services has 40 years of experience in overseas adoptions.

"I've never seen anything that begins to compare with the magnitude of this issue," Cox said.

Currently, 400 American families are on hold in their adoption of Chinese children. Holt International is working with 140 families. The word from China is that services will re-open once things are safe.

However, Cox said, "Who knows when that is going to be?"

The best guess? After Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics in February.

"We feel confident that there will not be travel until at least after the Olympics are over," Cox said.

The good news? To protect them from COVID, China's put adoptive children on lockdown with their caretakers.

And sometimes the caregivers share updates: Jessica has emailed sign language videos she's recorded at home to connect with her son an ocean away. In response, his caretakers have sent back videos of him following her lessons.

"It's really cute," Jessica smiled. "You can see him watching it, and listening and doing the signs so that gives me a spark of joy and hope."

The pandemic has also delayed domestic adoptions. Kimberly Batson of San Francisco was filing papers to adopt her 5-year-old great-niece, Sariah when the city sheltered in place.

"It was stressful all the time," Batson said.

Among many difficulties, it was particularly tough getting the required physical.

"They wouldn't allow you to go into the hospital," Batson added.

And visits with Ann, the social worker, were socially distanced outside. Even in the rain.

"Ann didn't want to be wet, and I didn't want to be wet," Batson said.

Alternative Family Services in Oakland saw a third fewer adoptions last year as Zoom meetings replaced in-person parent training, CPR classes, and court hearings.
Coordinator Alma Woodard said the agency had to pivot.

"It took a lot longer due to the fact that we weren't able to meet in person. But we were able to get it done," Woodard said.

Batson's adoption became final after one year. Meanwhile, Jessica's application has dragged into its fourth year.

"I keep reminding myself that it's all in God's timing," she said.

So she waits for the day when she no longer holds an image of a little boy on a phone in her hand, but a son in her arms.

More information the services these organizations provide can be found at the websites for Alternative Family Services and Holt International.

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