An email sent to Nightlight Christian Adoptions staff members on Tuesday urged everyone to pray for 17 parents and their adopted children in various foreign countries. Amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic, many are stranded, separated from family members, quarantined, or unable to obtain the necessary paperwork to travel back to the United States with their adopted children.
“We’ve done everything we know to get them home, and we continue trying,” wrote Lisa Whitaker, international program coordinator at Nightlight, which has locations in 10 states.
COVID-19 has virtually halted international adoptions with lockdowns, travel bans, and visa restrictions, leaving dozens of families in dire circumstances.
Several agency directors I talked to said they were trying to help families abroad return home safely with their adopted children. Mary Beth King, executive director of the Frank Adoption Center in Wake Forest, N.C, said her agency has three families stuck in African countries waiting for visas for their adoptive children. Some of them fear for their safety amid economic and political unrest.
Tens of thousands of Americans trying to get home are overburdening U.S. embassies abroad. “They should be prioritizing adoption cases, but that doesn’t always mean they are,” said Ryan Hanlon, vice president of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).
The council is asking the U.S. State Department to grant adoptive children humanitarian parole. Some agencies, including Nightlight and Frank, have tried unsuccessfully to obtain tourist visas for children in these special cases.
“Parents aren’t going to abandon their children, but they can’t stay in these countries indefinitely,” Hanlon said.
Other parents had to postpone their trips abroad to bring home their adopted children. Several families working with Hopscotch Adoptions in High Point, N.C., canceled their trips to Bulgaria, Morocco, and Serbia at the last minute as those countries closed their borders.
“They are all devastated,” Hopscotch founder and president Robin Sizemore said.
Meanwhile, domestic adoption agencies and parents are dealing with new and evolving interstate travel restrictions, social distancing protocols, court case delays, financial woes, and more.
Some adoptive parents and social workers cannot enter hospitals to obtain consent from birth mothers who planned to place their babies for adoption. Most agencies’ staff members are working remotely and have slowed or halted home study visits due to the coronavirus outbreak. The National Council for Adoption is working with individual states to allow video conferencing for social work visits during the pandemic.
Amid those challenges, agencies have to cope with diminishing business.
“The number of people inquiring about adoption has almost completely disappeared,” Nightlight President Daniel Nehrbass said.
The State Department’s accreditation arm, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), requires agencies to have two months’ worth of liquid assets on hand. Nehrbass said without new clients, Nightlight will have to start cutting expenses immediately.
NCFA’s Hanlon said the IAAME has indicated it will have some flexibility with adoption groups during the pandemic, but agencies are still worried.
Nightlight’s Whitaker sought to reassure her agency’s staff in her email: “Even though this has caught all of us off guard, it has not caught God off guard.”