- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tea sets, bows, a doll house, a pink duvet covering the bottom bunk bed and a photo tacked onto the fridge — these are just some of the Driver family’s reminders of a little girl in a Chinese orphanage waiting to be adopted.

Cady and Chris Driver of Garner, North Carolina, anticipated adopting 2-year-old Ella earlier this year. But instead of flying to China in February, they had to delay their plans because of travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus outbreak.

“It makes me feel very sad and frustrated. We’ve been waiting so long to meet her and make her a part of our family, but we are resigned to waiting it out for the good of everyone,” Mrs. Driver said. “Within the adoption community on social media, parents are just devastated that they can’t go get their children, but I mean, obviously, we want to be safe.”

As the outbreak appears to be subsiding in China, American families whose adoption plans have been delayed express hope that they will be able to travel to the country in late spring.

China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus infections in Hubei province, where the outbreak originated. Residents in Hubei province have resumed a more normal routine, with some businesses and factories reopening and many domestic travel restrictions being lifted.

“As soon as we possibly can, we would like to go get Ella and bring her to her forever home here. As soon as it’s safe for everyone involved and we will, of course, take every precaution,” Mrs. Driver said.

Despite some good news out of China, the increase in infections elsewhere, including in the U.S., creates uncertainty for families trying to adopt internationally. The State Department on Thursday issued an advisory urging citizens to avoid all travel abroad because of the global impact of COVID-19.

The Drivers started the adoption process for Ella through the International Adoption Net in January 2019. They have set up a bedroom for her to share with their 6-year-old son, Lian, who was adopted from China in 2016. Like Lian, Ella was born with Down syndrome.

“We just felt really drawn toward China because the orphanages have a lot of children who have special needs, and they have a hard time finding homes for those children,” Mrs. Driver said.

“You love that child already, and you’ve been working a whole year. And they are a whole world away and you can’t get to them,” she said. “It’s been really hard just waiting.”

In 2018, there were 4,059 intercountry adoptions to the U.S., according to the latest annual report from the State Department. Of those, 1,475 adoptions were from China. Many children in Chinese orphanages have some type of special needs.

Toni and Dayton Puckett, who live in Farmville, Virginia, booked a two-week trip to China to pick up their daughter, with plans to leave at the end of January and arrive back in the States in mid-February.

But travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus outbreak put a wrench in their plans.

The Pucketts discovered the 3-year-old girl via an email sent by America World Adoption at the end of July. The Pucketts decided to name her Riese, a combination of the names of Toni’s mother and grandmother.

“I think we knew deep down that she was our daughter the very first night that my husband, Dayton, and I saw her picture and read a short description about her,” Mrs. Puckett said.

The family began the adoption process in August and received a letter of acceptance from China a few weeks later.

Anna Graham, chief operating officer of America World Adoption, said the coronavirus outbreak directly impacted about 15 families working with the agency in various stages of the adoption process. A handful of families were set to travel in February, plane tickets in hand, but had to cancel their arrangements.

These adoptive families opened their hearts and homes to a child and already are waiting for several months to obtain government approval to finalize adoptions, only for plans to unexpectedly come to a halt, Ms. Graham said.

“It’s a lot to get to that final stage, and then here at the eleventh hour, you have to wait. It’s just so heartbreaking, and much of the adoption process involves painful waiting and a lot of processes that are out of your control as an adoptive parent,” Ms. Graham said.

“But I think this is a whole new level of a situation that was outside of expectation or control,” she added. “Obviously, it’s now more difficult in that we don’t have an answer for families for when we anticipate they will be able to travel.”

Since the outbreak began, America World Adoption and adoptive families have donated masks, medical supplies and thousands of dollars to support health care needs to orphanages in China.

Ryan Hanlon, vice president of research, education and constituent services for the National Council for Adoption, urged adoptive parents to continue to be patient and to follow the guidance of the State Department and adoption authorities.

“My experience has been that as eager as adoptive parents are to travel, they understand this is an issue that’s much larger than adoption,” he said. “They’re not blaming anyone. They just feel distraught for the child and want to complete the adoption.”

He said it is encouraging that families were able to resume adoptions after outbreaks such as the 2002-2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

“Pointing families toward historical reminders can be helpful when we’re in the middle of a situation that’s very disappointing like this,” Mr. Hanlon said. “Every family that’s delayed and every child that’s delayed in joining a family, that is a tragedy. … This is something that will pass, and we have every reason to believe that adoptions will resume again when it’s a safer time to travel.”

Aside from travel restrictions, there is concern about bringing adoptive children to the U.S. as the country reports more cases.

Mrs. Puckett said her family is worried about bringing Riese to the States anytime soon, especially since her immune system is likely underdeveloped from living in an orphanage for almost her entire life.

She said her family has no idea when they will travel to China to meet Riese and bring her home.

“If we have learned anything at all in this very lengthy adoption process, full of so many ups and downs, it is that God is in control and that we will meet our daughter in his perfect timing,” Mrs. Puckett said. “Faith has led us this far, and it will keep us going.”

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