China has maintained its suspension of intercountry adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Americans to either wait or take another path.
Cady Driver of North Carolina had been trying since January 2019 to adopt a little girl with Down syndrome from a Chinese orphanage. After a long wait, she switched to a domestic adoption process and last month brought home Ella Fei, a different Chinese girl with Down syndrome from Florida.
“It’s definitely bittersweet because, for almost 2½ years, we were thinking we were getting a different child,” Mrs. Driver said. “So it’s definitely very difficult to let go because you fall in love with those children. They really find a place in your heart.
“I think, for us, it was getting more to the point that we don’t know if China will ever open back up their adoption program. And it’s hard to say no to a domestic situation when there’s this situation where it may or may not happen,” she said.
China stopped preapproving prospective parents earlier this year and has not resumed adoption travel, according to the National Council for Adoption.
Most intercountry adoptions in the U.S. are from China. American families last year finalized 202 Chinese adoptions, a 75% decline from 819 in fiscal 2019, the State Department reported in July. Total intercountry adoptions dropped 45%, from 2,971 to 1,622, from fiscal 2019 to 2020.
“The pandemic has impacted the adoption process of thousands of families in different ways,” said Kristen Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the National Council for Adoption. “From travel bans to government office closures, delays in paperwork processing and the challenges of completing required social worker visits, just about every adoption that was in process in 2020 or is in process now has been impacted on some level.”
Sarah Hansen, the international programs director for Madison Adoption Associates, said her agency began pausing applications for its China program in June after Beijing stopped issuing preapprovals. She described adoption paperwork as a “monumental undertaking.”
“Thus, we felt it was not in our families’ best interests to spend their time and resources doing so if that dossier was not able to be used to pursue the adoption of a child at this time,” Ms. Hansen said. “As soon as procedures return to normal in China, we will immediately resume application acceptance.”
Ms. Hansen said this is the first time Madison Adoption Associates has stopped accepting applicants for its China program since its inception in the late 1990s.
The agency works with several families that have decided to pursue “concurrent adoptions,” she said, but a few families have unmatched from their waiting children and withdrawn from the program altogether. Most of the 64 families in their China program are waiting out the suspension.
Callie Troyer, who lives in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and adopted 5-year-old son from South Korea, is one of those waiting.
In October, the Troyers began the process of adopting a visually impaired 6-year-old boy from north-central China and received preapproval. They are waiting to be officially matched with the boy, whom they want to name Sam. He is now placed with a foster care family associated with a child welfare institution.
“We feel really confident that he is our son and the reason that we took this path in the first place,” Ms. Troyer said. “Whether it’s a year or two years, our plan is to wait and to bring him home.”
Madison Adoption also has programs in Thailand, Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and the Philippines. All of those countries have resumed adoptions with strict travel protocols to protect against COVID-19.
Modifications to unite children with their adoptive families mark significant progress from a year ago, Ms. Hamilton said.
“The exception is China, and that is simply a devastating situation for hundreds and hundreds of families who had expected to be home with their children a long time ago,” she said.
A State Department official said its agents talk regularly with Chinese officials about the suspension of intercountry adoptions and are seeking solutions.
Chinese officials have said they are not processing intercountry adoptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in other countries and out of concern for the health and safety of children in social welfare institutions.
In February, the Netherlands announced the suspension of all intercountry adoptions for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, citing an investigation that found “possible illicit practices” from 1967 to 1998.
The Driver family terminated the process for the girl in China to give others a chance to adopt her.
The family adopted Lian, their 7-year-old son with Down syndrome, from China in 2016.
“It’s another adventure to embrace,” Mrs. Driver said of adopting 3-year-old Ella Fei. “I’m feeling grateful that God chose us to be a part of her life.”