Families wait for months as coronavirus delays international adoptions

Updated: Jun. 18, 2020 at 6:22 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - For many families waiting to adopt a child from another country, the coronavirus has indefinitely halted the already-long process.

The virus has impacted between 40 and 50 people who are adopting a child internationally through Lifeline Children’s Services, an adoption agency based in Birmingham, Alabama.

There are 11 families who have been waiting since late January to adopt their children from China, Lifeline Director of International Adoption Karla Thrasher said.

“These were families that had plane tickets booked, travel arrangements made, they’ve had a photo of their child for six to nine months,” Thrasher said. “The hardest part for families is there’s not yet an end in sight for travel to open up.”

This family is adopting a child from China through Lifeline Children's Services.
This family is adopting a child from China through Lifeline Children's Services.(Lifeline Children's Services)

China was the first country to close its borders due to the coronavirus, but other countries soon followed suit as the virus spread around the world.

From mid-March through the end of April, Lifeline had seven families who were still in countries including India, Columbia, Hungary and Haiti as the borders began closing.

By working together with the Department of State and Office of Children’s Issues and the American embassies on the ground, Lifeline was able to get all of those families home in about two and a half weeks.

Thrasher has been working with international adoptions for 20 years, and Jana Lombardo, Lifeline’s Eurasia program director, has been in international adoptions for 25 years.

“We’ve seen countries go up and down and close and have delays, but we’ve never seen it be every single country at one time. We look at ourselves and say ‘What is happening?’” Thrasher said.

Andi Argo, a dental hygienist, and her husband Josh, who teaches math at Leeds High School, are waiting to adopt a daughter from China. The couple has been married for 10 years and have two boys, Judah, age 5, and River, 3.

The Argo family (Josh, River, Andi and Judah) is in the process of adopting a girl from China.
The Argo family (Josh, River, Andi and Judah) is in the process of adopting a girl from China.(Andi Argo)

They submitted their first application on July 31, 2019, and were told to expect around 18 months for their adoption to be finalized, but now the timeline is expected to be much longer.

The Argo family finished their home study in February, which is one of the largest pieces of paperwork needed for the adoption. China requires that the youngest sibling be at least three years old before they’ll accept a dossier from the adoptive family, so the Argos had to wait until their youngest son had his birthday in April.

“If the coronavirus hadn’t happened, we probably could have been approved by China and our dossier could have been translated by now. It has put us four months behind so far,” Andi Argo said.

They sent Josh’s passport off in February to be renewed, and what was supposed to be a 6-8 week turnaround has turned into more than four months. His passport still hasn’t been returned.

“We’re just sitting here, waiting,” she said.

In order to submit immigration paperwork, they also both need to be fingerprinted, but the Homewood office where they need to go hasn’t opened up yet. Andi said they were hoping it would reopen on June 4, but learned on June 5 it was still closed.

Andi said it’s been hard emotionally to not know about their child’s safety in the midst of the pandemic. But she was relieved to hear that none of the orphanages Lifeline works with in China have had any coronavirus cases.

“Adoptions are already a very uncertain kind of thing, very long, it’s exhausting,” she said. “The coronavirus has just intensified all of it. It’s even harder, even longer and even more predictable.”

Karla Thrasher said Lifeline employees are encouraged by a small glimmer of progress: in the next few days, three families will be allowed to travel to Bulgaria to bring their children home.

This family is adopting a child from Bulgaria through Lifeline Children's Services.
This family is adopting a child from Bulgaria through Lifeline Children's Services.(Lifeline Children's Services)

Bulgaria requires two visits from the adoptive family; one where the family meets their child for the first time, and a second visit where they bring the child home.

The process in Bulgaria allows the adoption to be legally finalized before the family comes for the second time; so in this case, the American parents are going to pick up their legal children, instead of traveling to finalize the adoption.

Jana Lombardo said Lifeline’s partner NGO in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian authorities and the American embassy have all been instrumental in allowing these three families to travel to reach their children. Each family will have to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive, which is an added expense.

“After quarantine they can go to the local city where their children are, finish up the process of adoption to get passports, visas, and medical visits at the embassy. We are very optimistic and prayerful that all of these things are going to work out as they should,” Lombardo said.

In spite of the delays and unknowns, Lifeline is on track to finalize around 200 adoptions by December 2020, Thrasher said. In the last three to five years, Lifeline has typically done between 260 and 280 adoptions per year.

Thrasher said during the pandemic, she’s been encouraged by how Lifeline has shifted their focus to caring for the children who remain in orphanages around the world.

Some of Lifeline’s adoptive families in the U.S. donated money and sent masks and hand sanitizers to China, and also purchased food for families in India who were in strict lockdowns, often unable to work.

Thrasher said even though no countries are currently allowing travel for adoptions, all of the countries Lifeline works with are still open for international adoptions, and there is still a great number of children waiting to be adopted.

The pre-processes, applications, home studies and matches between children and families are still moving, despite the pandemic.

If you’re interested in learning more about adopting through Lifeline Children’s Services, complete a pre-application at www.lifelinechild.org. Lifeline will then provide further information about the next steps, Thrasher said.

If you’d like to learn more about the Argo family’s adoption story and help them raise the remaining $25,000 of their $40,000 needed for their adoption, you can visit their website here. They are also hosting a fundraiser yard sale on Saturday, June 20 at 8 a.m. at 11025 U.S. 78 in Riverside, in the parking lot of Quest Kids Club.

The Argo family is having a yardsale as a fundraiser for their adoption on Saturday, June 20 in...
The Argo family is having a yardsale as a fundraiser for their adoption on Saturday, June 20 in Riverside.(Andi Argo)

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