Global Affairs

Coronavirus threatens international adoption process and well-being of adoptees

The world is truly beginning to feel the impact of the outbreak of Covid-19, which began in the city of Wuhan in late 2019. We have seen changes to work schedules, social activities and education arrangements. Clearly, the impacts are felt by everyone. There is one group in particular that have faced yet another disruption. These are potential adoptive parents of international children, who are waiting for any confirmation as to when they might be allowed to finally meet.

Adoptions include a notoriously long and painstaking process, particularly international adoptions, where parents have to meet the requirements of both the home country and the new country to be able to bring their child home. This can take months. A recent article in the Washington Times spoke of a family who chose to adopt a three-year-old girl named Riese from China last July. They were preparing to bring her home in February of this year but were prevented from doing so even after many arduous months of filling out paperwork and communicating with the adoption agency.

Because of the outbreak of Covid-19, many of these adoptions have been put on hold. Parents have been prevented from travelling to meet and bring home their child because of international travel restrictions and the rising ‘lockdown’ measures being put in place. Families have been stopped at the so-called eleventh hour and have no idea when they will be able to resume the process.

This causes distress for the adoptive family. They have not only been through the processes of inspections and legal issues, but have also often bought their child a new wardrobe, decorated a bedroom and made further personal preparations. One family in America spent two years going through the motions and ordered a bear with their adoptive daughter’s name on and the official adoption date, which was supposed to be February 11th of this year. The date has been and gone, and the family is still waiting.

Families are left in a state of limbo for the foreseeable future. There appears to be no clear ending. Nobody knows, at this point, when restrictions will be lifted and people will be able to travel again. It is a case of maintaining contact with international adoption agencies and keeping updated on their child, whilst following the measures in place to “flatten the curve.” Families that were preparing to bring home a two-year-old child could now be bringing home a three or four-year-old child, depending on how long the restrictions stay in place and the length of time that resuming the process takes.

There is also a great impact for the children waiting to be adopted. Many children have urgent medical needs and educational needs that may not be met in their current orphanage. Families often plan to deal with medical needs in the adoptive country, but the longer the adoption takes, the more needs may become more serious and damaging. Adoption of young babies is rare, with children usually being at least two before they are adopted. The legal limit for adoption in China is the age of 14 – this means there are some children who might “age out” of the system by the time the restrictions are lifted and they can no longer be adopted. For these children, even if the restrictions were lifted tomorrow, some families would still face a few months of further preparations, which could still lead to the dreaded “aging out”.

Holt International is an organisation that supports adoptions in Asia. It helped 554 children find adoptive families in 2019. The organisation is one that gives “life changing” care to homeless children and orphans. Holt has issued various statements in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and stated in February that caregivers within orphanages had isolated with the children. They had also started a campaign to raise money for supplies to protect the children in orphanages, particularly one in Wuhan, which is where the virus is thought to have originated. Clearly, the children will be kept safe, but the ideal situation would be for them to be at home with their families waiting to adopt them.

The pandemic has also led to a rise in racism and racist attacks. Many western countries have reported increased cases of harassment, assault and racist abuse. In the UK, a student from Singapore was the victim of a racially aggravated assault after shouts of “coronavirus” caused him to confront men on Oxford Street in London. The US has also seen increased numbers of cases which appear to have correlation with governmental statements. Donald Trump termed Covid-19 the “Chinese Virus” on multiple occasions, fueling further racial attacks. Both of these countries see a large proportion of their international adoptions come from China. Thus, the outbreak has also affected settled adoptees.

International adoptees in families of different races to them have felt the impact of heightened racism. An article written by an Asian intercountry adoptee in Australia highlights this well. While she feels she is “a product of both” her adoptive country and her birth country, she feels shame that human beings are treating each other in such an abhorrent manner. She speaks of being raised with “the white mindset” of her adoptive family, but also spending time embracing her Asian heritage. This was something she had to do herself, because the era in which she was adopted did not educate adoptive parents on the importance of cultural and racial heritage. One statement stands out, as she discusses the racism she faced as a child for “how different” she looked: “For many Asian adoptees and many adoptees of colour right now, we are having to relive those racist moments all over again.”

“Racism is one of the most common issues we intercountry adoptees end up having to navigate. Facing racism and having to constantly explain why we look Asian (or any colour different to the majority) but speak, think and act like a white person in our adoptive country is a constant challenge.”

While adoptive families are now taught about the importance of helping their child embrace their culture and heritage, Covid-19 has caused increasing levels of racism against people from East Asia. This kind of discrimination has been previously documented around other outbreaks of diseases. It can be comparable to what was termed “Ebola racism” and racism linked to the 2002 SARS outbreak. There was also similar discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community with the outbreak of HIV. Support needs to be made available for people affected by this rise. Historically, groups have been set up for minority communities to come together and the author of the aforementioned article suggests that international adoptees join online communities to create a support network.

The Covid-19 outbreak has caused increased levels of anxiety and stress for people involved in the adoption process at all stages. Mental health issues are likely to become exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding adoption processes, the increasing levels of racism and the self-isolation and social distancing procedures. Until the pandemic ends, support needs to be offered at all levels— for children in orphanages and parents eagerly waiting for their arrival, to former adoptees struggling with a renewal of racism intensified by the pandemic.