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COVID-19 Has Had Significant Effect on Foster and Adoption Rates

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Key Takeaways

  • November is National Adoption Month.
  • Adoption and foster rates have decreased significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There are options for placing a child in your home if you are open to a change in the typical process.

Both the adoption and fostering process can be long and grueling. Whether the adoption is domestic or international, there are several rounds of checkpoints and protocols, piles of paperwork, countless fees, and lots of waiting. 

Under normal circumstances, waiting is a necessary evil, and adding in a pandemic due to a novel virus can compound the difficulties exponentially. Some organizations have been able to transfer their mandated trainings online, but this does not eliminate the canceled and postponed home visits that are required to place children in permanent homes. 

Denise Wise-David, Program Manager for JFS’s Connecting Hearts says, “We call and check-in with people to see how they are doing with the process. Before COVID-19, it would take them about 6 months to complete the training, get a home study done, and become certified to become a foster parent… and about a year to a year and a half to get to adoption.”

International adoptions can take up years to complete from start to finish, and domestic adoptions through agencies aren’t much shorter. Local adoption agencies report COVID-19 slowing down their processes for a few different reasons, including stretched out approval processes due to social distancing considerations.

The Typical Process

Adoption processes can vary, but prospective parents must receive certification before they can be placed with children, either for fostering or adoption. Trainings vary depending upon the state and locality, but prospective foster or adoptive parents can anticipate dedicating at least a month and a half to weekly classes prior to having a child placed in their care. 

Typically, prospective parents can anticipate finishing these classes and then moving on to home studies. This is where a social worker makes a few visits to the prospective guardian’s residence to assess if the safety and space is sufficient for a child or additional children. Trainings for Connecting Hearts, a Virginia-based agency, cover topics like what it means to take a child into the home, behaviors that children can exhibit, developing your own team, and understanding trauma. 

Wise-David explains, “They go through training, and that can be anywhere from 6 weeks to 90 days, depending on what time they are able to dedicate. Adoption trainings have relied on Zoom and other modern technologies to still make the effort. There really isn’t any face to face as of yet.”

Denise Wise-David, Program Manager at Connecting Hearts adoption agency

Adoption trainings have relied on Zoom and other modern technologies to still make the effort. There really isn’t any face to face as of yet.

— Denise Wise-David, Program Manager at Connecting Hearts adoption agency

An end goal of the fostering process is to reunite the child with their original family once it has been deemed safe to do so. Of course, because of varying circumstances, there are situations where this may not be an option. In these instances, if the parents are living, the rights to the child are either released or terminated before another family can officially adopt them.

Cause of Delays

Because COVID-19’s outbreak this Spring resulted in court closings, there were major delays in many legal proceedings, including those related to foster care and adoption and rights release or termination.  

Another factor in the downturn of adoption and foster rates is the concern of safety for the prospective parents, as several families foster or adopt children as additions to their existing families and there is a concern about exposure. Additionally, the altered stability for many families comes into play, as the virus negatively has affected the jobs of several since the early Spring. 2020 marked the highest number of US unemployment applications and payouts to date.

A major concern for anti-violence agencies during this time has been abuse that is going unreported during this time, and this coincides with the lowered amounts of children being placed within the system as well. 20 percent of social service calls are reported by the teachers, and because students are not in class every day, there are less of them entering the system, ultimately lowering rates of fostering and adoption.

The unknown aspect of the pandemic sparks concern for social services and foster care workers, as older children are statistically less likely to be rehomed. “A lot of the teenagers are in residential facilities. Most people want little children, so that has been another problem.”

Positives for the Future

While the outcomes of this pandemic have been tragic, some agencies have been forced to be innovative and acknowledge the ways that tech is more accessible. Wise-David discussed how online trainings are hard for some, but they intend to continue even when it is safe to be in-person. “They’d started doing some of these classes online prior to COVID because they realized that some parents weren't physically able to come to a building each week. 

Connecting Hearts says that this time has taught them that people are willing to help but not always in a long term setting. This has increased the need for what they are calling respite families, where individuals can apply to go through the training and act as a trusted, safe space for the children without being their primary caretaker.

“This allows for the foster family and the child to form a relationship with this respite family, that way the child isn’t placed with strangers if the family has to leave for a doctor’s appointment or a family emergency. That’s a great way to break into foster care to see if it’s for you.”

What This Means For You

Because of safety provisions and considerations, fostering and adoptions processes are moving slower during this time. However, this does not mean that you are out of options or that bringing a new child home is no longer a possibility.

There are local agencies that are willing to take you through the process virtually, and participating in a foster-to-adopt method would enable you to adopt a child faster than the traditional route. There are plenty of children waiting for loving homes, and if you are patient and willing to provide that, then you have plenty of options!

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  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Child Maltreatment 2018. Updated 2018