COVID-19 spread affecting adoption agencies in Minnesota

As coronavirus spreads both in the U.S. and abroad, it’s affecting adoption agencies.

Children’s Home Society and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota work together. They have partnerships with adoption agencies around the world.

“Right now, we’re seeing visas not being issued in some countries,” said Alexis Oberdorfer, president of Children’s Home Society and associate vice president for Lutheran Social Service.

“Folks that are involved in different places in the process are going to be slowed down or delayed as a result of this.”

She said it’s not only affecting families hoping to adopt from countries like China and South Korea, where the virus has made headlines.

A family adopting from Ecuador is struggling to return to the United States.

Ecuador’s government has limited travel into the country. According to the U.S. Embassy, charter flights are being arranged for U.S. citizens to return to America. Visa appointments, however, have been canceled.

“Mom is there with two kids that have been placed with her,” Oberdorfer said. “We’re working with the Department of State, consular services and then the court system in Ecuador to see what we can do to get that family through the process.”

She told KSTP they’re also tracking several adoption cases in India right now.

“Just trying to stay calm, be proactive and think about messages of gratitude and all of the positive stories out there,” she said.

The spread of COVID-19 has created challenges with domestic adoptions and foster placements as well.

“We’re in a position to try to weather this as well as we can but trying to do it in a very safe manner,” Oberdorfer said.

She added that they’re asking the legislature to allow monthly home visits to be done through video or teleconferencing. They’re also seeking assistance with background checks.

“There are fingerprinting sites that are shut down right now, people can’t get that done,” said Oberdorfer.

Background checks are an essential part of deciding whether a family will be a good fit for foster care or adoption, a process called a home study, according to Oberdorfer.

“We have 905 waiting kids in the state of Minnesota who need an adoptive home, who do not have an identified resource,” she said. “If we can’t do home studies to keep this moving, to keep as much business as usual and without some exceptions being made at the legislature at this time, we’re not going to be able to do that.”

The Department of Human Services said it is reviewing child welfare and foster care policies and is working with the legislature to provide more flexibility. The agency’s full statement is below:

"The health and safety of Minnesota’s children in the child protection system is of the utmost importance. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is reviewing child welfare and foster care policy and practice to assess for measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, while ensuring child safety. The department is currently reviewing recently issued federal guidance related to foster care to understand the impact for tribes, counties, providers and families. Additionally, we have received many questions from tribes, counties and providers and are working to address them as quickly as possible in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Health, which is leading Minnesota’s response to COVID-19. We are working closely with the Minnesota Legislature to provide the needed authority and flexibility to respond to the considerations."

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A bill was introduced in the Senate this week to give DHS more discretion during the outbreak.

Meanwhile, in Hennepin County, there are new safety protocols for child protection workers.

“When people get to the door, they’re not going in like they would ordinarily,” said Joan Granger-Kopesky, director of Children and Family Services for Hennepin County.

“When they’re at the door, they ask the usual questions that everyone is being asked about whether or not people have a fever, whether or not people have a cough, whether or not people have been traveling.”

She said they are allowing employees to work remotely, especially those who have been working on a case for a long time.

“They are using more video technology to connect with homes when they have a good relationship with families and a good sense of what’s going on,” Granger-Kopesky said.

According to Granger-Kopesky, the county’s child protection system hasn’t been affected too significantly.

“When school is out of session, there is a slight reduction in the calls we see because schools, and education in general, are a significant portion of mandated reporters,” she said.

She told KSTP they are still working with courts on placements and following up on cases as they usually would.