In just a few weeks, Daniel and Jessica Unseth will finalize the adoption of their 16-year-old daughter Aliya and become a family of four.
"That's supposed to take place right before Christmas. So that'll be one heck of a Christmas present," Daniel Unseth said.
For this Texas family, their journey to adopting their eldest daughter began in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The first time that we met her everybody was all masked up and everything. It was an interesting first experience. Lots of isolated talks and meetings and what not. And the adoption process has been much, much slower because of paperwork," Unseth said.
Masked meetings and delayed paperwork are just two of the many hurdles adoption officials say prospective families are having to navigate as a result of COVID-19.
"COVID had an immediate impact on adoptions internationally and domestically," Chuck Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption said. "You had travel restrictions and quarantines and courts were closed, government offices were closed. So it really stranded a lot of families in the beginning."
Chuck Johnson is the president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit that works with adoption agencies and child welfare authorities to place children and teens with prospective families. Johnson says travel restrictions and social distancing measures have forced everyone to get creative to move adoptions forward.
"Courts and other places are moving toward a virtual process, which is not a permanent solution. But it's just responding to the immediate need of trying to help these families and these children complete their adoptions," Johnson said.
"We actually get to meet our judge and finalize everything over zoom. So we don't have to really even go anywhere or anything," Unseth said.
But while the virus has slowed the finalizing of paperwork and placements, officials say they are seeing a dramatic surge in families wanting to start the adoption process.
"We have been told that because it's such a lengthy process, a lot of families did begin, at least the paperwork side, of beginning an international adoption," Johnson said.
Rebecca Gruenspan, the founder of RG Adoption Consulting, says the same can be said for the domestic adoptions of infants.
"What we're seeing is that there has been an influx of hopeful adoptive parents starting the process," Gruenspan said. "In March and April, when the pandemic first hit, I was swamped. Like families were coming out of the woodwork."
"That's happening, because people for the first time in so long, have time to spend with each other and have some of these hard conversations and have time to move forward on some of their dreams that many have put on hold for so long," Gruenspan said.
But regardless of where you stand in the adoption process, officials are urging patience for the months ahead as efforts are made to end the virus.
"I think we all understand it's frustrating. You want your child, we get that. But be prepared for the challenges that lay ahead, don't go in expecting that you can kind of push your way through, Let's respect the system, let's work together," Johnson said.