Virtual adoptions connecting families during pandemic

The Zimmerman family is complete.

That’s how Mike Zimmerman sees it, after he and his wife, Becka, finalized their adoption of Aidann and Camron last week.

“What’s been missing is found, and our family is complete,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “It’s definitely a relief.”

On National Adoption Day, Nov. 21, the Zimmerman family was among two others that had their adoptions broadcast on Facebook — a departure from the usual Adoption Day ceremony that takes place in Dover, but such is reality under COVID-19.

“One of the nice things about it is that I grew up in southern Oregon, my wife grew up in Southern California, and so we have family all over, literally all over the United States,” he said. “And they were all able to join us for that.”

For the Zimmerman family, the adoption process started in earnest at the end of last year, though the couple had been interested in adopting a child for several years. He and Mrs. Zimmerman received a call that two boys may go up for adoption. In December, the boys came for visits. On Jan. 10 — Mr. Zimmerman’s birthday, coincidently — Aidann, 8, and Camron, 6, came to stay permanently.

With two biological children — Eva, 4, and William, 6 — it wasn’t a huge adjustment for Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman, but “it took a little bit of time getting used to getting to know them and for them to let their guard down and let us send in and let us help them,” he said.

As they started to get into the flow of things, March came around and, with it, the shutdown to stifle the spread of coronavirus.

“All of a sudden, the only consistency that they had in their life was gone. And so we were, at that point, the most consistent thing in their life,” he said. “And it was very difficult for them. It was difficult for everybody because, for a little over a month, everything was in limbo. Nobody knew anything. And for (Aidann and Camron), their lives have been in constant change and uncertainty, so it made it very difficult for them.”

As families have gone through the process like the Zimmermans, adoption has looked different.

“We’ve certainly had to make some adjustments, but we still are committed to permanency. We’re still committed to finalizing adoptions,” said Moira Dillon, adoption program manager of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.

Prior to COVID-19, families interested in adoption or foster care would attend in-person classes and there would be home visits with a social worker. Most of that has moved to a virtual format, Ms. Dillon said, and, as played out on Adoption Day, courts can finalize adoption agreements virtually.

Seeing the adoptions come to fruition is “very emotional and beautiful,” Ms. Dillon added.

“I think one of the judges said it really well, saying, ‘A lot of times when you come to Family Court, people are not happy to be there,’” she said. “But when you are in adoption, everybody is so happy, and it was really fun to see that things don’t change. Even when it’s virtual, the kids are still not paying attention or everybody’s trying to get the kids together, and then, you’ve got all this family with gathering, and I love that we have figured out how to still get everybody, in a sense, in the same room.”

She described the families who are navigating adoption as “superheroes.”

“They’ve gone through the same things that every other family is experiencing right now,” she said. “They show up every day for these children, and they continue to show their commitment and that they’re all in for our kids.”

Like everyone else, they’ve adapted to changes to employment, whether that’s working from home, being in person or even facing unemployment, as well as virtual learning for children of all ages, closing day cares and more.

“It has been really remarkable to see,” she said.