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Pandemic causes drop in inter-country adoptions, spurs interest in adopting locally

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    Hawaii, USA (KITV) — In Hawaii, like much of the world during the COVID-19 Pandemic, people hoping to grow or start a family are finding themselves stunted.

For the longest time, solutions were found overseas, but people wanting to adopt are now waiting longer and looking locally for answers.

Each year, CEO Kristine Altwies says her adoption agency Hawaii International Child (now called A Family Tree) finds homes for about 75 children from countries like China, the Philippines and Japan. But during the pandemic, that number has fallen to 20.

“There’s the issue of the orphans not being able to leave the orphanage to come home. There’s the issue of American citizens not being able to travel abroad to pick up the children. And then there’s the issue of the US immigration authority not issuing the travel visas for the orphans to come here to their families,” Altwies said.

Some of the big challenges says Altwies are clients having to wait at least another year to be together, if not longer.

“Orphans are suffering because the processes are slowing down. Orphans are suffering because not as many families may have the financial means to undertake an adoption,” she said.

But there is a silver lining. As the number of inter-country adoptions drops, Altwies says interest in adopting locally is rising.

“We’re anticipating that in the next couple of months, we’re going to see an uptick in pregnancies that were unplanned, so maybe an uptick in babies needing permanent families,” she said. “We’re reaching out more to our local birth mothers, trying to make sure they know that we’re here to support them also.”

Traditionally, mostly because of the local “hanai” culture of informal adoption, formal arrangements are rarely talked about, but Altwies believes mothers should know their options.

“There’s no pressure for her to give up her child, if there’s a way for her to parent her child, if that’s what she wants to do, we try and help her figure out how to do that. So only if a birth mother really feels like she can’t raise that child and there’s no one nearby or no one in her family who can step up and raise that child, then we’ll do an open adoption locally,” she said.

Formal or informal — intercountry or local — she says the need is greater than ever.

“We believe in the importance of if possible, keeping everyone united. So the birth mom, the birth family with the adoptive family and the child over the lifespan of the child,” she said.

And to echo a popular Disney character, family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten — especially during a pandemic.

For more information on adoption, visit Hawaii International Child or A Family Tree.

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