The pandemic forced the Patwekars to wait for five months before they could hold their baby boy. On March 6, the Central Adoption Regional Agency informed them about a six-month-old baby up for adoption in Nashik. The Sangli couple finished the paperwork but by the time documents were ready, the lockdown was announced. For months, once every week, the coordinator in Adhar Ashram, Nashik, sent pictures of the boy growing up. Mushtak Patwekar (45), an optician, said they could not do video calls, and pictures were all he and wife Zareena could hold on to.
By July end, the couple was allowed to adopt the baby. “Nashik has a lot of Covid-19 cases so we took the nine-hour journey from Sangli to Nashik by road, didn’t stop anywhere and reached the adoption home directly. Since hotels were shut we had to return with the baby the same day,” Patwekar said. They were not allowed to hold the baby until documentation and court proceedings were completed. Only when they could take the baby home, did the adoption centre hand them the boy, now 12-month-old and named Abdul. But the 1,000 km to and fro journey was worth it. “We waited three years for this,” he said.
Amid the Covid-19 scare, some adoption centres in the state have prohibited couples from touching babies, some allow them to hold the child after disinfection of their hands, while others permit meetings only after a couple confirms to adopt a child. As the adoption procedure gradually picks up, agencies are formulating in-house prevention mechanisms against Covid-19.
Covid-19 has brought international adoption to a grinding halt, but domestic adoptions are slowly picking pace as travel restrictions ease. Since March, 190 adoptions, mostly within states, have been processed.
Adhar Ashram in Nashik has 28 children waiting for adoption. The adoption centre has managed to process the adoption of five children within Maharashtra but two slated for adoption in Australia and USA have been on hold since March. “We have designated a room behind our centre for parents to meet our staff. We have put transparent partitions. Couples are not allowed to touch or take the baby in their arms,” said Rahul Jadhav, in-charge, Adhar Ashram. Jadhav said the elaborate measures are to protect all babies. “If a single baby is infected and does not get adopted by the couple, the baby can infect all other babies,” Jadhav explained.
The adoption agency recorded one Covid-19 positive case among its staff. Jadhav said after that they put in an even stricter protocol. From three shifts in a day, the centre has cut it down to one shift per day of 24 hours to avoid movement of too many staffers. In Mumbai’s Bal Asha Trust too, one shift remains in the adoption home for a fortnight and then the next shift takes over.
“Earlier prospective adoptive parents had to visit the centre for in-depth counselling sessions. Now we have moved most procedures online. The entire documentation and counselling is done through video calls,” said Sunil Arora, from Bal Asha Trust in Mahalaxmi.
The trust has processed adoption of 10 babies during the pandemic. Couples who have reserved a child and then got approval from adoption committee can only visit the centre.
While some adoption agencies have strictly declined request by couples to hold the baby before adoption, some allow it with due protocol. Najma Goriawalla, consultant with Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare, said they have processed only one adoption and allowed the mother to hold the baby. “We thought a lot about it. We can’t deprive the prospective parents from the feel of holding a baby in their arms. We asked them to wear masks and disinfect their hands before letting them touch the baby,” she said.
Manisha Pirari, programme manager at Maharashtra State Adoption Regional Agency (SARA), said the pandemic has modified the entire adoption process “to ensure no baby gets infected in centres”. Parents earlier physically came for adoption committee meetings and for filing documents. Now the process is through e-mails and online video calls. “Only when everything is finalised one meeting is held. Sometimes parents request for more medical tests, but we decline that request if that exposes the child to infection risk in hospital,” Pirari said. She added that the main challenge is when a couple wants to return the child after a month or two due to any problem. “An adoption home will have to create a quarantine room for such babies,” she said.
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