EDINBURG — Quite possibly the most momentous decision of 2-year-old Jose Alejandro Sanchez’s life was decided through a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon.
Jose was adopted Wednesday, through a ceremony held entirely online as a result of COVID-19 distancing. Jose’s adoptive parents, Marcos and Veronica Sanchez, were in one panel, balloons and a banner in the background with their kids between them. The judge was in another, berobed and in front of a state seal. There were lawyers in some boxes, CPS representatives in others, a stenographer casually clacking away in one; the whole court was there.
The ceremony went fairly smoothly — a couple of screens froze, sometimes people had a hard time hearing each other, but altogether it wasn’t so different from a regular courtroom proceeding. And just around 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, 2020, Marcos and Veronica officially became Jose’s new parents.
“I love this child, he’s a great kid,” Marcos, now Jose’s father, said during the proceedings. “I’m glad that I will be his father for the rest of his life and share all those memories, and make new memories … I love him a lot.”
Jose was Hidalgo County’s second virtual adoption. He’s been with the Sanchezes as a foster child for half a year under the conservatorship of Buckner Foster Care and Adoption.
Rio Grande Children’s Home Foster Care Adoption Supervisor Zuhey Sifuentes says it’s still strange watching adoptions and the fostering process play out on computer screens.
“It was really emotional,” she said. “This was our very first Zoom adoption. It was interesting, but the most important thing of it is just the fact that the baby got to a secure and safe and stable home.”
Sifuentes says social distancing norms caused by the pandemic have particularly changed how foster children are monitored.
“The visits are different,” she said. “Although we still follow up with the children virtually through Zoom or Facetime … the personal feeling of engaging with the children, whether it’s building a puzzle with them or coloring with them while we visit with them, makes it different. We still are able to gauge child safety and ensure that the placement is appropriate, but it’s not the same as being there in person.”
According to Sifuentes, the amount of child welfare concerns being reported have been “drastically reduced” since the pandemic began.
“Professionals tend to be our reporters, so normally teachers, medical professionals, day cares, are the ones that see the kids more regularly and make the calls to statewide intake. Right now since the kids are staying home during the pandemic, children are staying at home in a high stress environment and not out in the community where they can be seen,” she said. “We’re not getting as many intakes in, therefore our adoptions are being pushed back, but we’re managing.”
Sifuentes has also noticed a decrease in foster parents wanting to become licensed.
“We correlate that to the fact that they worry the children may be infected by the virus or have been exposed to it, so they’re hesitant to take in placements,” she said.
After the adoption was complete, the judge delved into some legal jargon and dismissed a child welfare case. People clapped and the Sanchezes were congratulated. Marcos tried to get his son to wave at the camera, but Jose just stuck a finger in his mouth and stared.
Maybe it did lack some of the social connection it would have had if everyone had been in the courtroom, that bond Sifuentes said she can’t find through Zoom and Facetime welfare checks, but even through a computer screen, Jose and his new family were a heartwarming sight.
According to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ records, there were 463 children waiting to be adopted in the Rio Grande Valley last year, with a total of 7,788 state-wide. In a move to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Buckner Foster Care and Adoption has started free virtual informational meetings regarding foster care and adoption, available at Buckner.org/Foster-Care-Adoption/Events.