Beginning the Domestic Adoption Journey: The First Steps

Adoption can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. For more than 100 years, Spence-Chapin has been supporting families through the adoption process with broad services and a lifetime of support. As you begin the adoption process, you will likely have many questions about the steps involved.

1. Learn about the different adoption pathways

Domestically, there are three ways to adopt - through an accredited organization or adoption agency, an adoption attorney, or adoption from foster care. Families interested in the adoption of an infant typically pursue an attorney or agency adoption. Both adoption pathways will take you to the same place – the child who will be joining your family, but the pathways are different and it’s important to do your homework in order to determine the best pathway for your family. Attending an Adoption 101 webinar is a great way to learn more about the landscape of adoption and these pathways.

2. Ask questions – of yourself and of the professionals.

Different people are drawn to one pathway or another for different, important reasons.

Regardless of the pathway you choose, it’s important that you find a provider that fully supports you. Adoption professionals tend so set rules for their services based upon their own philosophies and personal beliefs, or because they may have experienced longer wait times for certain applicants. Information gathering (speaking to people, learning, and taking time to absorb and listen to how you feel) is an important early step. Adoption is a very intimate endeavor and you owe it to yourself to find the team that is the right fit for you.

If you are interested in pursuing an infant domestic adoption with an adoption attorney, Spence-Chapin can provide recommendations for reputable adoption attorneys in the NYC area. For families who pursue this adoption pathway, Spence-Chapin can provide home study and support services as you work closely with the attorney to navigate the legal process of adoption. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys may also serve as a helpful resource, as they have a directory of members by state.

Questions to ask when interviewing an adoption professional:

  • What types of adoptions do you do? Do you do domestic infant adoptions? Or adoptions from foster care? Are most of the adoptions transracial adoptions? Open adoptions?

  • What states do you do adoptions in? Do you operate only in our state, or multiple states? Or not in our state at all?

  • How many placements did you have last year, and what is your average number of placements a year?

  • What is the average wait time for families that look like mine in terms of marital status, age, race, sexual orientation, and risk factors, open vs. closed adoption, and race/ethnicity we are open to?

  • What is your total fee and what does it go towards? Are there potential extra fees we should be aware of? Do your fees include living, medical and legal expenses?

  • How do you find expectant mothers that may be considering an adoption plan for their child? Do you search for birth mothers nationally or locally and how is this done? Why do you think birth mothers choose to work with your program over others?

  • What type of support do you provide to expectant mothers? What counseling options are provided both pre and post adoption?

  • What other adoption professionals will I need and how do I find and integrate them into our adoption plan?

  • Why should I work with your organization over any others? How will it benefit me?

3. Attend a webinar or begin the home study

Depending on the pathway you choose, families will either submit an adoption application to your adoption agency or schedule a meeting with your adoption attorney.

For families who would like to join Spence-Chapin’s full-service domestic adoption program, the first official step in the process is to attend a Domestic Adoption Webinar. You can register for an upcoming webinar directly on the events calendar of our website. This webinar is dedicated to exploring the nuances of Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program. Our team will share details about the adoption program, the application process, options counseling for birth parents, and more. Unlike other agencies that may accept an unlimited number of families, we make efforts to balance the number of adoptive families with birth mothers in our full-service program. By limiting the number of families, we reduce wait times to be matched with a baby.

Attendance at the Domestic Adoption webinar is a requirement for families pursuing Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program as all attendees of the webinar will receive the Domestic Adoption Application.

All families adopting will need a home study. For families working with an adoption attorney to navigate the legal process of adoption, or an adoption agency out of state, our social workers are able to provide home study services, pre-adoption counseling and support. If you are ready to begin the home study process, you can download the application from our website today.

4. Submit an Application

Our team reviews any new applications we receive every week. Through the application, we are able to get to know your family better and learn about who the child is you feel can thrive in your family. In addition to assessing your family for eligibility for the program, our team is also assessing program fit – that our domestic adoption program aligns with who the child is you envision joining your family. We want to know that the children we see in need of adoption align with your family’s openness around factors such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, common medical risks and open adoption. We want to be confident that we (your family and our team) are on the same page when beginning the adoption process. Check out our Domestic Adoption FAQ to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program.

Still have questions? Schedule a phone call or pre-adoption consultation with one of our adoption experts! Call: 212-400-8150 or Email: info@spence-chapin.org.

In South Africa, Caring for Children Awaiting Their Forever Homes – One Granny at a Time

Meet Granny Lizzy

Granny Lizzy

“The bonding and attachment that I have with my children motivates me to continue with the Granny Program. When the children I care for told me I should not go on vacation leave because they miss me, this touched my heart. It also gives me strength to wake up every morning and go to work.”

-Granny Lizzy

When Granny Lizzy first met two-year old Melokuhle* at Othandweni Children’s Home, he was not communicative. He didn’t speak. “I didn’t know what language to even address him with,” Granny Lizzy remembers. She began by sitting next to him and engaging him in play time. Everyday for the first week, she would come in and they would silently play with toys—stack blocks, roll a ball, color with crayons. By the second week, Melokuhle began pointing to the games he wanted to play with his Granny, indicating which he liked and which he didn’t. “He was communicating with me,” Lizzy explained, delighted. Since then, Melokuhle has begun to improve other skills as well, such as writing and properly holding a crayon.

The bond that Granny Lizzy formed with Melokuhle is a testament to the success of the Granny Program, and it is not unique to this pair. All fifteen of the Grannies in the program receive ongoing training to help them connect with and improve developmental skills of the children they care for.

The South African Granny Program—8 Years of Success

Since 2011, the South African Granny Program has helped young children living at the Othandweni Children’s Home in Johannesburg receive special care and attention from local women who live in nearby villages—the majority are mothers and grandmothers themselves.

The Grannies work with occupational and physical therapists to understand the individual challenges that each child is facing, and to learn the skills to help the unique child grow and develop. Some children may be behind in their gross motor skills and may be experiencing difficulty in crawling or walking. Others may have underdeveloped social or behavioral skills and may not know how to communicate their needs or play with others. The Grannies are able to work one-on-one with each child to help them reach developmental milestones.

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Many times, the Grannies are able to help the children in ways that the children’s home staff and even therapists cannot, because of the bond that the Grannies form with each child. This was the case with Baby Angel who was three months old when Granny Thandi began working with her. Angel had been attending therapy to help develop her motor skills, but she refused to do the exercises that the therapists recommended. Thandi worked with Angel a little bit everyday until she got used to the exercises. Now, 18 months old, Angel is walking by herself and has even started trying to run.\

The History of the Spence-Chapin Granny Program

In 1998, Spence-Chapin opened its first Granny Program in Bulgaria to address the need for additional interaction between young children and caregivers. The initial relationship between a child and their primary caregiver is a strong predictor of a child’s emotional and physical health, and ability to develop strong attachments later in life. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, children living in institutionalized settings are often deprived of consistent, nurturing human interaction. This lack of interaction is correlated to risks of lifelong developmental delays and challenges with healthy attachment. Due to its success, the program was brought to several countries over the next decade. In 2011, Spence-Chapin opened the South Africa Granny Program which currently provides Grannies to thirty children under the age of three. Seeing the impact that this type of program has on children, many other organizations working in South Africa and around the world have since implemented similar models.

Of the fifteen grannies currently in the Spence-Chapin South Africa Granny Program, seven have been Grannies for more than five years, and two Grannies have been with the program since it began.

Granny Thandi is one such Granny—she has been with the South Africa Granny Program since it started in 2011 and has looked after thirteen children, including Baby Angel. “I understand the role that a mother plays in a child’s life. I play that role by being part of the Granny Program. Seeing the children’s self-esteem improve gives me confidence to continue with the program.” For Granny Thandi, her role as a Granny is also personal: “I am motivated to continue with the program because of the stimulation that I provide to the children, which I did not get when I was little.”

The Lasting Impact on Children

The Spence-Chapin Granny Program includes all children under four years old at the Othandweni Children’s Home. Some of the children there are eventually reunited with their families or extended family members, while others are adopted domestically or internationally. Spence-Chapin opened its South Africa Adoption Program with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) in 2013 and has since placed 33 children with loving forever homes here in the United States. While not all of the children adopted were cared for at Othandweni, those that were in care there were paired with a Granny, and their parents have certainly noted the impact that the experience has had on their child’s life—like the life of Levi, who was adopted from South Africa.

Levi and Dad

Levi and Dad

“I could write pages and pages about the impact our Gogo [affectionate name for Granny] Beryl had on our sweet Levi,” mom Jen explains.

“She started seeing him when he was about seven months old and she began taking him to physical therapy. The therapists taught her what exercises to do with him and she did. I have a pediatric physical therapy background and I know that without her interventions and dedication to completing the exercises with him, he would not have been as strong when we went to adopt him. He formed a strong bond with his Gogo—she showed him what love is and that attachment has transferred beautifully to our family.”

Jen and her husband had the chance to meet Granny Beryl when they met Levi for the first time: “I was so grateful to be able to give this woman a hug and my thanks for caring for him so well. At the end of our month-long trip, we made a photo album for her of all the photos we took while we were in South Africa, along with our contact info. She contacted us about 6 months after we came home, by email, and so I send her email updates about Levi regularly. She is his connection to his home, which makes her so very important to us.”

They hope to visit South Africa again soon with their son and will be sure to visit Granny Beryl.

Spence-Chapin hopes in the future to be able to provide more Grannies at more children’s homes in South Africa. In the meantime, the fifteen grannies currently working with children continue to grow their relationships with and fondness for the children in their care.

Read more about the Granny Program and learn about Spence-Chapin’s South Africa Adoption Program here.

*Names of children at Othandweni Children’s Home have been changed

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Liz Cook

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Liz Cook became a Mentor in 2017 and was excited to join the Program because she has always enjoyed hearing about other’s life experiences. Liz has also volunteered with many youth non-profits over the years.

What would you like to share about your background?

I was adopted as an infant. In fact, I was born on Thanksgiving! When I was 3 days old, I was welcomed into my home on the Upper East Side of NYC. Four and a half years later my brother was born. He was not adopted.

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

My parents used the word adoption from the time I was a toddler. Whenever I was curious, they had lengthy discussions and told me as much as they knew. They were proud and thrilled with my adoption and passed those feelings on to me. When I was twelve, my parents handed me my “adoption folder”—anything they had that pertained to my adoption. They gave me ownership of my interesting beginnings.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

I thought that I was adopted because my birth mother was an old woman with a bunch of cats. I have no idea where I got this funny story from. Ironically, I’m highly allergic to cats! There’s a tendency in our society to sensationalize adoption. Sometimes people would ask me about my “real parents.” For the most part I learned at an early age to firmly but politely debunk the myths and misconceptions.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?

The Mentorship program has become a family to me. Everyone has a wonderful story although some stories are painful. I’ve looked at my life story and the subject of adoption differently than I did before my connection to Spence Chapin. I feel sad that some of our kids are bullied by others because they have been adopted. I think Spence-Chapin offers a safe haven for Mentees and Mentors.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

Being adopted is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be celebrated. I want the Mentees to feel pride in telling their stories and know that they are not alone in this journey. That’s what this Mentorship program allows.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or sign up for our FREE Mentorship Webinar!

10 LGBTQ Parenting Tips

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All adoptive families will likely have conversations about the validity of their family, and how to deal with prejudice and questions from people outside the family. LGBTQ parents also have the added complexity that cross-gender parenting can bring. The counseling team at Spence-Chapin offers practical advice and support for LGBTQ parents raising adopted children.

These 10 tips offer support and guidance around the particular issues that LGBTQ adoptive parents navigate with their children.

1. USE TIME BEFORE ADOPTION TO PLAN AND ASK QUESTIONS

If you are just embarking on your adoption journey, or are in process, now is the time to really do your homework and ask the hard questions about what you and your partner (if co-parenting) want and what feels right in family forming for you. If working through an adoption agency, take advantage of their experience to ask many questions, or see if you can speak with other families that could provide you with insight. The more questions you answer early, the more informed and comfortable you will become.

2. BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR SEXUAL IDENTITY

The more comfortable you are with your sexual identity and the coming out process, the easier parenting will be for you. When you are comfortable expressing yourself, it models emotional expression for your children. The less issues we work out on our children the easier parenting them will be. If you or your partner struggle in certain ways with your sexual identity, consider seeking out a counselor who can help you sort through those issues before you embark on parenting. Being confident and comfortable in your identity will help your family model that attitude and behavior to also be confident and comfortable.

3. ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE

Whether your family was formed through adoption or not, honesty and openness are always the best policy. Your family may look different to the outside world, but to your children this is their family. This is what they are accustomed to and this is what makes sense to them. Start as young as possible reading affirming books to toddlers. If issues should arise from the outside world or they have questions due to their different developmental stages, let them know you are always open to them. This requires having on-going continuing conversations as needed throughout childhood and young adulthood. Open dialogue can be uncomfortable at first but gets easier as everyone shares their thoughts and feelings.

4. STAY INVOLVED WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S SCHOOL

Get to know their teachers. This sense of openness within the community and where your children spend so much time is important. Just by being present, you show that you are advocating for your family and your expectations for your children’s wellbeing.

5. CREATE AN LGBTQ NETWORK

This can be invaluable. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Others have done this before you. Just as an LGBTQ person you might have formed your own family outside of your birth family for certain types of support, this skill can be a great comfort to your family. Your children can see other children and families that look like their own. For children who are adopted this can be equally impactful to interact with other children who are adopted to help them form and express their own adoptive identities. It gives your children a chance to talk to other children about their experiences in the community. Whenever we feel we are not alone it is an ego booster!!

6. CREATE YOUR OWN FAMILY PRIDE

Your family is as important as any other. The more comfortable you are showing your pride, the easier it will be for your children.

7. SHOW AND EXPRESS YOUR LOVE

Do not be afraid to show and express your love. Children need unconditional love, to feel supported, to have their emotional and physical needs met. Your children will benefit from as much quality time as you can spend with them.

8. BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR FAMILY

Your children will learn from you how to advocate when they need to. Providing a safe environment at times might mean saying something at their school, to family members or friend’s parents. This does not mean being a bulldozer, but modeling self-respect, awareness , sensitivity, and education when possible. Remember all parents teach by positive modeling. This will help create a safe and supportive environment for your children.

9. HAVE ON-GOING CONVERSATIONS

Have on-going conversations with your children about their friends and their relationships with their peers. Friends are important, no matter the parents’ sexuality. Kids need to be connected and not made to feel that they’re different. Start involving them in activities with other children and their parents at an early age. This way, you are building support and recognition for you and your child outside of the immediate family unit.

10. TAKE TIME FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP

If you are in a partnered relationship don’t forget to make time to have a date night, special time together, or something you both enjoyed doing together before children. Like any other couple you will need to find ways and times to reconnect with each other. Parenting is stressful for everyone! Taking the time to reconnect and relax will help make your journey even more enjoyable.

Spence-Chapin provides a safe and family-friendly environment for you and your family. We offer culturally sensitive, LGBTQ-affirming care in an accepting, nonjudgmental environment. Services include pre-adoption consultations, counseling, parent coaching, community events, LGBTQ parent workshops and trainings for LGBTQ professionals. Learn more about our post-adoption support and community programs.

Contact us at postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org or 646-539-2167 to explore ways our team can support your family.

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Rachel Kara Pérez

Rachel was born in The Bronx and raised in a predominantly Puerto Rican household. During a visit to Spence-Chapin to get non-identifying information about her adoption, Rachel was told she would make a great Mentor. We're glad she agreed!

Joie Visits Spence-Chapin and Meets Her Adoption Social Worker

Linda Alexandre, Executive Vice President of Adoption Programs, recently met with a family who stopped by for a visit. Joie, age 9, shares her recollection of that visit in this blog post.

Support for Adoptees

Spence-Chapin offers various programs, events and services that support adoptees to build community, navigate adoption-related issues such as identity and get resources to thrive in their lives.

Journey of Strength and Hope: A Birth and Adoptive Mom’s Story

Journey of Strength and Hope: A Birth and Adoptive Mom’s Story

Last month, Lucy Shaw, our Senior Manager of Birth Parent Outreach Department, had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Jacqui Hunt who just adopted a baby girl through Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program.

Building Families, Nurturing Communities: The Important Role of Social Workers in Adoption

Monica Baker, a social worker with Spence-Chapin for more than ten years, understands well the delicate balance of emotions involved in her work. She spends her days enabling connections between infants and the families who can provide forever homes for them.  

International Adoption Story: Making the Decision to Adopt Again

“About six months after bringing home Kurhula from South Africa, we knew that we needed to adopt again. It was clear that Kurhula missed being around other children. She had been the youngest child in a foster family, living with four older foster-siblings – and although she was thriving with the individual attention that my husband and I were able to give her, she also seemed visibly lonely, and missed interacting with other children.

10 Tips to Help Teens Explore Identity

Katie Rogala, an adoptee and Spence-Chapin employee, shares 10 helpful ways to support your adopted child’s exploration of inner and outer self.

Post-Adoption Books

Talking about adoption with your family can be difficult. Where do you even begin the conversation? Sometimes reading about other people’s experiences can make it easier to talk about your own. These books explore adoption, race identity, foster care, and the feelings from love to loneliness to everything in-between. They’re perfect to read as your family begins to talk about their own story.

Children Ages 0 – 5

  • We Belong Together, Todd Parr

  • A Mother for Choco, Keiko Kasza

  • Welcome Home Little Baby, Lisa Harper

  • Brown Like Me, Noelle Lamperti

Children Ages 6 – 11

  • Pancakes with Chocolate Syrup, Rebekah Barlow Rounce

  • Heaven, Angela Johnson

  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech

Children Ages 12 – 18

  • Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

  • The Returnable Girl, Pamela Lowell

  • Pieces of Me, Edited by Bert Ballard

Photo Album or Early Lifebook

  • Create a small photo album

  • Don’t use original photos or irreplaceable items (if making a scrapbook)

  • Start the book with the start of the child’s life, not the start of their life with you

  • Leave blank pages as space holders where you have no information

  • Expand the book or create new books as child hits important life milestones

  • Join us for an upcoming event or community program

Spence-Chapin offers many post-adoption support services and community programs such as teen/tween mentorship, counseling, parent coaching, Lifebook workshops and more.

We Celebrate Clara Spence

We Celebrate Clara Spence

As we celebrate National Women's History Month, we can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence.

Reflections on Spence-Chapin History During Black History Month

This month as we celebrate Black History Month, I have found myself taking time to reflect on the history of African American adoption, the role that Spence-Chapin has played in that history, and the many encouraging changes I have witnessed in my 25+ career working in adoption.

Spence-Chapin, A Leader in African-American and Black Infant Adoption

In honor of Black History Month, we revisit the efforts made by those who have fought to break barriers, making African-American and Black children a focus and a priority.