7 Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Month

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November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month. A Presidential Proclamation brings awareness to important adoption–related issues and the children waiting for adoptive families. Local news stations, community centers, and adoption organizations often have activities to celebrate adoption around the country. Associate Director of Outreach Katie Foley at Spence-Chapin says “those of us with personal connections to adoption can be powerful voices in promoting adoption, breaking down myths, and bringing attention to the children here and around the world waiting for permanent families.”  Here are Spence-Chapin’s ideas for how to celebrate National Adoption Month!

  1. Support a friend or family member who is adopting. Send a note to someone adopting to let them know you’re thinking of them and supporting their family.

  1. Attend an event to learn about adoption. Join an event in your community to learn about adoption and hear from birth parents, adoptive parents, and/or adoptees!

  1. Spread the word! Share information about adoption with your community on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter including how to adopt and the children waiting for adoption!

  1. Volunteer with a foster care or adoption organization. Many non-profit organizations couldn’t fulfill their mission without the help of dedicated and passionate volunteers!

  1. Fundraise for an adoptive family or adoption organization. Adoptive families are often responsible for many different adoption expenses and their non-profit adoption agencies want to keep adoption as affordable as possible. Donate today to your favorite child-welfare organization or a family who is adopting!

  1. Encourage your office to offer adoption benefits. Adoption benefits are not universally available to new adoptive parents. Encourage your company to be recognized as an Adoption-Friendly Workplace by the Dave Thomas Foundation.

  1. Write about your experience or connection to adoption. Bring attention to adoption by writing about your experience or connection to adoption on a blog or social media!! Spence-Chapin wants to you to share your story on their blog!

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Sydney

Sydney was born in Tongling, China and has lived in NYC all her life.  She has a younger sister who was also adopted from China.  Sydney has always loved singing and dancing, and as a result studied classics voice in high school.  As a teenager, Sydney was a Mentee in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program.   She became a Mentor in 2018 and is excited to continue forming lasting connections with the Mentees and supporting them on their adoption journey.

What would you like to share about your background?

I was adopted from Tongling, Anhui, China at 9 months old.  I grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn and have lived there since. Currently, I am working towards a Master of Social Work degree at Hunter College.

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

I always knew I was adopted, just based on the mere fact that my physical features contrast with those of my parents. I have tan skin, dark hair, and dark brown eyes, whilst my parents are quite fair and have blue and green eyes and blonde hair. When I was younger, I was curious about my adoption story, and when I was around 11 or 12, my parents showed me my adoption papers and documents. It was surreal seeing them because I was able to hold on to tangible artifacts of my past in addition to the memories I had stored in my mind for years.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?     

The most common question I have been asked as an adoptee is whether or not I miss my “real parents.” Because I am proud to call myself an advocate of my community, I always feel the need to clarify the difference between a biological and real parent. My real parents are those that have raised me, loved me, and provided a safe environment in which I could flourish. On the other hand, my biological parents created me, but I have no knowledge about them. I will always appreciate their value in my life, but do not see them as my real parents, and making that distinction is important to me.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?         

I got connected to Spence Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program as a Mentee back in 2013, when I was a junior in high school. I had previously been part of another community adoption organization and wanted to partake in more adoption-related activities. I was also adopted through Spence and felt like I wanted to get re-connected to my adoption agency. I had to take a break from the Program when I went to college in upstate New York but have since returned as a Mentor after I graduated and moved back to the city.

What did you gain from being in the Mentorship Program as a young adoptee?

I’ve always spoken about my love for this Program because it changed my life in so many ways. I became more connected to my own identity though sharing experiences and bonding with other Mentees and older Mentors. I felt at home in this program by being in a room saturated with adoptees, all of whose stories are unique but so similar in a myriad of ways. I also fostered a close connection to a Mentor whom I view as one of my most important role models today.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?         

I have greatly appreciated the shift in experience and the novelty that has come with being an adult Mentor. I was nervous about building connections with the Mentees, but I realized that they just want to be heard and appreciated for who they are. I enjoyed talking to them about their experiences of being teenagers and in some ways, I felt like I could still relate, because I was a teenager not too long ago. I also appreciated the Mentees’ kindness and acceptance of who I was and continue to be. I felt like I could be myself around them, just as they felt comfortable being who they were around me in return.

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

When I see a Mentee struggling or feeling down about themselves, I tell them to be patient and that it is okay not to always know what is around the bend. I think as a young person, it can feel like the world is against you when things don’t go smoothly. I always like to remind the Mentees that things will get better, and that our perception of our own lives greatly impacts the way we live them.

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!

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Andrew

Andrew was born in Seoul, South Korea and is currently employed as a Human Resources Manager.  This is his 8th year as a Mentor in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program.  Andrew looks forward to continually deepening his mentorship relationships with all of the returning teens, and to be a resource providing support for those struggling with their adoption identities.  He also enjoys just being a friendly voice and a supportive ear.

What would you like to share about your background?

My identical twin brother and I were adopted from South Korea together when we were children by the adoption agency Save the Children to a couple from Boston, MA.  My parents would then adopt a third child from South Korea, our sister. 

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

Not too much was known about our backstory from Korea since a lot of paperwork was lost when we first came over.  Speaking for myself, my adoption identity and story did not really resonate with me while growing up.  Being in a mixed-race family of three Korean children would obviously highlight that we were adopted since our parents are not Korean.  I do know that my parents held unto records that they were able to obtain and that both my brother and sister have looked at all of the adoption records we do have, but that has not been a choice that I have made yet.

What interesting stories did your parents share with you?        

When my parents decided to adopt two identical twin Korean boys, the logistics of having two brand new children brought into their lives that look exactly the same definitely caused some issues.  Since we did not speak any English, our new names did not exactly register when they were trying to address either boy.  This would be particularly challenging in the first bath that they gave us.  Two identical twin boys that did not respond to English names naked in a bathtub is pretty much a recipe for disaster.  So, my parents being practical medical professionals, decided to label us with a gigantic “A” or “M” on the back of our necks.  And I am pretty sure we were color coded for the first several months that we lived in Boston, with one boy always in Red and the other always wearing Blue.  To this day, they insist those were our favorite colors. 

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

I honestly did not face a lot of questions about being adopted.  More people were fascinated about me being an identical twin.  I guess the only heritage questions I receive in my professional life are when I meet people for the first time that I have corresponded with who are intrigued that a fast talking New Englander with a French last name and no accent turns out to be a Korean guy when we meet face to face.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?

I entered the Mentorship Program in 2013 with the high school program at that time.  In my years in the program, I have had the joy of seeing our young teenagers grow and blossom into young adults.  I mean several of our former mentees are now mentors in the program, and one of them highlighted adoption in a TED talk.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?

I have been able to not only connect and see our young teenagers grow up, I have also had the joy of seeing my fellow Mentors go through their own adoption journey. All of us adult adoptees were able to share our adoption identities with the teens, all of the parents and with each other.  The support and relationships I have built with the Mentors, teens, and parents over the years has truly impacted my own life positively. 

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

Don’t be intimidated by the title of the Spence-Chapin Adoption Mentorship Program.  We are really just here to get everyone to think about adoption identities and share all of our unique adoption journeys.  We have days in which we encourage people to listen and if comfortable to share experiences.  But we also just have fun activities (Karaoke, Painting, Zoo, Day at the Park) which we just get to be in an environment that all of us can relate to each other since all of us are adopted.

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!

Why Home Study Is So Important

Expanding your family through adoption can be one of the most important decisions of your family’s life  and it is important to use a home study provider who is an expert in the field. Choosing a reputable adoption agency can help. The home study is the start of a relationship that can be a resource for you and your family and provide you a lifetime of support and services when and if you need them.

Adoption is not a one-time event, it’s a lifelong journey so the home study should not be “just one more thing to finish” before you can adopt. The home study is a tool to help prepare, inform and contemplate all that goes into adoption. Whether you’re hoping to adopt an infant domestically or a school-aged relative from overseas, we know that the conversations within your family have been extensive by the time you’re beginning the home study process and we tailor the process to meet the needs of your family. The home study process is designed to address difficult topics and we know that it can feel invasive. We want to make sure that we’re transparent throughout the process and tell families that if at any point they are wondering why a topic is relevant to let us know so that we can discuss their concerns.

The home study process sets a foundation for the lifelong event of adoption and we talk about what your future child might experience throughout the lifespan. An important part of the home study and pre-adoption education process is building your tools and knowledge. We intentionally incorporate our expertise of the experiences of all members of the adoption triad in our home study work because we know that this is what builds strong adoptive families. I recently heard from an adoptive family whose child is now nine years old, is processing their adoption identity in a new way and has a lot of questions. They told me, “we know we learned what to do when this happens during the home study but that was a long time ago.” And I said, “great!” because that is exactly what we hope families will get from the home study process. It's not possible to remember everything that will be covered in the home study process and as an adoptive parent you will be a lifelong learner. During the home study process, we will cover how to talk with your child about their adoption story throughout their lifespan beginning in infancy. While this is a good start, we often hear from families down the road with situation-specific questions for our clinicians. If your home study preparer did their job right, you will feel comfortable to come back for support as questions come up.

It’s important to find ways to connect with other adoptive families and we hope that the home study process will provides that foundation. Depending on your path to adoptive parenthood, we offer pre-adoption training that provide you the opportunity to meet other prospective adoptive parents. Post-adoption, participating in an adoption community is an important way to normalize the adoptee experience for your child  to find support from families with similar experiences. We often hear from adoptees that they feel isolated and it is important for them to connect with others with a similar background to them. We connect families informally with similar circumstances of placement or who live near one another. Some of our families live so close to one another that they are planning to share babysitters! Many families tell us that our support structure, including our monthly playgroups and regular Lifebook and Mask Making events, is what brought them to us in the first place.

Our pre-adoption home study work is informed by our post-adoption work with adoptees, birth families, and adoptive parents. Families adopting children over the age of three complete a resource plan which includes identifying practical things like an adoption-competent pediatrician and thoughtful things like ways to create an attachment between future siblings and how to help your older child meaningfully say goodbye and maintain connections. We have learned to have people identify these resources ahead of time, knowing that they will call on that information later when they need it.

To find out about home studies or if you have other questions about adoption, contact us at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org 

Community Building for Adopted Tweens and Teens

By Jessica Luciere   - Community Liaison, Adoption Mentorship Program

By Jessica Luciere
- Community Liaison, Adoption Mentorship Program

In everyone’s life, it is important to find the right community. That is no less true for people who were adopted. When we are older, we’re able to dig into our own identities with more of a worldly view of ourselves. When we are younger, sometimes this navigation needs more guidance. Adoptive parents know the value and power in meeting other adoptive parents, creating those safe spaces and finding ways to connect with one another. When parents search out these communities for their kids it is just as important and defining. The youngest years of a child’s life are formative, which is why giving them the space to connect with others who have such a common bond as adoption is so important.

Many people are touched and affected by adoption, which is why creating the right programming to facilitate safe spaces in the adoption community, is so important. As an adoptee myself, and someone who has benefitted from programs that allow me to interact with other adoptees, I know personally how powerful these programs can be. When adoptees have access to each other, they have access to stories that may or may not relate to their own, they meet people from similar and different backgrounds, but who all share this one common, deep-rooted experience.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program has been for running for 15 years continuously, I have been a Mentor in this program for those past 15 years. We have seen the lasting effects that creating a community has had on the many Mentors and Mentees who have participated in the program over the years. The bonds that are created when we give room to this topic have been incredible. For some, it may be their first time talking about their stories publicly, or even sharing a room with fellow adoptees. When adoptees are given the opportunity to share their stories, listen to each other, and get to know one another we are creating a space that adoptees may not necessarily find outside of these walls. Allowing adoptees to share a space helps eliminate a feeling of aloneness that can sometimes happen, especially for younger teens who have not yet learned how to manage their emotions, is so important. Adoptees who are older may also feel a sense of aloneness, so creating a Mentorship program where adults are Mentoring other younger adoptees creates a platform for everyone to work through these obstacles simultaneously. Often, we see that those who participate in the Mentorship program as youths, then come back as they get older to become Mentors to the new generation of adoptees. Adoptees finding themselves amongst peers, and finding their community is powerful.

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Much of adoption history has been covered in secrecy. Parents might be afraid to talk about certain adoption issues for fear of causing pain for their child or not knowing when or how to have these conversations. The Adoption Mentorship Program helps adolescents find their voices and build their growing understanding of their identity in a safe nurturing way with others who have gone thru what they might be going thru now. The challenge is incorporating your adoption identity and all that it means to you with pride as you move throughout life. It will always remain a continuous and ever-changing experience for all those who seek it. The Mentors who participate in this program will often say that they take away just as much from this program as the kids and parents do. The Mentors see themselves oftentimes, reflected back to them in the Mentees. Remembering what it was like to be their age, adopted, with questions and not always a clear path to the answers, gives them the chance to relive, but in present times, what the teen adoptee experience is, and was like. In the same respect, our Mentees can seek guidance from the adults who have lived through some of the experiences they may have had and could have in the future.

Adoptive parents know that giving their child a space to share this intimate part of their lives is important, and healthy. It is always encouraged and shared with parents that they start the conversation of adoption at home. Once the child knows that there is a safe space to share any feelings they may have, generally, it may open them up to find words to explain to their parents and friends what they are thinking and feeling about their adoptions. Parents are key players in adoptees growing into their adoption identities, trust starts at the home, so for kids to have a healthy space to share before they reach these programs allows for a more open experience. We also understand that giving a community to the parents is important, adoptive parents have stories of their own to share, questions that only other adoptive parents can answer and relate to. Creating a separate space for parents to connect with one another is paramount.

These are just some of the reasons why community services are so important in building an adoption community for you and your family. Our Adoption Mentorship Program provides a community for adolescent adoptees to explore their adoption identity while having fun with kids their age, and Mentors who are familiar with what they are going thru at this stage of their lives. Mentorship provides a fun and open, yet safe space for the teens to express themselves, and their parents understand how to support their teens as their child’s understanding of their own identity is ever changing.

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When programs are geared towards the specific needs of a community and have the right tools in place to ensure its success and participation, there is no limit to the good that can come from them. Adoption is a beautiful and complicated part of the lives that it touches, and it is important to give space to let that ever-changing, and personal relationship with adoption grow.

Learn more about programs and services that support your adopted tween or teen here or contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or 646-539-2167.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoptive Family Playgroups

By Christine Tangel, LCSW

By Christine Tangel, LCSW

I often hear the question from parents, when wonderings come up about something in their family, “Is this related to adoption or not?” And the answer, most of the time, is “yes” and “no”.

And here is how I set the stage for why Bagels & Blox belongs in your family’s monthly routine. Or more generally, why joining, embracing, an adoption community is essential to the well-being of your family.

Needing community is a universal truth in parenting. All of the “whys”, “what is that abouts” and “that happened to us toos” need the ears of those who are living that same experience. For your children, they need this community because it is playful and fun and reflects to them how their family shares things in common with other families in the group. Your child’s sense of identity is reinforced in a community instead of trying to comprehend it on their own or just with their family.

Once a month, on a Sunday morning at Spence-Chapin my colleagues and I roll out the play mats, set up the toys, lay out the breakfast spread (of bagels and lox of course!) and prepare to welcome a community of young families. Some of these families are familiar faces - who we look forward to seeing every time and others are coming for the first time or “trying on” this particular group.

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Bagels & Blox is joyful and silly and friendly. It is a place where toddlers are forming early friendships and parents can catch up with each other.

It is a casual atmosphere. Our playgroup allows space to connect with other families or build blocks with your child but also has professionals there for questions or to get tips, if needed. We have adoption related resources-articles, books and children’s books are out on display and available to look through or take home.

It is flexible. All families’ schedules are busy. Our playgroups allow families to choose how many you come to. We have some members who will be with us every month, we have others who come every few months. In either case, our commitment is that you feel welcomed and at home when you come.

It is belonging. All people, big and little, have a desire to belong and to feel accepted into a group. Finding a place where you and your child can feel connected to others who share the experience of adoption helps to build on the foundation of feeling understood and accepted. If from a young age, they are a part of a community that shares adoption, it helps them understand that part of their identity too.

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Bagels & Blox is open to all families with adopted children between 0 and 6 years old. Admission is free. To learn more about an upcoming playgroup or family-friendly events, please visit our website at www.spence-chapin.org/community.

Talking to Your Child About Adoption

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If you are like many adoptive parents it can come as a big surprise when your elementary school-aged child, who has always “known” that they were adopted, begins to ask questions you thought were answered years ago. In many ways you’re right—you have probably told your child their story many times and answered their questions. But something transformative happens between the ages of six and eight that shakes everything up. As your child moves into middle childhood, they experience remarkable cognitive changes, from newly found reasoning and problem-solving skills to being able to take another person’s perspective for the first time.

By this age, most children are not only able to notice what makes them similar to and different from others, but they are able to arrange their thoughts into questions about skin color, family composition, and reproduction—which allows them to think about their adoption in a whole new way. It’s an exciting time, but also comes with some sadness and confusion as many adopted children are able to understand for the first time that relinquishment led to their being adopted. This is a significant shift for children and their parents and many of our coaching clients reach out to us at this time for support and to get practical tools and tips to help navigate these conversations.

Here are some of the techniques we use when coaching parents thru this stage of adoption development.

  • Go Slowly and Listen Carefully. It may sound counterintuitive but try your best not to rush in to answer your child’s questions or fix what might seem like a problem. Instead, listen carefully and ask your child simple questions to help them express what’s on their mind. This could sound like: “You mentioned that you wish you grew in my belly; what do you think that would have been like?” With a focus on listening, you will learn to see the world from your child’s perspective and be better prepared to respond to your child’s unique needs. We often use role playing in coaching sessions to help parents develop and practice this skill.

  • Keep Playing. If you’re getting tripped up over finding just the right words you are in luck because helping a young child make sense of adoption also happens through play. Play themes of caretaking, nurturing, separation and reconnection, belonging, being lost and found are common among all children and can have an added layer for adoptees. Your child may incorporate elements from movies or stories that worry or delight them, and it is through their play that they express their emotional experience symbolically. We often inform parents that it’s not necessary to correct a child’s play or to interpret the story line, just acknowledge the story line. You can simply enjoy the intimate experience of being included in their imagination and take note of the concerns or themes that your child is working through.

  • It’s Not about You. At this age, children are able to ask very direct questions about their biological family, and some parents feel hurt by their little one’s curiosity about their past. One thing that may help is to keep in mind that your child’s interest in their birth family is not a rejection of you. It’s hard, but crucial, that parents do not take this personally. Even at a young age, children are experts at picking up on this kind of defensiveness, and if your child feels that they are upsetting you, they may retreat from future discussions. Coaching sessions can help parents recognize how their own grief and fear may be getting in the way of responding well to their child’s developmentally appropriate questions.

  • Use Props and Resources: Using props to help move conversations forward is especially grounding when emotions run high and we can literally “hold on” to something to help us stay on topic. For example, picture books help to identify feelings, reflect diversity in families, and show images from birth places. Children’s literature is now bursting with adoption-themed stories, including chapter books. There are non-competitive games to encourage communication and build attachment as well as videos created to help both children and adults understand adoptive family life. This is also an ideal time to attend a Lifebook workshop to create or re-create a Lifebook with your child that will help facilitate conversations about their adoption story. Consider your coach as a personal guide to help you identify the right tools and how to use them to keep these conversations going.

  • Build Your Community: The usefulness of making connections with other adults and children who truly understand what you and your child are experiencing can’t be overestimated. People who are not personally connected to adoption, although loving and well-meaning, are simply unable to help in the way that other triad members can. I often encourage parents that when the time is right, becoming part of an adoption community can truly be life changing. Here at Spence-Chapin we believe that adoption is a lifelong journey and help parents build their community early with our Bagels and Blox Sunday meet ups. This is where young children and their parents can meet to play and socialize. We also have Play Café which gives adopted children 6-8 a place to explore their feelings through arts and crafts. Whether through coaching, a playgroup or support group, mentorship program, social event, or on-line forums. There is a way to connect that can be the right fit for you.

Listen to this podcast of Mark Lacava, LCSW-R, Executive Vice President of Spence-Chapin's Pre & Post Adoption Services Department discuss common questions children ask at different developmental stages and how to answer them.

Any parent who has ever wondered how much their child needs to know about adoption and how to share it with them can benefit from a coaching session. Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you to gain clarity and receive guidance no matter your child’s age. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

What to Do After Finding Birth Relatives Through DNA Testing

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Have you identified a birth relative through DNA testing and are wondering what to do next? The technology moves so quickly that even those who plan carefully are often caught off guard by the rush of emotions and the flood of decisions that need to be made. Years of fantasies, imaginings, and what-ifs now have the possibility of becoming part of your reality. This brings tremendous opportunity as well as a loss of control that worries many adoptees and their families. In consultation with a coach, families can find an ally to navigate this complex moment in birth family connection.

Here are some things you can do to feel steadier in this process.

  • Identify your unique motivation and allow for flexibility. Now that you have identified a birth relative, it can be helpful to revisit why you originally initiated the search. For some, it is purely about finding medical information or to learn about their ancestry. And for others, there is a strong desire to develop an ongoing relationship that may begin gradually with correspondence and phone calls and could culminate with in-person meetings. We often coach people to give themselves permission to slow down and take the time they need to think things through. You may become more curious and open, or you may find yourself becoming more cautious and hesitant. And, many adoptees we have worked with find that as they get deeper into the process their paths can take unpredictable turns.

  • Think carefully about how you want to exchange information. Technology and birth family contact often moves more quickly than anticipated. It is likely that together you are going to be working out ways of communicating with your biological relative. Receiving new information can be exciting and welcomed, yet we find that this can also result in feeling exposed or overwhelmed. For instance, integrating new information about your early life circumstances or newly discovered biological siblings can powerfully impact your present life and relationships. Each new piece of your story, (for example a retelling of your relinquishment), may affirm, challenge or transform your personal narrative. Setting the right pace, creating comfortable boundaries, and finding careful ways to disclose personal information are tasks that can be worked through successfully in partnership with a coach. Remember that there isn’t a right or wrong way to develop your connection. Contact may move forward quickly and easily or may require more thought, negotiation and support. Sometimes these new relationships unfold slowly over weeks, months, or even years.

  • Attend to the emotional response. The momentum and the logistics of the search itself can be all- consuming and eclipse the importance of attending to emotional outcomes. Most adoptees have conflicting feelings when they identify a birth relative that range from elation, relief, and joy to fear, panic, and sadness. All of these feelings are expected and need to be explored and understood so that you can move forward with more confidence and less anxiety. Exploring the emotional side of your search with the guidance and support of an adoption-competent professional, can help you organize and manage these powerful feelings.

  • Find un-biased support. Having a solid support system of trusted people who are readily available to you is critical. Consider the different kinds of support that you may need. For instance, who in your circle can provide guidance with objectivity and won’t be influenced by their own needs or agenda? Who is a patient, empathic listener? And, who can provide sound advice about the wide variety of ways to make and maintain contact? Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding this deeply personal process. If you feel this way, consider joining an adoption community that can offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experience. Having the support of other adoptees offers invaluable camaraderie on this journey. In addition, there are books, blogs, support groups, advocacy and social organizations, and on-line communities, each offering different ways to engage with people who can relate personally to your experience.

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you to explore the emotional side of your search and figure out what to do next. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Sharing Difficult or Sensitive Information with Your Adopted Teen

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Many parents pick up the phone and call for coaching services when they realize that it’s time to tell their child a part of their adoption story that they have been holding. Perhaps you have photos you haven’t shown, know about a birth sibling, or there are circumstances surrounding your child’s conception or relinquishment that you have not yet shared. Best practice is for adoptees to know their full story before they transition through adolescence. There are exceptions to this, but generally this is a sound guideline and we have also found that even parents who would prefer to wait longer, tend to feel uneasy withholding information as their child moves deeper into the teen years. An understandable, but common mistake, is to expect there to be a “sweet spot” or the perfect time to share information so that it is pain-free. This may be too much to ask, but there are definitely some things that you can do to help the conversation be more comfortable for you and your child.

Here are some tips to support you and your family as you move into sharing more difficult information

  • Review your information. One of the most helpful things you can do is to go back in time and pull together all the information that you have about your child’s adoption—everything from the handwritten notes you may have taken, to documents from your agency, lawyer, or oversees representative. Any photos, videos, and correspondence with anyone connected to your adoption process from the very beginning to the present. There are two main reasons ask parents to do this. The first is so that you, as the parent, can make a clear inventory of what you do know about your child’s adoption. Most parents’ memories of the adoption process are filled with gaps or their memory of what happened is different from their partner. The second reason is that by sifting through these items, you are likely to be flooded with memories and to feel emotional— we ask parents to do this exercise as an important task to get familiar with what comes up for them and addressing this so that they can feel more comfortable sharing this difficult information.

  • Write down all the facts. Write what you think you have told your child on one page and what you have left to share on the other. Write out their story in a way that you think they can absorb. Your children are looking to you for the truth. The more in control and prepared you are the easier it is for your teen to take the information in and process it on their terms. This is one of the areas where a coach can help you formulate and articulate the information and your intent.

  • Consider the timing for your child. It’s important that you be the one to provide your child with the truth about their story. The older your child gets, the more likely it is that they will learn information about their adoption from other sources—they may stumble upon the information in your computer or file cabinet, hear it from someone that you confided in, or search for information themselves on the internet or by using social media. So, yes, it’s important that you not wait too long to provide your child with their full story. But with your newfound readiness, be sure to consider if it is also a good time for your child. Think about their overall mental health, their current ability to understand and process information, other transitions they are experiencing with friends or at school, and significant changes in your home life (parent separation, illness, or other losses.)

  • Address your own anxiety and fears. Addressing your fears and anxiety head-on is a critical step in preparing to share difficult information with your child. Parents worry that this new information is going to cause distress for their child and, understandably, want to protect their child from this pain and protect themselves from witnessing it. Parents’ worry tends to fall into two main areas. Their first concern is that the child will feel more rejection or shame as a result of having this new information. The second area of concern is that this information will change the relationship and create distance between the parent and the child. This is an area where I find coaching can be most effective because parents need a place to express their own fears and worries without judgement. Often coaching provides relief for parents, enabling them to have difficult conversations with their child without becoming overwhelmed with their own fears. Your coach can help you develop language, determine timing, and build your own resilience so that you feel more confident in your parenting decisions.

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you as you explore how to share difficult information with your teen. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

10 Tips for Completing Your Home Study Documents

Growing your family through adoption is life-changing and wonderful; yet the process can be daunting and it can be difficult to take that first step into the home study process. At Spence-Chapin you will have a team of professionals to hold you through the process and support you through the practical and the emotional aspects of your adoption. Here are some things to expect and some tips to make your home study process smooth.

1. Ask Questions! Building your family is the most important process you can ever undertake and you deserve to be well-informed and have all of your questions answered. There really are no ‘silly questions’ when it comes to home study, so don’t be afraid to ask. Your home study worker is equipped to support you through the documentation so never hesitate to email or call them with a question – documentation can be confusing; your worker is there to help.

2. Set goals – and let us help you set them. We will need to collect quite a few documents as a part of the home study process. It can feel overwhelming to tackle all the documents at once. We can help support you in prioritizing which documents to complete and in what order.

3. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s – Before you submit original documents to your team be sure to look over to assure they are completed! Read over your medical form before you leave your doctor’s office – double check that your physician did not forget to check a box or answer a question. If we receive a document that’s incomplete, we will need to send it back to you for corrections. Feel free to connect with us via email to look over any and all forms before you stick them in the mail, and we can let you know if anything needs to be updated.

4. Honesty is key. It’s important to be forthcoming with your home study team. For example, we understand you might have a previous arrest history - we can work with you to obtain required and standard documentation such as court dispositions. However, if you do not disclose required information to us this will impede your home study process. Although it may feel that certain parts of your history, such as a distant arrest, bare no weight on your ability to be a successful parent, regulations do require that we document personal history in the home study process. When meeting with your home study social worker he or she will open the space for reflection and assess your current strengths that will enable you to parent in light of any complex history.

5. Need a notary? There are a few places you can go to in order to obtain a notary stamp. Try connecting with your local bank or UPS office – they likely have notary services. You could also try your place of employment as some companies have notaries on staff. If you have trouble finding a notary near your home or place of work let your home study team know and we can assist in fining a notary for you. We have notaries on staff so feel free to schedule a time to come into our office to have documents notarized.

6. Before you even begin home study there are things you can obtain - You will need to collect some official documentation such as birth and marriage certificates as a part of the home study process, so while you’re still exploring your options it’s a good time to request these as it can take some time to receive them. While you’re at it, order a few backups. It’s important to have these types of documents on hand throughout your adoption journey as the need may arise for copies of these items at various points in your process. If you lived or were married abroad, we can support you in obtaining foreign certificates.

7. Need a document translated? You might need to have documents translated such as your birth or marriage certificates. We will need a certified English translation of these items. If you do not know of a company that can provide such a translation, connect with our team! One such resource we share with families is www.continentaltranslation.com.

8. Life happens when your busy making adoption plans…and that’s okay. We understand that things come up along the way. If you need to place your home study case with us on hold just let your team know. We’re here to have a conversation about what that looks like and will be happy to move forward with you when the time feels right for your family.

9. Tell us about yourself through the Narrative – The home study is an intimate and personalized process; we want to get to know you so that we can best support you in preparing to grow your family though adoption. We understand the home study narrative that we ask our families to write is robust – but it’s so helpful. Your home study social worker will use your narrative as a way to get to know you before meeting with you for the first time as well as support in collecting some key information for your home study report. We hope that you see the narrative as a helpful exercise as well. The narrative prompts you to start thinking about some of the more practical aspects of becoming a parent such as childcare – maybe you’re not sure what type of parental leave you have through your job now is a good time to start researching that information. The narrative also prompts you to reflect on your journey towards choosing adoption, what you might feel most nervous about and ways in which your social worker can help.

10. How long does it take to complete a home study? That depends, but on average it takes about 3 months from time of application to the completion of your home study report. Each family moves at a different pace so depending on your timeline around submission of documents and your availability for home visits that timeline can be shorter or longer.

If you’d like to learn more about how Spence-Chapin can support you in growing your family, or if you’re ready to begin the process, please give us a call at (212) 400-8150 or email us at info@spence-chapin.org.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Birth Parent Search

During our late teens and early twenties, a main developmental task is to establish our identity while simultaneously seeking independence from our family. In other words, to figure out who we are becoming, we need to know where we came from so that we can have something to actually separate from. For adoptees, who have limited information about their origin, this is often the time when there is an increase in wondering and seeking out more information about birth family—Questions like: What makes me unique? What about my genetic history? How am I similar and different from my birth and adoptive family? Where do I fit and belong? These are all important, valuable questions. Some adoptees move through this stage comfortably by exploring these search-related questions on their own without pursuing contact with birth relatives or an actual reunion. Yet for others, these curiosities lead to a strong desire for an active search and the hope of making a connection with birth relatives.   

If you are in this age group, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide if this is a good time to pursue a search.

1.     Do I have the support in my life to embark on a search right now, or should I build my community first? 

Having a solid support system of trusted people who are accessible to you is critical during your search. Consider the kind of help that you may need and then think carefully about who in your circle of friends, family, and professionals can be there for you. Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding what they need, and that having the support of other adoptees makes all the difference. As you explore the answers to this question, you may consider working with a coach or therapist who specializes in adoption-related concerns. Joining an adoption community or support group can also offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experiences.  

2.     How will searching impact my relationship with my parents?  

This is a tricky thing to talk about. However, overlooking it could lead to bigger troubles. Consider how much or little you want to involve your parents in your search process and be proactive in how you approach this so that you are in the driver’s seat. As a young adult, it is recommended that this process be on your terms—but you need to know what you want in order for this to happen. Take the time you need to explore and define what is right for you. If not, you may be swayed by other people’s point of view, no matter how well meaning. It’s important for you to feel “in control” of the process—so you can take responsibility for the outcome as well as feel confident that you are making the right decisions. These in-between years can be a confusing phase of life because parents have often been the stewards of the child’s adoption information. As you transition to adulthood, you can learn to own your story. There are often growing pains here—parents may need some help letting go while you may need some encouragement and support to take the lead. Being ready to deal with your parent’s feelings about a birth parent search is an important part of the decision-making process. This can be hard for anyone, and even harder for a young adult who is still “in the nest.”  Bottom line is, recognize that searching affects your whole family system—especially your parents and consider this in the timing of your search.    

3.     Do I have the time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to a search?  

Although everyone’s search experience is different, most would agree that the experience took them on an emotional roller coaster that, regardless of the preparation, was difficult to predict. Many of our coaching clients initially reached out because they were unprepared for the emotions that came up as well as the impact it had on their lives. This is also true for people who feel they had very positive experiences. With this in mind, consider what else is happening in your life and try not to overlap the active part of your search with other weighty decisions or commitments that require significant energy (application deadlines, school exams, new job, or stressful travel, etc...) Once you actively engage in the search process, it can take on a life of its own and the feelings that come with this are hard to anticipate and prepare for. As positive as your experience may be, it is likely to be consuming and distracting for a period of time.  

In closing, keep in mind that your search doesn’t have to be conducted all at once. Searching can happen in phases over a period of months or years. Consider both internal and external factors that may be influencing you and set a pace that is right for you. If there is no pressure to move quickly, it is recommended that you give yourself time to think things through. Seek the support of a trusted friend or advisor who can support you to clarify what outcome you hope to achieve, as well as how you will manage both the joys and sorrows that may arise. 

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you at every phase of the birth parent search process.  Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Building Our Family Through Colombian Heritage Adoption: Chris and Michelle’s Story

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My wife and I decided to adopt in 2011. After weighing many options, including domestic adoption, we found the Colombian Heritage program at Spence-Chapin. My wife is half Colombian and half Portuguese and has always associated more with her Colombian culture and traditions.  In 2012 we submitted our application and started our training, home study, and dossier paperwork.  Our dossier was soon submitted to La Casa de la Madre y El Nino, one of the oldest orphanages in Colombia. We were matched with our daughter in July 2014 and traveled to meet her in September.

Our first picture of Genevieve, circa July 2014

In Colombia, the day a family and child meet for the first time is known as “Encuentro.” Our “Encuentro” was September 11, 2014. I remember waking up excited – until I turned on the TV and saw the 9/11 footage being replayed.  It was a roller coaster of emotions as we heard the names of people who perished that tragic day, but we reminded ourselves that we were only a few hours away from what would be the happiest moment of our lives.

We arrived at La Casa that morning, and met our beautiful daughter, Genevieve.  She let out a huge smile as soon as my wife took her into her arms, and the happy tears began flowing. The first days a family spends with their new child is known as “Integracion” or, in English, the Integration Period. “Integracion” went very well, as did all the remaining appointments, and we returned home together on October 24th.

 A couple of years later, 2016, we realized our family wasn’t quite complete. We started the process of adopting our second child. We decided to once again adopt from La Casa de la Madre y El Nino over the central authority (ICBF), despite potentially longer wait times, due to our connection with La Casa. It just felt right.

Genevieve meeting her (sleeping) little sister for the first time.

Genevieve meeting her (sleeping) little sister for the first time.

We moved from New Jersey to Maryland during this adoption, which added some time and additional paperwork, but we were matched with our second daughter in November 2018.  

We didn’t travel until March 2019 due to more delays in the paperwork, but returned home exactly one month later, with our second daughter, Madeleine.  In case you’re wondering, the girls’ names bring along a little of my heritage (my mother is French).  This trip was extra special for us as we got to experience Genevieve becoming a big sister; she was the first to see Madeleine at La Casa, and even helped getting her dressed for her big day!  

The process has been streamlined quite a bit in-country due to ICBF processing their cases through a court in La Mesa, rather than in Bogota. La Mesa is a beautiful city about 2 hours outside of Bogota, with a judge who is extremely supportive of adoptions. We stayed at the Kau Hotel, and highly recommend this hotel to families. 

I also would guide prospective Colombian Heritage families to a private Facebook group (Colombia Adoptions) that is extremely helpful with any questions that will arise during this often-daunting process.  We found the group to be an invaluable asset.  

Sisters Genevieve and Madeleine, snug as two bugs in a rug!

Sisters Genevieve and Madeleine, snug as two bugs in a rug!

There are times during the process when your patience will be tested, but I assure you there is a light at the end of that long tunnel. For us, that light has been seeing these two beautiful girls thrive in a loving home. 

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?

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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.