Preparing Children for the Colombia Host-to-Adopt Program

Spence-Chapin partners with FANA for our Colombia host-to-adopt program.

Fall 2017 Colombia Host to Adopt Program

Host to Adopt blogpost

Spence-Chapin partners with The Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) in Colombia for a special host-to-adopt program. This is an opportunity to host a child or children in your home for three weeks over the fall before finalizing the adoption. Waiting children are boys and girls (including sibling groups) ages 11-14. Participating families must be located in the greater New York City area (includes Long Island, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Connecticut).

Colombia Fall 2017 Host to Adopt Program Timeline:

  • May 15, 2017: Adoption applications are due
  • May – August, 2017: Begin home study and adoption trainings
  • August 2017: Home study must be completed, due at this time to Colombia’s child welfare Central Authority.
  • August – October 2017: Learning about the child or children family is matched with, continuing to prepare for hosting and adoption-related paperwork. Hosting dates will be decided by Colombia and announced during this time.
  • Fall (October or November 2017): Hosting time is 2-3 weeks, supported by bilingual psychologist from adoption house FANA and Spence-Chapin staff
  • December 2017 – June 2018: After hosting period, complete adoption paperwork to move forward with finalizing the adoption, estimate of 6 months though times will vary for families.
  • Summer 2018: Travel to Colombia for approximately 4-6 weeks to finalize the adoption

Contact our Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or              Ready to apply? Download the Colombia host-to-adopt application here.

Search & Reunion: Where to Begin

  Pamela Slaton

Name: Pamela Slaton Pamela Slaton is a Genealogist and Private Investigator in the State of New Jersey whose business mainly focuses on locating birth families. She is also a Spence-Chapin adoptee. Her area of expertise lies in having the ability to combine historical records with contemporary data.





Name: Jessica Luciere

Jessica Luciere is an international adoptee who decided early in her life that she wanted to search for her birth family. She contacted a private investigator in Colombia when she was 23 years old after going through various avenues in New York, and he was able to find her birth mother with the information she had through her birth papers. Her family was found within a week. Jessica has visited her birth family many times in Colombia and maintains a very open relationship with them.

Mark Lacava

Name: Mark Lacava

Mark Lacava is the Director of Clinical Services in the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin. He works with all members of the adoption community and has experience working with individuals embarking on the search and reunion process. He received his Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Foundations of Family Therapy Certificate from the Post-Graduate Program at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. He has been a clinician working with children and families for over 20 years.

Colombia's Changing Adoption Landscape

Associate Director of International Adoption Ben Sommers shares his perspective on the changing landscape of adoption in Colombia.

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

Spence-Chapin offers its heartfelt remembrance of the life and spirit of Flicka Van Praagh.

Colombian Host-to-Adopt Program

Spence-Chapin launches Colombian host-adopt program for the tri-state community.

Championing the Waiting Child

South African Orphans

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does. Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

Uganda Orphans

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

Dia Del Trabajo

With the exception of a small number of countries, America included, Labor Day or Workers' Day is a holiday celebrated on May 1st of each year, dedicated to the struggles and success of working class people.

In Colombia, this day is called El Dia Del Trabajo. Walk down the usually busy streets of Bogota on this day, and you'll find them deserted! Like in America, on our Labor Day, held in September to mark the end of summer, almost all businesses, post offices, banks, and stores are closed. Instead of working, people protest and parade across the country in solidarity with the working class.

On el Dia Del Trabajo in Colombia, workers from all industries make it a point to stick together and peacefully demand rights for the working class. Traditionally, they dress up in bright red, which stems from the holiday’s socialist origins. El Dia Del Trabajo isn't only celebrated in Colombia, actually, notable celebrations happen all over the world.

There aren't many celebrations in America, since our Labor Day is September. However, the origins of Dia Del Trabajo are a great history lesson to teach children. While it is a very somber topic, there are many great themes you can focus on: Human Rights, Equality and Fairness, Solidarity, and Tradition.

Here are some resources to get you started:

The Gaurdian - The History of Mayday - A Short History of May Day

A Closer Look: Adoptions from Colombia

Last month, Helene Lauffer, associate executive director, and Samantha Walker, assistant director for international adoption, traveled to Colombia to meet with staff from all the adoption houses with which Spence-Chapin works to place children. Here, Helene shares the highlights of their trip.

For Samantha and I, it was our first time visiting Colombia. Upon our arrival, we were met by our Colombian representative, Manuela Fonnegra de Michelsen, who whisked us into Bogotá. Dedicated, resourceful and charming, Manuela tracks all of our cases, coordinates the process with the government, adoption houses, lawyers, translators and families. She is highly organized and a problem-solver extraordinaire. She cares deeply about the children, and she is tireless in her efforts to move our cases along.

Early the next morning, Samantha and I flew to Cali, a city southwest of Bogotá. We visited Chiquitines, an adoption house that we have worked with for over 16 years. Home to 80 children ranging in age from infant to 12 years old, Chiquitines is led by Agatha de Leon, a charming, warm woman. The orphanage is outside the city of Cali, in a suburban setting with a large lawn, lush greenery and a pool. The children’s rooms were spotless; and the many caregivers active and supportive. With Agatha, as with all the other adoption houses we visited, we discussed trends, adoption timeframes, costs and specific cases. We also reviewed our humanitarian aid support to Chiquitines which goes back many years. Agatha also shared with us her challenges in maintaining a high-quality children’s home in the face of enhanced regulatory oversight and increased operating costs.

Samantha and I said goodbye to Chiquitines and shared a traditional Cali lunch with Magnolia, our local representative. Magnolia has served as a guide, translator and surrogate grandmother to the many families who have adopted from Chiquitines over the years. As soon as we met Magnolia, we could see how her patience, calmness and local know-how would be reassuring to families as they go through the adoption process so far from home.

The next morning, Samantha and I returned to Bogotá and met with staff from Instituto Colombiano Bienestar de Familiar (ICBF), the family welfare institute that oversees adoptions. With them, we reviewed our accreditation (which is being renewed), our in-country humanitarian aid efforts and our experience with specific cases. ICBF is especially keen to promote the adoptions of older children, sibling groups and children with special needs, as well as adoptions by families with Colombian heritage. Spence-Chapin has been moving forward with a number of such cases and learning a great deal in the process.

Next, we visited La Casa, the first private children’s home to be established in Colombia. We were extremely impressed with this homey, yet beautiful, clean and well-laid out orphanage set in a lovely neighborhood in central Bogotá. Samantha and I met with Ines Elvira Cuellar, the head of adoptions for La Casa, and she was as warm as she was clear and committed to finding homes for both typically developing as well as special needs children. As we toured La Casa, we saw newborns, infants, toddlers and older children. The toddlers were especially eager to see us and to share hugs. Most memorable was when a small, Afro-Colombian girl saw Samantha, who is a tall and striking black woman. The child’s face broke into an expression of wonder and joy, and she ran to Samantha with outstretched arms. It was a moving and a heartbreaking moment.

Afterwards, we headed to the outskirts of Bogotá to visit Ayúdame (translated as “help me” in Spanish). Founded 34 years ago, Ayúdame is home to 50 children, most of whom are under age seven. Maria Clemencia Marquez Gutierrez is the energetic, determined and caring woman who directs the home and the maternity shelter that is also operated under the auspices of Ayúdame. Ayúdame works with only a few agencies, and we are pleased that Maria Clemencia is adding Spence-Chapin to that roster. She makes it a point to visit the agencies with which she collaborates for adoptions every few years so that she can be assured that their assessment and preparation of families is thorough and skilled. Since Spence-Chapin takes the same care in reviewing the adoption houses with which we collaborate, we think it will be an excellent partnership.

Ayúdame operates out of a private home on three floors. The perimeter of several of the bedrooms was lined with cribs for infants; other rooms have toddler beds and bunk beds. Samantha and I were greeted by gleeful children playing and singing.

That evening, we had dinner with the full Spence-Chapin team: Manuela, Jorge Ivan (an attorney who is our deputy representative), Nora (who assists Manuela in putting together the documentation for the cases), and Marie Elena (an attorney who use to direct adoptions at ICBF and who handled a recent case for us). We heard more from them all about some of our recent cases and we shared with them news of the families now that they are back in the U.S.

On Friday morning, we drove to Chía, a rural district in Bogotá surrounded by mountains, about 45 minutes outside the city. This is the setting for Fundacion Niña Maria, the adoption house where Spence-Chapin started a granny program a year and half ago. Niña Maria has two sites in Chía: one that houses older boys, and the other that houses all the young children, as well as the older girls. Altogether, Niña Maria is home to approximately 90 children—many of whom are under the protection of the state and not available for adoption.

We were warmly greeted by Marlena, the founder and director of Fundacion Niña Maria, as well as many of the staff. After introductions, we were led into the building where our granny program is operated. We were all amazed and moved by the incredible sight of 12 grannies paired with 12 children, sitting at small tables or on the floor, completely engaged in their tasks together. Some were reading, some playing with blocks, some doing puzzles, some practicing forming letters or calculating sums. The children were full of smiles, hugs and affection for their grannies. These are all children who, without their grannies, would rarely get any personal attention. Because of the granny program, they spend two hours a day, five days a week, with someone who they know cares a great deal about them and who rejoices in their accomplishments. They are all thriving with the attention of the grannies, and they are making real progress in their social, emotional and physical development.

After the children left, we spoke to the grannies to thank them for their dedication to this program and to tell them that we consider their work to be extremely important. I was so filled with emotion (and so flustered) that I said, “Buenos noches” instead of “Buenos dias,” but they had a good laugh and seemed to forgive me! We met with the program staff, who have been putting great effort into planning activities for the grannies and documenting the progress of the children. They are eager to have Rita Taddonio, our director of post-adoption services, return to Chía to provide more training to the grannies and the staff (so start packing your bags, Rita!).

As I sat on the plane to return to New York, I felt satisfied and hopeful. The satisfaction comes from knowing that we have a wonderful and a dedicated team representing Spence-Chapin in Colombia: a team that understands the process of adoption and has the skills to see it through. It also comes from the knowledge that we have partnered with some very well-run, ethical adoption houses that are committed to the children in their care. We have the respect and support of ICBF. And, we are finding homes for children who need them. Now that we have laid and reinforced this foundation, the hope is that we can continue to find families (Colombian and non-Colombian) who will see this program as a viable route to building their families, who will enjoy spending time in Colombia during their adoption process, and who will embrace the process of incorporating Colombian culture into the life of their family going forward.