Foster Care

Meet Elizabeth!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are? This month we talked to Dr. Elizabeth Studwell, Psy.D., Manager of Mental Health Services, about her work.

ElizabethStudwellWhy did you want to work at the Modern Family Center?

I specifically wanted to work at the Modern Family Center because I believe very strongly in the freedom and acceptance to have and be a part of a “Modern Family.” I want to provide support to individuals and families that find themselves feeling different than the norm. I feel very passionately about adoption and feel that it often takes extra strength to be a part of a unique family structure, whatever that might be. All children deserve a family and all families deserve to be happy and healthy.

 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is the consultation work that I do for foster care agencies. I help to support children whose parents have not been able to fully care for their needs.

Describe your job in 3 words. Dynamic, rewarding, humbling

Describe your experience in mental health counseling.

I completed my doctorate in clinical psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and have been engaged in providing mental health services in a variety of settings for almost ten years. I have volunteered and worked at a residential institution in Colombia preparing children for adoption. I have provided coaching, counseling, and consulting as well as psychological assessment in variety of settings including inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, behavioral day schools, and foster care agencies. I am clinically trained primarily in attachment based psychotherapy, relational therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and trauma focused psychotherapy.

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

snowflakeHolidays are a time for connecting with loved ones and provide the opportunity for time travel – we visit our past, experience the present, and set intentions for the future. It’s easy to think about the family members we see and touch base with regularly. But what about those who were part of your child’s life before they were part of your family? It could be birth or foster families, orphanage caregivers, or early childhood friends. Even if your child was too young to remember these relationships, they are an important part of your child’s history and who they are today. Finding ways to bring their birth family, birth culture, and past into the present is important for deepening your relationship with your child.

Be imaginative about honoring those connections. The rituals and traditions you create with your child can be tangible and concrete, like putting together a Lifebook that has pictures of those important people, sending letters and cards, or setting up a visit. If you don’t have direct contact, the rituals can be symbolic. Go for a walk in the park where you first decided to adopt; eat the favorite food of that important person every Thanksgiving; collect stones from important places in your child’s life. The smallest detail can have a huge impact on your child now and in the future. Remember, be creative and make it a special tradition that is unique to your family. Your child might not like or understand the meaning of the rituals now, but it is important that you’re doing all that you can do to document and celebrate your child’s past so they can cherish it in the future. When you honor those who are connected to your child, you are honoring your children, their story, and your family’s roots.

Spence-Chapin Partners with The Family Equality Council as an "Ally for Adoption"

Spence-Chapin is excited to partner with the Family Equality Council in their "Allies for Adoption" campaign.

What is an Adoption Subsidy?

The New York State Adoption Subsidy is designed to help adoptive families parent and finalize the adoption of children with special needs.

How do I talk to my child about adoption

Addressing the adopted child’s past is the key to helping them move towards a bright future.

Professional Training in Adoption

Spence-Chapin hosts 3 day training on Integrative Team Treatment for Attachment Trauma in Children.

Post-Travel Reflections: Part I

The following is another contribution from one of our adoptive families.  This narrative speaks to not only the way their trip to Korea was structured, but also highlights the attentiveness of the social workers in Korea as well as the sorrow felt by the foster families as they say goodbye to the children who have been in their care for so long. We received the call to travel to Korea about three months after our official acceptance.  We felt overwhelmed.  In less than a week, we had to reschedule my husband's work; make arrangements for child care for our two daughters during the week we would be in Korea; make hotel and air reservations; purchase gifts for the foster family and SWS staff; and make sure that we had everything we needed for our son when we went to Korea.  However, we felt most overwhelmed by the prospect of finally meeting James after waiting for so long.  We began the adoption process more than a year and half ago.  We told our children about the adoption once we received the referral and made our official acceptance.  We thought we had at least four months before going to Korea to finally meet our son.  We were not emotionally ready at the time we received the call to travel.  In retrospect, we were fortunate that we were able to go to Korea prior to the four months.  James had turned 15 months when we brought him home.  A month later, James seems to have jumped to the next developmental stage.  He is more aware of his surroundings and more expressive.

We arrived in Korea on a Saturday evening.  We met James and his foster parents the following Monday at his foster family's home with our social worker.  He was shy but very comfortable at his home and very playful.  We met James again the following morning at one of the SWS offices.  The office had a bunch of toys and we sat with James (without the foster mother or the social worker) playing with different toys.  The social worker, who was very familiar with James, came into the room occasionally to encourage James to interact with us.  At one time, he sat on my lap, which surprised me.  Later, he sat on David's lap.  It was a great feeling.  Even though we met for only half an hour, we felt that this time was significant in giving us an opportunity to get to know each other at a place familiar to James but not at the foster parent's home and without the foster mother, who was sitting just outside the office.  Further, meeting James both on Monday and Tuesday prior to taking him home on Wednesday, seemed to make the transition a lot smoother.

That Wednesday, while the social worker gave us the documents for our travels, James and his foster mother were meeting with the pediatrician on the first floor of the SWS building.  Once the appointment was over, James came up with his foster parents and their son.  Their older daughter was in school.  At the adoption offices, the foster mother showed us the things she brought for us - James' hanbok, several of his favorite toys, and his clothing, much of which were new.  She had wrapped each item carefully and lovingly in plastic bags.  Shortly thereafter, the social worker called a taxi for us and told us that we would depart first and that we would say our goodbyes at the elevator.  As we were waiting for the elevator to come up, the foster mother was so sad and began to cry softly.  James had been with his foster family for over a year and it was clear that he had bonded with the entire family, especially the foster mother.

Part II will be published next week.  It discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.

“I Feel Like I’m Waiting to Love My Son"

I love the show “Parenthood”. I love the characters, the family dynamics, the twists and turns of inter-weaving inter-generational lives playing out themes of marriage, raising kids, inter-racial families, and more recently, the adoption of a school-aged child.

Interim Care Provider Kim Sava in Real Simple Magazine

Kim Sava lives by an uncommon philosophy: Keep only what you use, make peace with imperfection, and (seriously) help those in need. Her beautiful home is a snapshot of her spirit. By Marjorie Ingall

Loving and Letting Go

With a newborn in one arm, Kim talks about the volunteer work that she has been engaged in for the last four years. “I think I’m officially called an ‘interim care provider,’ ” she says, spreading a blanket on the floor to change the diaper of her current charge. The adoption agency that she is involved with, Spence-Chapin, brings newborns to Kim for anywhere from a week to three months, to give birth mothers time to make an informed decision. “I went through the same background checks and training as an adoptive parent would,” she says. Kim has had more than two dozen babies stay with the family, sometimes two at a time. Is it hard to give them back? Kim answers right away: “It’s the deal,” she says, lifting the baby. “And I knew the deal.”

Opening Her Heart—and Her Home

Kim’s twin sons, Declan and Wesley, age 13, are sweet to the babies but only as interested as any busy, social seventh-grade boys would be. Some of the little girls in the neighborhood, however, flock to the house. “I live a block from the school, so between the boys’ friends and the girls coming to hold the babies, my place is always swarming with kids,” says Kim. Are the newborns disruptive to family life? “There’s not a whole lot of screaming going on,” she says. “They really just want to be held.”

Read the entire article here.

A Day in the Life: Interim Care Provider

From the moment she gets a call from Spence-Chapin about a newborn coming into care, Carmela Grabowski goes into mommy mode. "I put fresh linens on the bassinet, clean the car seat, make formula, sterilize the pacifiers, change out all the diapers from size 2 to 1, and sort the clothes depending on the season and the gender of the baby."

Carmela has been an interim care provider with Spence-Chapin since 2009, and has cared for 32 infants. This wife and mother of a 21-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter, both adopted, gives us a sneak peak of life as an interim child care provider. "I start my day around 6:00am with a feeding, changing the baby's diaper. Baby is back down for a nap, and I then clean up the house, do laundry and shower. Around 9:00am, I give her/him the second bottle. I keep the baby up for about an hour-- swinging, playing, cuddling when it's down for a nap number 2. I take this time to work in my private office ‘til noon, and then I start making lunch for my husband and daughter. If it's a day when the baby has a doctor's appointment or a visit with her birth parents, we get on the road around 9:15am.

“In the afternoon, when I prepare dinner, the baby is in the swing keeping me company in the kitchen. By 6:00pm, the family sits down together for dinner and everyone takes turns interacting with the baby while we eat. At 8:00pm, it's 'Bath-Bottle-Bed. I usually stay awake until midnight, waiting for the baby's next feeding, and of course, some more cuddling. Then, I'm up every 3-4 hours for late night feedings and diaper changes.”

"I'd tell anyone who wants to do this [interim care], that you have to understand that it takes up a lot of time and a lot of work. But, it's most rewarding. You just get so much out of it. Adoptive parents often keep in touch. I keep a photo album with all the pictures they send me of the babies I've cared for. It's the best thing I've ever done.

 

Spence-Chapin's Interim Child Care Program is one of the last of its kind.  It began over 70 years ago as a valuable service for birth parents by giving them time after delivery - free from pressure - to make a decision about their child's future.

Experienced care providers, supervised by our child care department, look after the babies in their home for several days or weeks after hospital discharge. Birth parents retain their legal rights and can visit their babies during this period.  Spence-Chapin's board-certified pediatricians examine all infants in our care after hospital discharge; give them regular exams during their stay; and perform a discharge exam on the day they leave to go home.

You can learn more by visiting our website.