Granny Program

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

South Africa Adoption: How to Determine Your Family’s Medical Openness

Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children in South Africa – children with a medical diagnosis who are in need of an international adoptive family. It takes a dedicated and resourceful parent to adopt a child with special medical needs. At Spence-Chapin, we guide families in how to make an informed decision about their family’s particular medical openness and offer support and resources before, during and after their adoption. Spence-Chapin is confident that in a loving home with the right family who is dedicated to learning about, or already has experience with special medical needs, these children can thrive!

But how does a family determine if adopting a child with special medical needs from South Africa is right for them? Here are 5 places to start:

1. Learn about the most common medical needs in South Africa.

Check out this article on the Top 10 Medical Needs in South Africa! Currently, the two most common needs our partners Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) see in the children in their care are: a diagnosis of HIV and unknown or unpredictable developmental delays. We are actively looking for families who feel open and prepared to parent a child with one of these two needs. You can learn more by exploring these resources specific to adoption from South Africa.

2. Consider the medical and developmental care children receive in South Africa.

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JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. Children receive medical treatment at JCW through a partnership with Thusanani Children’s Foundation. Thusanani provides safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical and developmental care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc.

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Additionally, Spence-Chapin sponsors a Granny Program at JCW to help the children develop the important socio-emotional bonds that are so important to a child’s development. Through the Granny program, children are paired with surrogate “grannies” from their local community who spend special, one-on-one time with them every day. This humanitarian aid initiative gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. We see incredible progress made by children who are matched with a granny. In South Africa, the children call their grannies “gogo”!

3. Consult with an international pediatric specialist to make an informed decision.

It’s recommended that families considering adopting a child with medical needs consult with a pediatrician about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of specific conditions to consider if your family has the ability to provide the care a child will need. There are many experienced international adoption medical specialty clinics throughout the United States that are a resource for prospective adoptive families. Physicians with an international adoption specialty are familiar with common medical issues involved in intercountry adoption and many of the common needs seen in children eligible for international adoption.

Because South Africa is a signatory to The Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, adoptive families benefit from a transparent and ethical process for receiving a child’s information. At the time of referral from South Africa, Spence-Chapin will provide all known social and medical history provided by JCW so a family can make an informed decision. The family will review the medical history with a Medical Specialist and support from Spence-Chapin.

4. Gather information about resources and eligibility for services in your state and community.

Each state offers a variety of services for children with special needs through state agencies and community organizations. Free services through Early Intervention and CPSE services are offered nationally and children 0-3 may qualify when they have a developmental delay in the areas of cognitive, physical, speech and adaptive development. It can be helpful to anticipate the programs offered in the local schools as well as the State laws and regulations for special needs education.

Additionally, when considering the adoption of a child with special needs, it can be helpful to consult with other parents of children with medical needs or international adoptive families. They can be a great source of information, support, and referrals. They may be able to share their suggestions, insights, and recommendations for ways that you can strengthen your ability to parent a child with a medical need. It may also be helpful to prepare for what to expect through help from the local home study agency, special needs support groups or even online through adoption websites such as AdoptionLearningPartners.com.

5. Ask Yourself:

Are you willing, and do you have the time to become informed about the realities of raising a child with special needs?

  • Do you have access to medical resources in your community that specializes in the treatment of pediatric special needs?

  • Are you able to make sure that your child takes medication or attends therapies?

  • Does your schedule allow for the time it takes to parent a child with a medical need?

  • Are you comfortable with any attention it may bring to your family?

  • Are you willing to advocate for your child in your home, school, and community?

  • Are you prepared to accept unknowns for the future development of your child and to find solutions to any challenges that may emerge?

Following the adoption of a child from South Africa, Spence-Chapin welcomes adoptive families to engage in our post-adoption services. Spence-Chapin offers counseling, parent coaching, post-adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips. These services can be provided to families in person, over the phone or via video conferencing in all 50 states. We also invite you to attend our annual family events so you and your child can meet other South Africa adoptive families!

Children with special medical needs are waiting for adoptive families in South Africa. If you feel you might be a good match for these children, let’s talk! To learn more, send us an email to info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

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.

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.

South Africa Granny Program

In South Africa, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a "granny" through Spence-Chapin's Granny Program.

Visiting the Tula Granny Program

Linda Wright, director of development, comments on the visit she made at the end of March to an orphanage in Tula, Russia, where Spence-Chapin has sponsored a Granny Program to help those children most at risk, through daily, individual attention from women in the community.