MFC

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 Tips to Help Teens Explore Identity

Written by Katie Rogala, LSW

We all have an inner and outer self – whether you are adopted or not! This often looks like presenting as different version of yourself based on the people you are around. This is an especially relevant topic for teens and tweens, who are managing many different levels of identity at once: adoptee identity, identity related to sex and gender, physical appearance, etc.

  1. Start the Conversation

    As hard as it can be, it is important for parents to begin these conversations. Don’t wait for your teen to speak up first. Identity is a raw and emotional topic for many, and often your child may not know if it’s something they can discuss with their family.  Your child will be much more likely to explore this topic with you if you’ve already made it clear that you’re ready and willing to have this conversation.


  2. Normalize

    Everyone has an inner and outer self. Consider what this means for you: how are you different when you’re with family? At work? With friends? Even if the changes across environments are small, they are still there. Don’t be afraid to share these personal examples with your child! This will help communicate to them that having multiple facets to your identity is a universal experience, not one limited to adoptees.


  3. Validate

    Whatever your adolescent feels about their adoption and identity is okay and valid. This can be hard for a parent to sit with, especially when their child expresses more complicated or negative feelings.  Saying things like, “I hear you,” “You have every right to feel that way,” or, “I can see why that would make you feel _____” sends a powerful message to them that they are understood, and that you will be there to support them no matter what they may be feeling.


  4. Listen

    Don’t just hear your teen – listen. When they share something that you don’t quite understand, seek out the feeling behind that emotion. The goal is not to make complicated feelings go away, it’s to create a safe space to talk about them. Reflect back on what your child says, using phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” – this allows you to get clarification where needed, without shutting down what’s been disclosed. By using reflective language, you are also demonstrating that you are actively listening to them and seeking to understand. 


  5. Give Them Space

    Let’s be honest – sometimes teens and tweens just don’t want to talk to their parents! However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t still thinking about adoption and identity; rather, they may just need to explore it on their own terms. Start the conversation, but don’t force it. Think of creative ways for your child to explore their adoption on their own. As an example, you may consider creating an album or memory box for your child related to their adoption and keep it in their room or other accessible space.  In doing so, you retain control of the narrative, but give your child the space and freedom to access it when and how they choose.


  6. Manage Your Own Emotions

    Conversations about identity and adoption can be emotionally charged, for both parent and child. However, it is important that, as the parent, you keep your own emotions in check so you can fully support your child. I’ve heard from many adopted teens the frustration of trying to talk to their parent(s) about adoption, only to have that parent become tearful and emotional. Even though these are often happy tears, it discourages the teen from wanting to share again in the future. In that moment, they need their parent to be in control and to support them, not the other way around. Before you get started, utilize your own calming down skills and tools to be sure you’re in the right frame of mind. If you find yourself becoming emotional – don’t worry! You can always take a quick break and come back to the discussion when you’re ready.


  7. Be Willing to Share of Yourself

    Conversations related to identity and adoption are not about you, they are about your child. However, it can be difficult for a teen (or any child) to feel comfortable sharing so much of themselves if it’s not part of a reciprocal process. Even if you are not an adoptee, look for the universal experiences in what your child shares and use that to help support and validate your child. As an example, if they say, “It really bothers me when kids at school ask why I don’t look like my sister”, you could say, “When I was in school, sometimes kids would ask me insensitive questions, too. I remember feeling hurt, and even annoyed. How do you feel when that happens?” By posing a question back to your child, you are keeping the focus on them, but also sharing some of the more vulnerable parts of yourself, which will help your teen feel more comfortable doing so, too.


  8. Use Tools

    As previously mentioned, identity is a complex topic. It can therefore be intimidating and uncomfortable (for both parent and child) to have a conversation about it.  The good news is, there are tools that you can use to facilitate conversation without the intensity of a face-to-face discussion. Consider doing a mask-making craft together in which they can decorate to reflect their inner and outer self. This can be done through writing words, collaging magazines, drawing pictures, or even using color to represent themselves.  


  9. Books/Movies

    In addition to more therapeutic interventions, such as the mask-making exercise mentioned above, you can also use books and movies to spark identity conversations. They need not be directly adoption related – you’d be surprised how many books/movies include themes of family, adoption, and identity! Think, for example, of Harry Potter: an orphaned child raised by family members who learns that he is a celebrity in a world he never knew existed. There are many relevant themes in this story for adoptees, such as Harry’s longing to know his mother and father, and, more generally, seeking out his place in the world. As you watch movies or read books together, consider commenting aloud when you notice an adoption theme, or maybe bringing it up the following day. You don’t need to make it specific to your child’s adoption; instead, you can say something like, “I really liked the scene where Harry talked about his mother and father. It makes me sad that he never got to know them, but happy that he finds ways to stay connected to them. What did you think about that?” or, more simply, “What character do you relate most to? Why?”


  10. Adoptee Support or Social Groups

    Understand that your child may prefer to share their experiences with another adoptee: someone who truly “gets it.”  Look for ways to build an adoption community for your child. Some options include an Adoption Mentorship Program, support groups, adoptive family meet-ups, social media-based adoptee groups, etc. These types of groups will continue to normalize and validate the adoptee experience for your child, while providing a safe space for them to share their innermost thoughts about adoption and identity.

    The exploration of adoption and identity is a lifelong process. It will likely change as your child gets older and their worldview expands, which is all the more reason to build a solid support foundation now. Spence-Chapin offers parent coaching, counseling services and other community programs to support adoptees and their families.

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

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

Holidays 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 offers a variety of community programs and events to support your family. Whether it be parent coaching, counseling, mentorship program for teens/tweens or adoptive family playgroups, we're here for you. Visit www.spence-chapin.org/community-counseling to learn more or contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org.

Meet Ana Maria!

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 Ana Maria Leon Gomez, LMHC, about her work.  A.M.LeonGomez

  1. Why did you choose to work at Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center?

I chose to work here because I really believe in Spence-Chapin’s mission. I really feel that children’s lives change when they are adopted into a forever family. I think it’s very important that children are loved and cared for and have a family they can rely on.

 

  1. When did you become interested in a career in adoption?

I started working in the area of psychology since I was very young after I graduated from Vassar College. I then carried out my Master’s degree at the University of Manchester in England. These studies led me to open my private practice, where I came across children who were adopted and helped them with the process. Three and a half years ago I moved to the U.S from my native Honduras. I started working at Spence-Chapin as a bilingual clinician working fully in adoption.

  1. What’s a typical workday?

My workdays are very varied. Somedays I see clients at our Brooklyn or Manhattan offices. I work with families, adoptees, birth parents and individuals with different mental health issues. Other days I work as a consultant with the foster care agencies we partner with. I provide guidance and training for their staff and foster parents particularly those that are Spanish-speaking. I also provide clinical services for some of their families. My job is really very exciting and never monotonous. It comes alive every day.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part is when I see children who have experienced trauma. Sometimes they’re so young, six or seven, and they’ve undergone trauma that an adult may not have had in their whole lifetime. It’s difficult to deal with but at the same time, when you do start working with the child and the family and their lives start changing, you know you’re doing something positive.

  1. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is when you see the family improve and deal with everyday life in a more positive way. In regards to the children it´s important for them to know their story, to be able to look at it and integrate it as part of who they are. In this way I help them be happier and be more productive in their lives.

  1. How would you describe your job in three words?

Important, rewarding, and compassionate.

  1. Has working at the Modern Family Center changed you in any way?

Working here has made me grow in many ways. It’s helped me understand that there are many communities we can work with, and all these communities require different kinds of help and therapeutic interventions. I have also appreciated more the value of teamwork and how together we can achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Want to learn more about how our clinic can help you and your family through parent coaching or counseling? Call us at 646-539-2167.

Meet Samantha!

Samantha

  1. Why did you choose to work at the Modern Family Center? Adoption has always been really close to my heart. My youngest brother, Nico, is adopted. We brought him home from Guatemala when he was seven months old, and I’ve always admired my mom for how much she’s advocated for in the adoption world. Thinking about how adoption changed my family for the better, I wanted to see what I could do as a social worker in adoption.
  1. What has been the most challenging part of your job so far? Transitioning from a student to a full-time employee has challenged me to grow in my confidence as a social worker, and luckily I’m surrounded by a lot of great people who have experience in the field and can support me in that transition. Another challenging part is speaking to clients and families on the phone about their stories, and feeling thankful that they’re so brave and so willing to open up to you on the phone. I try to focus in and listen because they really are giving you their whole story. I think that’s really brave and I admire that about them.
  1. What has been the most rewarding part? Working with the families. To see them have a community, and envisioning their community ten years from now, twenty years from now, and the fact that they have each other makes me so warm inside like, “Oh my gosh, they’re all best friends!” Just the fact that these kids can have another person who’s adopted and share that experience with them is wonderful. Especially for the parents too, seeing their kids build that community and have that support network within each other.
  1. Describe your job in three words. Joy, curiosity, family.
  1. Do you have funny or interesting stories you’d like to share? A highlight of this past summer has been going to Camp Clio, a camp for adopted kids. The funniest thing that happened there was the day we had to kayak to this sand bar to hang out with the kids. The camp people basically just handed Mark, Director of Mental Health Services at MFC, and me this kayak and he was like, “Yeah, we got this, we got this!” When we get in he tells me, “You know, I’ve never actually done this before” and I was just like, “Mark! Are you kidding me?!” It was four miles each way! It was really funny, we were laughing the whole way, the kids were singing songs, and it was just a really good way to bond with them.
  1. Has working at MFC changed you in any way? MFC has definitely helped me grow and continue that curiosity of learning. I’m surrounded by a really great team. They all care so much about what they do and they all care for each other; it’s an amazing support system. Working at MFC reminds me every day how I feel very grateful for every social worker and every lawyer and every agency and every entity that helped my family adopt my brother. This job has opened my eyes to what a journey adoption is for everyone involved.
  1. Has there been a particular family that has really made an impact on you?There’s a family I’ve done a couple of post-placement visits with, and the daughter receives every service she could possibly need, between physical therapy, occupational therapy, special help in school, speech and feeding. Her mom has had to fight for her daughter to get all the services she needs. To see how much she believes in her kid reminds me that there are people in this world who want to be phenomenal parents – and they absolutely can be! Adoption is such a beautiful way to build your family, and to see that bond is a beautiful thing.

Staff Interview: Meet Mark!

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 Mark Lacava, LCSW-R, Director of Mental Health Services, about his work.

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1.Why did you want to work at the Modern Family Center? It gives me the chance to work clinically with an adoption community that is not often highlighted or researched in the mental health field. However, there is much research and a knowledge base on children in foster care, and of course children and families in general, but very little on families that have been formed outside of what is thought of as normal or mainstream.

2. How did you become interested in adoption? I had worked in foster care for a long time. It was always a plan of mine to learn and work in the field of adoption. You would frequently work to get a child adopted, but I learned that the end result over the years was not as successful as you would have hoped, and often the child would return to foster care. Spence-Chapin and the Modern Family Center have given me an opportunity to help make the adoption experience have an even better chance for long term permanency through trainings, counseling, and workshops for parents and families.

3. What is the most rewarding part of your job? Helping a family or individual in crisis and helping a child find and stay in a loving home.

4. What’s a typical workday? My work day is never the same because I work at a few different sites doing different things. Some days I am in the Bronx at a foster care agency working on crisis cases, other days I’m doing therapy at our offices in Manhattan or Brooklyn.  Other times I am working with my team, doing administrative work, or attending an event for families.

5. What’s your favorite part about working at the Modern Family Center? The level of dedication and professionalism that everyone brings to their job. People are here because they want to be here.

Want to learn more about how our clinic can help you and your family through parent coaching or counseling? Call us at 646-539-2167.

You can meet Mark at our upcoming parent workshop series, Parenting Teens. We’ll offer guidance on how to improve your relationship and communication with your child.

10 Back to School Tips for Adoptive Parents

  1. Help your child feel prepared: Discuss issues that may arise or questions they may receive from classmates and how to respond. Tour the school so they feel comfortable in a new environment. Have your child meet their teachers/ principal. Talk about the rules and expectations of your child's school.

  2. Lunchtime: Bring your child to the grocery store to pick out foods that they like. If they buy their lunch, make sure lunch money is in a safe place.

  3. Transportation: Make sure your child knows their bus number. Discuss bus rules and talk with your child about only leaving school with a parent or designated adults. Have a safety plan in place.

  4. Iron out a schedule: Establish your routine before school starts. Consider using a large family calendar to keep track of everyone’s schedules.

  5. Resources: Join an adoptive parent support group, attend parent workshops or explore parent coaching and counseling services for extra support.

  6. Social skills: Help your child practice appropriate social responses, conversations, and understanding appropriate physical boundaries. Set up short, structured play dates. Reach out to classmates before school starts.

  7. Social issues: Listen actively to your child and encourage positive attitudes. If bullying at school is involved, insist that it be appropriately addressed by the school.

  8. Open the adoption dialogue: If you want it known that your child is adopted, inform new teachers and provide them with any information about adoption you feel they should know. Bring a book to share about adoption with the class. Talk to your child about questions they might be asked and how they can answer them.

  9. Talk about educational goals: Empower your child to be a part of their own educational process. Support your child through highs, lows, and plateaus in learning. Be realistic with your expectations of both your child and their teacher.

  10. Don’t forget to breathe! Practice taking deep breaths with your child so that they know how to help themselves calm down if they get stressed.

As parents, it is important to tune in to our kids and learn how best to support them during these especially busy seasons. If your family needs extra support, Spence-Chapin offers parent coaching, counseling, and workshops. Give us a call at 646-539-2167 or email us at postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org, to learn more about how we can help.

Staff Interview: Meet Lauren!

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Lauren Photo

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 Lauren Jiang, LMSW, Program Manager about her work.

When did you start working at the Modern Family Center? I started on February 10th of 2014. I was very excited so I remember the exact day.

Why did you want to work at the Modern Family Center? I first was connected to Spence-Chapin through my second year of field placement. I was doing my Master of Social Work in the Adoption Resource Center, the then pre- and post-adoption support services at Spence-Chapin. Then the Modern Family Center was created out of ARC with this expanded mission of serving not only adopted families, but really all modern families: blended families, transracial families, single parent households, LGBTQ-headed households. So the transition was fairly seamless, having that connection to ARC leading into MFC. It made perfect sense, and the team was just incredible to work with, so I was glad to be able to stay onboard.

How did you become interested in adoption? I have been one-track career-focused for quite a while, and the gist of how I first became interested in adoption always seems a little simplistic. When I was in early middle school, my classmate’s family adopted a younger sister from China. It was kind of a first exposure. I was, at that point, a child, so it was a child’s eye-view into what is a much more complicated and multi-faceted family system. But it was my first inclination of interest, so I think at that point I started seeing adoption as something that my life would stay connected to in the long-run. And eventually that led to thinking towards careers, and a little bit more reading and researching into what are the complexities of adoption, who are the families who come to adopt, who are the kids that are placed for adoption. So it was born from that rather simplistic look, and then from there it expanded to when I was in college. I was in an organization that was called Duke China Care, which serves adoptive families. I spent some time in an orphanage in China, interned at Gladney, interned here, and here we are!

What is the most challenging part of your job? Being with families at the very beginning of the process you hear it all. I’m on a gray line; I’m the first person to talk to families that have no basis in adoption. There’s a lot of learning opportunities for those families, there’s a lot of misperceptions. There are comments that can be striking, like when a family first calls and doesn’t quite understand what openness is, and might be terrified and say, “I could never be in an open adoption.” It’s challenging when families come with kind of a script of “this is what I want, this is how I want it, this is when I want it” and helping bring them to a point where they understand the needs of kids. We’re not looking to find the ideal child for that family. Ultimately we are most interested in preparing families to meet the needs of kids.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The nice part is that I’m on the opposite end to where I’m working with families through home studies, so helping them get some more training, learning, going into some deeper dives with them about these themes of openness, transracial families. Then later I’m with families for post-placement, once the kids are home with them, and being able to see the transition that most families make to a much more informed, child-centered approach. And I like seeing the kids home, too. Seeing them come together, seeing them understand the complexities and really examine themselves and prepare for the challenges.

Do you have interesting/funny stories about something that’s happened on the job? Well, this week my home visit overlapped with a birthday for one of the kids in the family, so we transitioned from kind of a serious dive with the parents to pizza and singing with the kids. So that was surprising.

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way? Working with our larger families has been a really pleasant experience. I come from a traditionally smaller family; I have one sibling. But then working with a family who has ten children and is preparing for number eleven? The initial reaction is “that’s so many” or “I don’t think I could do that myself.” And you’re coming in to their home giving them a fair shot, coming to understand them, coming to see how they manage so many children of such diverse needs, and how they are preparing for another, how their kids are preparing for another, it’s seeing how they are so child-focused, and that their plan to add another child to their family will not cost any of the children in their home, and they have depth of knowledge about the community resources that will help them know the ins and outs of each of their kids: their likes, their dislikes, their behavior. I think breaking down those initial reactions of “wow, that’s a lot of kids” to knowing that they are doing it so well, and that the next child who comes into their family is coming into such a prepared, resourceful, amazing, loving family is important. I think sometimes you get faced with scenarios where you glance at it on paper and there are certainly some concerns that come to mind that you want to address at home study, and when you get there, they’ve already addressed it.

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Lauren! Make sure you catch the next Modern Family Center staff interview.

Modern Family Center Grand Opening

The Modern Family Center's counseling services, groups, and kids programming offer a relational approach that accepts, celebrates, and helps complex families grow, heal, and build the lives they want.