Adoption from South Africa opened to American families in 2013. Since then, Spence-Chapin has been one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority – and we have been actively finding families ever since!
We are joining the Orphan Sunday movement to bring awareness to the many children waiting for their adoptive parents to find them.
Chris and Mary share their story of adopting their daughter from South Africa.
The Davila family knew they wanted to grow their family through adoption after a mission trip to Liberia brought them face to face with the children who were in need of family. They wasted little time after their realization that adoption was right for them. Two years later were able to adopt their daughter Arri from Ethiopia. Another two years flew by, and they knew they were ready to adopt again.
After years of searching for the right program, Chris and Mary finally decided that the South Africa program at Spence-Chapin was a perfect fit for their family. According to Mary, they came to this conclusion because they were encouraged by the answers that they got about the South Africa program. They liked that the children placed internationally tend to fall into a more vulnerable category of having special needs, being older, or being part of a sibling group. And also “we were encouraged by Spence-Chapin’s enthusiasm about the program and their honesty about the adoption process.”
One of Chris and Mary’s most memorable moments in the adoption process was when they received “thecall”. They had been matched with a 20 month old little girl! A few months later they travelled to South Africa with their four year old daughter on what they describe as a transformative trip for their family.
“We are so grateful that our whole family was able to be in South Africa together. We were welcomed with open arms and made so many friends there. We met our daughter, Etta, on our first full day in country and it was love at first sight. Etta took to our older daughter, Arri, in a heartbeat, and one of our most cherished memories is the sight of Arri taking Etta by the hand, walking her out of her care center for the last time, and into the arms of our forever family.”
The Davila family was struck by the commitment of the staff to the children in their care at Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa. Mary says that their social worker was “a saint who advocates tirelessly for the children and also manages to be 100% on top of all of the paperwork involved in an adoption.” They took comfort in knowing that their social worker would be by their side in every meeting in South Africa and that she knew their daughter: her personality, likes, and dislikes. She was available to answer questions at any hour of the day and clearly loved the children.
Chris and Mary have been home with Etta for about eight months. They describe Etta as “playful, hilariously funny, and sweet, sweet, sweet. “ According to Mary, their family transition has been very smooth.
“We are so grateful to Spence Chapin for helping us grow our family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”
Arriving in South Africa one is immediately struck by an intense color contrast never seen walking the streets of New York City. Bursts of purple are framed against the blue sky, the green landscape, and the white exteriors of buildings.
We are told by our hosts that we have fortuitously scheduled our visit during the brief window of time that the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. We have come to Johannesburg to learn from our South African counterpart, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW). JCW is a vast child welfare agency providing services within Johannesburg and its surrounding areas. The work they do spans from child abuse treatment to family integration. It is a privilege to see the broad range of their work and to hear from the adoption team about the realities that inform our shared effort to find homes for children where no domestic adoptions exist. For one week, against the colorful backdrop the Jacarandas have provided, we will make visits to the various institutions and shared group homes where many of the children JCW advocates for reside.
Our first stop is Othandweni, a JCW-run institution located in the township of Soweto. Othandweni has the capacity for about ninety children, thirty children live in the nursery and sixty older school age children live in five cottages that are segmented by age. There are close to fifteen full time staff. The environment at Othandweni is lively, bright, and loud.
Part of the reason why this welcoming and safe atmosphere exists is the presence of the Grannies. Othandweni is the site of our Granny Program, which we first established in 2011. Fifteen women from the local community dedicate their time to visit with the thirty children who live in Othandweni’s nursery. They come Monday through Friday for at least 4 hours a day, dividing their time between caring for two children. The children they are working with are between birth and 6 years of age and have a range of significant special needs, from HIV to cerebral palsy. The dedication, consistency, and passion of the Grannies bring to life a specially-designed curriculum that helps these children meet their developmental milestones. The visible impact this program has had on the children who have benefitted from a relationship with a granny makes it easy for everyone involved to wholeheartedly buy into this program. It is a model that JCW hopes to implement in other institutions as its benefits have proven to extend beyond its original goals, the “gogos” speak of the sense of enfranchisement this program has brought them – as one gogo puts it, the program “has given me a new lease on life”.
Over the next two days we visit three other institutions. Princess Alice is a JCW-run home for infants and is located in a particularly affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg. The focus at Princess Alice is on providing a nursery and pediatric services to infants who have been abandoned or orphaned. Many of the children at Princess Alice have special needs and are on medication regimes that need to be strictly monitored. There are between twenty and thirty infants residing at Princess Alice and a combination of full time staff and community volunteers who are a constant presence. We next stop at Cotlands, which is an institution caring for infant and toddler age children. Cotlands had recently reduced their capacity at the time of our visit and was focused on expanding its community-based family services while still providing care for around fifteen to twenty infants and toddlers. Like any other institution in Johannesburg there are many special needs infants. Learning about the particular profiles in the care of these institutions continually reinforces why Spence-Chapin is doing the kind of focused work it is doing in South Africa. The population of special needs infants and toddlers is significant in size and growing domestic options for these children is a work in progress for JCW.
Ethembeni, a Salvation Army-run institution within Johannesburg, is our last stop. Ethembeni has the capacity for close to fifty or sixty infants and toddlers. There is a nursery and separate living areas for the toddlers. Ethembeni is a longtime presence in the child welfare landscape in South Africa and has done a lot of important work on behalf of vulnerable children in Johannesburg. Continuing the theme of the trip, we met many toddlers with significant special needs including children with a combination of cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities. There is a sizeable population of children with minor to severe cerebral palsy and also Down syndrome. Part of the normative mindset of caregivers and administrators at these institutions is that finding homes for these children is a near impossibility, an idea that we have seen be defied time and time again by families who possess the expertise and resources to responsibly provide homes for children with these specialized needs. Sharing our optimism with them will hopefully encourage them to continue their active advocacy on behalf of these children.
We return to Othandweni on our final day in Johannesburg to meet some of the older children who live in the cottages. We are greeted with a performance of music, dance, and poetry. As the older children at Othandweni come from a variety of tribal backgrounds their presentations are cultural fusions of their different backgrounds, combining the features of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other cultural traditions. We met many children whose legal statuses were not settled and/or they still maintained connections with their birth family through visits and other forms of communication. However, there certainly are children who desire to be part of a permanent family and Spence-Chapin hopes to be able to work on their behalf.
It was a poignant time to visit Johannesburg as the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing was approaching. His work on behalf of the marginalized is an evident influence to the incredible work that JCW does on behalf of children who are vulnerable. Spence-Chapin is privileged to be working with such an ethical and altruistic organization. I returned feeling energized about the focused kind of work we are doing and with a deeper sense of accountability to the children who we met.
Associate Director of Outreach Katie Foley writes of her latest outreach trip to Illinois.
A family shares with us just what it means to consider adopting a child with the HIV virus.
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.
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.
Second in a series highlighting our new adoption program in South Africa, Spence-Chapin's Samantha Walker writes about our partner in South Africa adoption, the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW.)
First in a series highlighting our new adoption program in South Africa.
Spence-Chapin is excited to announce our newest international adoption program in South Africa. We’re able to offer this wonderful program in partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), an organization that has been at the forefront of providing direct services to children and families since 1909.
South Africa is one of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. In addition to the country’s indigenous black majority, colonialism and immigration have led to the largest communities of Asian, European, and racially mixed ancestry on the African continent. South Africa is home to 11 official languages, with English and Afrikaans being the most widely used. Families and children face a host of social and economic challenges in South Africa, a nation with a long history of poverty and inequality, and while access to anti-retroviral treatment has increased in recent years, HIV/AIDs remains a prominent health concern in the country.
Children in Need of Homes
Both boys and girls are available for adoption in this program, as well as sibling groups, with the youngest children being 18 months to 2 years old at the time of referral. There are many preschoolers and school-aged children waiting for families as well.
Every country that participates in international adoption creates their own eligibility criteria for families, and Spence-Chapin upholds all requirements as outlined by the South African authorities. Married heterosexual couples and single women must submit their dossier to South Africa prior to their 48th birthday. Couples must be married at least three years. Medical, legal, and mental health issues must be assessed prior to beginning the adoption process. South Africa is particularly interested in matching children with black families and those interested in adopting children who have historically been harder to place, such as sibling groups, school-aged children, and children who have the HIV virus.
Timing and Travel
It is expected that families will wait up to 1.5 years for a referral of a child after their application is submitted. Following acceptance of referral from the South African Central Authority, families will be eligible to travel to South Africa to complete their adoption after filing appropriate paperwork with U.S. immigration.
Families will spend 2 weeks fully escorted in South Africa, where they will have ongoing contact with social work staff from JCW, and will have access to cultural excursions. Families will stay at a comfortable and family friendly hotel for the duration of their trip.
Adoption will be considered full and final under South African law and children will be granted full U.S. citizenship upon arrival and after homecoming, families will complete post-placement evaluations
Families Outside of the NY/NJ metro area
We will gladly work with families outside the NY/NJ area through our networking partners.
There are several categories of fees and expenses that adoptive families should anticipate when considering an international adoption. For an explanation of these, please refer to the Understanding Fees and Expenses page. Included in these fees is a separate country program fee which varies. For South Africa it is $4,800. The program fee includes the professional services provided by Johannesburg Child Welfare as well as a donation to support ongoing services to birth parents and children.
The connection between Spence-Chapin and JCW was forged in 2003 and has deepened in the years since, thanks to a strong shared commitment to permanency for children. In April 2011, Spence-Chapin was delighted to open our first Granny Program in Africa at JCW’s Othandweni Family Care Center in Soweto. Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.
Nelson Mandela: Civil Servant, Activist, Political Prisoner, President.
Spence-Chapin has been chosen by the South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority to facilitate adoptions from South Africa to the United States.
In South Africa, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a "granny" through Spence-Chapin's Granny Program.