Spence-Chapin Services

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Rachel Kara Pérez

Rachel was born in The Bronx and raised in a predominantly Puerto Rican household. During a visit to Spence-Chapin to get non-identifying information about her adoption, Rachel was told she would make a great Mentor. We're glad she agreed!

Joie Visits Spence-Chapin and Meets Her Adoption Social Worker

Linda Alexandre, Executive Vice President of Adoption Programs, recently met with a family who stopped by for a visit. Joie, age 9, shares her recollection of that visit in this blog post.

Support for Adoptees

Spence-Chapin offers various programs, events and services that support adoptees to build community, navigate adoption-related issues such as identity and get resources to thrive in their lives.

Journey of Strength and Hope: A Birth and Adoptive Mom’s Story

Journey of Strength and Hope: A Birth and Adoptive Mom’s Story

Last month, Lucy Shaw, our Senior Manager of Birth Parent Outreach Department, had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Jacqui Hunt who just adopted a baby girl through Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program.

Building Families, Nurturing Communities: The Important Role of Social Workers in Adoption

Monica Baker, a social worker with Spence-Chapin for more than ten years, understands well the delicate balance of emotions involved in her work. She spends her days enabling connections between infants and the families who can provide forever homes for them.  

International Adoption Story: Making the Decision to Adopt Again

“About six months after bringing home Kurhula from South Africa, we knew that we needed to adopt again. It was clear that Kurhula missed being around other children. She had been the youngest child in a foster family, living with four older foster-siblings – and although she was thriving with the individual attention that my husband and I were able to give her, she also seemed visibly lonely, and missed interacting with other children.

10 Tips to Help Teens Explore Identity

Katie Rogala, an adoptee and Spence-Chapin employee, shares 10 helpful ways to support your adopted child’s exploration of inner and outer self.

Post-Adoption Books

Talking about adoption with your family can be difficult. Where do you even begin the conversation? Sometimes reading about other people’s experiences can make it easier to talk about your own. These books explore adoption, race identity, foster care, and the feelings from love to loneliness to everything in-between. They’re perfect to read as your family begins to talk about their own story.

Children Ages 0 – 5

  • We Belong Together, Todd Parr

  • A Mother for Choco, Keiko Kasza

  • Welcome Home Little Baby, Lisa Harper

  • Brown Like Me, Noelle Lamperti

Children Ages 6 – 11

  • Pancakes with Chocolate Syrup, Rebekah Barlow Rounce

  • Heaven, Angela Johnson

  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech

Children Ages 12 – 18

  • Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

  • The Returnable Girl, Pamela Lowell

  • Pieces of Me, Edited by Bert Ballard

Photo Album or Early Lifebook

  • Create a small photo album

  • Don’t use original photos or irreplaceable items (if making a scrapbook)

  • Start the book with the start of the child’s life, not the start of their life with you

  • Leave blank pages as space holders where you have no information

  • Expand the book or create new books as child hits important life milestones

  • Join us for an upcoming event or community program

Spence-Chapin offers many post-adoption support services and community programs such as counseling, parent coaching, Lifebook workshops and more. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to learn more.

We Celebrate Clara Spence

We Celebrate Clara Spence

As we celebrate National Women's History Month, we can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence.

Spence-Chapin, A Leader in African-American and Black Infant Adoption

In honor of Black History Month, we revisit the efforts made by those who have fought to break barriers, making African-American and Black children a focus and a priority.

Great Children’s Books Featuring LGBT Parents

backtoschool.jpg

Here are some of our favorite children’s books that depict same-sex headed families. We hope you enjoy! If you need help talking about your family with your child, friends, or community, we offer short-term parent coaching to help you find the right words. Are there other ways we can support you? Let us know by completing this survey.


1 2 3 A Family Counting Book, Bobbie Combs

This delightful book celebrates today’s families as it teaches kids to count from one to twenty. All of the full color paintings depict gay and lesbian headed families.


Who’s in My Family? All About Our Families, Robbie Harris

This book is fun and full of charming illustrations depicting all families. This engaging story interweaves conversations between the siblings and a matter-of-fact text, making it clear to every child that whoever makes up your family, it is perfectly normal — and totally wonderful.


Heather Has Two Mommies, Lesléa Newman

Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two pets, and two mommies. As school begins, Heather sees that, "the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another."


The Family Book, Todd Parr

This book celebrates all kinds of families in a funny, silly and reassuring way. It includes adoptive families, step families, single-parent families, two-mom and two-dad families, and families with a mom and a dad.


And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

Male penguins Roy and Silo at New York’s Central Park Zoo keep putting a rock in their nest and try to hatch it. The zookeeper gives them a real egg that needs care. The penguins take turns sitting on it until it hatches, and Tango is born.


Stella Brings the Family, Miriam B. Schiffer

Stella's class is having a Mother's Day celebration, but what's a girl with two daddies to do? Fortunately, she finds a unique solution to her party problem in this sweet story about love, acceptance, and the true meaning of family.


Spence-Chapin offers culturally sensitive, LGBTQ-affirming care in an accepting, nonjudgmental environment. Services include pre-adoption consultations, counseling, support groups, referrals, programs for LGBTQ kids and teens, LGBTQ parent workshops and trainings for LGBTQ professionals.

Spence-Chapin offers many post-adoption support services and community programs such as counseling, parent coaching, Lifebook workshops and more. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to learn more.

Fostering, Adopting, and Raising LGBTQ Youth

Listen to the expert advice and tips provided by Modern Family Center staff in this podcast.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Gyulnara Barnett

Gyulnara was adopted from Russia and reunited with her birth mom when she was in college. A participant in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship, Gyulnara shares what it’s like to be part of an adoption community.

Home Study Spotlight: Meet Sophia!

Sophia.png

This month we talked to Sophia Gardner, LMSW, Coordinator of Permanency Services, about her work.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
I started working with Spence-Chapin in October 2016.

How did you become interested in adoption?
I am the eldest and only biological child in a transracial family of eleven kids, so adoption is something that has been intricately woven into my life for a long time. Learning about and understanding the experiences of my siblings’ early lives left me with a strong desire to work in child protection. When I first began thinking about my career, I was drawn to building systems for family-based-care in countries that are continuing to utilize institutional care. And in general, I was attracted to family preservation and strengthening. I transitioned to New York City after spending time in India while completing my MSW and was thinking about how I could apply my skill sets to domestic work. Transitioning into adoption work felt very natural and sometimes I look back and wonder, how did it take me so long to get here?

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, the most rewarding part of my job is the direct work that I do with families. So much of the home study experience is education and families come to adoption with a wide range of knowledge and understanding. It’s inspiring to educate families on themes like openness, identity development and being a transracial family. In particular, the arc I witness with families or individuals from when they come into home study, with an often-rudimentary understanding of these themes, to when they begin to connect the dots, to understand that everything we’re doing is child-centered, is incredibly meaningful.

What does your typical workday look like?
Something that I love about this work is the variety of what any day could look like. Primarily, I’m meeting adoptive families during their home study process, either in our office or in their home. Because the home study requires a home visit, I do a lot of traveling around New York and New Jersey. When I’m not supporting a family directly – either through home study, post placement, training or resource distribution – I’m typically writing, in a meeting, or working with my team members to brainstorm how to approach a particular scenario.

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
I really love working with our international adoption kinship families. Often, in a kinship adoption, families are coming to us after experiencing a loss in the family. They need to adopt a child whom they are already related to in some way because the child is now in need of love and protection. These families are often in a place of grief, and because they are relatives of the child, may feel the home study process is particularly cumbersome. I feel a great responsibility to those families to work with them so that they can understand that adoption themes will still be present in their home, even with the familial relationships. To see families understand each theme you’re discussing and have them walk away feeling empowered, and not encumbered, is very special.

Has S-C changed you in any way? Prior to joining Spence, all my experience in adoption was in international adoption. Working across all our programs, it has been so wonderful to be exposed to the domestic side of the work that we do. I have so much respect for the work our social workers do with our birth parents and have loved being able to educate our families about open adoption.

To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.


How to Adopt from South Africa from Anywhere in the United States

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!

Domestic Adoption FAQs

Families often have many questions as they are beginning an adoption process. These FAQs will help you decide if adopting through Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program is the right path for you to grow your family.

1. Who are the children in need of adoption?

The children in need of adoption through our Domestic Adoption Program are newborns to approximately 8 weeks old. The babies reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the NYC Metro Area; most children are of Black or Latino backgrounds. Families adopting through this program need to be open to parenting a child of either gender.

2. Who can adopt through this program?

We are often asked who can adopt. We are happy to share that all types of parents adopt: married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQIA+ parents, single women and single men can adopt. Families who are already parenting adopt, as do families who are transitioning out of fertility treatments. Families of all ages, income levels, ethnicities, and religions adopt. Truly, the one thing that all adoptive families have in common is that they want to be parents – and from there they are as diverse as the kids themselves.

3. What is open adoption?

What if I want a closed adoption? How is open adoption negotiated? Open adoption is when adoptive and birth families meet and are able to have ongoing contact with each other at their own discretion. Frequency and type of communication can range from the exchange of letters and emails, phone calls, shared pictures, and visits. Open adoption is not co-parenting. It is an opportunity for birth and adoptive families to develop a relationship that will benefit the adopted child. Research shows that open adoption is beneficial to all members of the adoption triad: the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adopted person. Having access to their birth parent can help an adopted person develop a better sense of self with access to information about his or her background. Families who are the best candidates for Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program are open to periodic exchange of emails, photos, and visits with the birth family. Adoptive parents and birth parents each have their own social worker at Spence-Chapin. Your social worker will help you establish an open adoption plan that is comfortable to both you and your child’s birth parent(s). Both adoptive families and birth parents will get support from their social worker throughout this process.

4. What are the common medical risks?

Many infants in need of adoption have some risks or unknowns in their medical backgrounds.Some of the infants come from backgrounds where they may have been exposed to cigarette smoke, recreational drugs, and/or social drinking during pregnancy. Good candidates for the Domestic Adoption Program are open to some risks and unknowns in the child’s medical history. This is something you will discuss with your social worker throughout your adoption process.

5. Who are the birth parents?

Any woman of childbearing age could find herself in the position of an unplanned pregnancy. All birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby. They want to make a plan to give the baby a stable life that they are unable to provide at time of birth. Spence-Chapin’s experienced social workers provide intensive unbiased options counseling to biological parents in the NYC metro area to help them make the decision that is right for them and for their baby.

6. What is the matching process and how does it work?

Birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social worker. Once they have narrowed their choice down to one family, a match meeting is held between the birth family and the adoptive family. Both the adoptive family’s social worker and the birth parent’s social worker are present for this meeting to provide guidance and support. Adoptive families wait an average of 1-2 years to be matched after completing their home study.

7. What is interim care?

We understand that women and their partners need time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth of a child. Spence-Chapin’s Interim Care Program allows babies to be cared for in a loving home by a nurturing caregiver so that biological parents have additional time to plan for their child. Biological parents retain parental rights while their baby is in Interim Care and are free to visit their child. Our interim care givers are families who are trained and screened to care for the newborns on a temporary basis. Interim care allows the birth parents to feel confident in their plan before making the decision to place the infant for adoption.

8. What are the next steps if I want to apply?

Join our next Domestic Adoption webinar!

Still have questions? Schedule a pre-adoption consultation or phone call with one of our adoption experts! Call: 212-400-8150 or Email: info@spence-chapin.org.

Mentorship Program FAQs

Who are the Mentees?

Mentees are adopted middle or high school students in the tri-state who are open to receiving support and guidance from adopted adults and are able to be in a group setting and participate in structured activities. Our families join us from NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut!

Who are the Mentors?

Our mentors are volunteers who are adopted, live in the tri-state area, and are in their twenties, thirties, and forties. All of our mentors are screened and trained by our licensed social work staff. Mentors serve as role models who can share their adoption story and experiences while encouraging mentees to ask questions, feel comfortable with their identities, and develop healthy self-esteem. Some of our mentors were mentees themselves as children.

Why would my child be interested in a Mentorship Program?

For many young adoptees, finding older adoptee role models can be challenging. While they may be surrounded by peers who were also adopted, interacting with an older adoptee might not be possible. Mentors can really provide insight and support for younger adoptees around issues of identity, navigating different types of conversations that might come up in high school or college, or just being a teenager in general. They are able to speak and listen to mentees from a place of understanding.

Are mentors assigned to a child one-to-one? Do they meet individually?

Mentors and Mentees interact at scheduled events and go on community outings as a group. Whereas in some years we designate Mentors to individual Mentees, we have also interacted in group settings without a one-on-one assignment. The program structure varies each year depending on enrollment.

What if my child doesn’t want to participate?

It’s OK for Mentees to feel a bit hesitant about participating at first. Many of our mentees who are unsure about joining the program at first end up really enjoying the experience after just a few outings. However, the children who are most successful in the program are enthusiastic and want to participate. They are ready to engage in these adoption conversations. We make sure that conversations take place in a number of ways so that each Mentee can feel comfortable.

How often does the Mentorship Program meet?

One Saturday a month, our Mentors and Mentees enjoy community, educational and social outings. We provide an inclusive and safe space to discuss birth families, identity, relationships, and more. There are two semesters for the Mentorship Program: Fall (September – January) and Spring (February – June). Families enrolled in the Mentorship Program will receive a schedule of events in advance of the semester. The time frame of events varies depending on the activity, but generally ranges from 2-4 hours, usually beginning around noon.

What types of programs/activities do participants of the Mentorship Program engage in?

Past outings have included trips to the zoo, bowling, classes on pasta making, fencing, painting, and more. Some events take place at Spence-Chapin’s office in Manhattan while others take place off-site throughout New York City. Two of each semester’s monthly meetings will be Adoption Days, where the agenda will be adoption-focused and encourage relevant discussion and reflection. Adoption Days also include programming for parents related to parenting adopted teens.

Hear from our current mentors to learn more:

 

Questions?
Email mentorship@spence-chapin.org or call 646-539-2167 to learn more!

Why Adopt from South Africa?

There is a Need for International Adoption

South Africa is often referred to as the “Rainbow Nation” to describe the country’s multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid. It is a country of overwhelming beauty, awe inspiring scenery and rich history. However, it is a nation with its share of struggles, including a host of social and economic challenges and a long history of poverty and inequality.

We’ve known for many years that there are children in South Africa who need adoptive families, but it was not until 2012 that governmental permissions opened adoptions to American families. 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!

All Types of Parents Can Adopt from South Africa

Spence-Chapin is an advocate for all types of parents to adopt – single men & women, married and unmarried couples, and LGBTQ parents. It’s exciting for us to partner with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) who is also open to all types of parents! All types of parents can adopt from South Africa – married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQ parents, single women, and single men. The South Africa government is committed to a practice of non-discrimination and we’ve seen this be true in our adoption program as married couples, LGBTQ parents, as well as single parents have adopted! It truly is about finding the right parent(s) for a child!

Children are Waiting for Families

Young children with medical and developmental needs as well as siblings who are considered medically healthy are waiting to be matched with families. Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children – the children who are ready for adoption and need an international adoptive family. In South Africa, these are kids from 18 months – 8 years old with an identified medical diagnosis. It’s this medical diagnosis that’s been a barrier for South African domestic adoptive families and other international adoptive families.

While access to anti-retroviral treatment in South Africa has increased in recent years, HIV/AIDS remains a prominent health concern in the country. Children born with the HIV virus have the opportunity to lead long, full and healthy lives. However, the social stigma in South Africa concerning HIV has led to many children living in institutions. Other common medical conditions include auditory and visual impairments, extreme prematurity, developmental delays, and unpredictable cognitive challenges.

South Africa is a Leader among African Countries

South Africa is signatory to the Hague so adoptive families have the benefits of the Hague Treaty, which is designed to ensure that international adoption is a transparent, ethical process with an established infrastructure to protect and support children and families.

Moreover, South Africa is a leader in children’s issues among African countries. In 2005, Act 38 The Children’s Act became law through the country’s Department of Social Development. In recognition of how critical physical and emotional contact are during a child’s early stages of development, South Africa continues to make efforts to move from institutionalized care to a system that more closely resembles foster care. The Children’s Act created a strategic plan to direct the development of alternative care, foster care, adoption, prevention, and protection of children and to put community social workers in place.

Johannesburg Child Welfare

We are fortunate to partner with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) which is a highly respected, 100+ year old NGO that provides services to over 4,000 children and families in Jo’burg annually.

Adoption (domestic and international) is only a small part of their work. They have four centers that house and provide for children of all ages, from infancy through the teenage years. One of their centers also provides short-term housing to pregnant women. In addition, they recruit and train foster families, plan and prepare for children to be reunited with their birth families and provide intensive treatment to survivors of sexual abuse. Children receive excellent medical treatment at JCW, through partnership with Thusanani Children’s Foundation.

All of this and more make JCW an agency that is highly respected among its peers in the field as well as with the governing bodies of South Africa. When the South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority (the governing body that oversees adoption) was looking to expand their international adoptions, they received an overwhelming number of applications from agencies across the country. Jo’burg Child Welfare was one of only two agencies approved for adoption to the United States. 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.

March is Social Work Month and it is with immense gratitude that we celebrate the social workers who – both here and abroad – make adoptions from South Africa possible. The commitment of the staff to the children in their care at JCW, Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa, is undeniable. If you’re considering adoption from South Africa, social workers at Spence-Chapin and JCW are here for you before, during, and after your adoption to provide information and support to your family!

If you are interested in more information about adoption from South Africa, please visit us online, email us at info@spence-chapin.org, or call us at 212-400-8150.