adoption counseling

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.

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.

Great Children’s Books Featuring LGBTQ Parents

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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.

Parenting Tips: Strategies That Best Support Children with ADHD

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Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common disorder affecting children, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It affects approximately 10% of children worldwide, and about 2.5% of adults. ADHD is caused by both environmental and genetic factors, and it is believed that this is why the incidence of ADHD is higher in adopted individuals than the general population.

The environmental factors contributing to ADHD include prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, prenatal maternal smoking, low birth weight and lead poisoning. Approximately 40% of children with ADHD will have a parent with ADHD, generally the father; however, not all children born to parents with ADHD will have ADHD. For children adopted from group home settings such as an orphanage, there is a greater risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.

When symptoms resembling those of ADHD are observed, it is important to speak with a professional to rule out other medical problems that may be the cause, such as hearing problems.

Remember as well that all children daydream, are over active, and have emotional outbursts from time to time. It’s part of growing up. With a child who has ADHD, these symptoms occur more often and can be harder to deal with and last longer. That is why it is so important to implement effective discipline techniques and help your child build skills to manage their behavior.

Here are 5 Tips to best support your child:

1. Give Reminders to Manage Transitions

Transitions during the day can prove to be a struggle for all children, but those that have adoption as part of their history and those with symptoms of ADHD can have a particularly challenging time. To help children better manage the transitions during the day, remember to give reminders of upcoming transitions. For example, “In 15 minutes we are going to put pajamas on to start getting ready for bed!” Children with ADHD can benefit from having a consistent schedule. Remember to give fair warning when the schedule will be different.

2. Use Eye Contact

When giving directives to your child, kneel to their level, get eye contact and talk to them. Check in to make sure they are clear about what is happening next. This ensures you have their attention and they have heard what you said. It also helps to avoid a situation where you need to yell or raise your voice to communicate your message.

3. Acknowledge and Label Feelings

Not knowing what to do when big feelings come on can be tough for kids who will be quick to act. As a parent, you can help by teaching feelings and labeling them when you see them. Acknowledge the feeling you see in your child first, then you can work with them to address the behavior.

4. Using Time Ins (Not Time Outs)

A Time Out is when a child is told to go somewhere alone (to face a wall or go to a different room) for a period of time to cool down. Traditionally, parents are told to withhold attention from their child during the duration of the Time Out. During a Time In, a caregiver kindly asks a child that is going through a stressful or difficult moment to sit with him/her in order to process feelings and cool down.

Both Time Ins and Outs are used to give a child a moment away from whatever troubling situation occurred to compose themselves, reflect and prepare to re-join. The benefits of Time Ins are that they allow the caregiver to model and coach the child through calming down. For children who join their family through adoption, this difference is important as it does not require them to be physically (and emotionally) separated from a caregiver or re-experience feelings of loss or rejection. For children with ADHD, Time Ins give them the support with emotional regulation - something they often are not able to do on their own. Remember Time Ins are a time for quiet and calm discussions about the misbehavior can come later when everyone is calm.

5. Take Responsibility for Mistakes

Children have their mistakes pointed out all the time. Model for them what it looks like to take responsibility for a mistake. Think back to those times when you didn’t handle your big feelings the way you would have liked or when transitions (getting everyone out of the house on time in the morning) made you angry or frazzled. Give yourself a chance to do it differently the next time and give your child the opportunity too.

Spence-Chapin provides a holistic and personalized ADHD treatment plan for your child by partnering with parents, educators, school psychologists, and school counselors. We can help transform your child’s behavior and strengthen your entire family.

Call us at 646-539-2167 or e-mail postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule a free consultation.

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.

Special Needs Adoption FAQs

Since 1995, Spence-Chapin has found adoptive families for 520+ children with special needs. Spence-Chapin is currently accepting applications from families who are open to adopting a child with significant medical needs. To be considered as a prospective adoptive family please complete our free pre-application send us a copy of your current home study (completed within the past 12 months), conducted by a licensed adoption agency. In order to reduce barriers to special needs adoption there are no professional service fees for special needs adoptions. Read more: www.spence-chapin.org/asap Emailasap@spence-chapin.org Fax: (888)-742-6126 Mail: Special Needs at Spence-Chapin, 410 East 92nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10128

Frequently Asked Questions:

I would like to be considered as an adoptive parent. What’s my first step? Please share a copy of your current home study and complete the Spence-Chapin online pre-application. Please email your home study and/or family profile to asap@spence-chapin.org.

Unfortunately, families without a current home study are unable to be considered.

Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately we need families that are ready to adopt.

Complete the free online pre-application here: www.spence-chapin.org/asap

I’ve emailed my home study and submitted the pre-application. What’s next? All families who have completed the online pre-application and emailed their current home study are considered active prospective adoptive families. We will contact you if your family is a potential match for a current or future waiting child. We will provide status updates regarding the adoption process on our website within the child’s profile. All available information about a child is on our website. Spence-Chapin will keep a home study on file for as long as it is current and keep the family in mind for any future situations.

When will I hear from the social workers? We will provide status updates on our website within the child’s profile. Due to the volume of emails, we are unable to respond to every email about a waiting child. Please stay in touch with Spence-Chapin through our newsletters, facebook, and twitter. Keep up with waiting babies through our website.

What kind of home study do I need? You will need a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in your home state. We ask for an agency home study because it’s important for families to be connected to ongoing support and services. You can submit any home study you currently have and if you are chosen we may have additional questions and ask for it to be updated depending on the child’s situation.

The children needing adoptive families are born with a wide variety of medical needs and we are looking for adoptive families who are open to severe medical conditions. Please indicate in your home study and the pre-application the types of medical conditions your family is open to and share the resources which will allow a child thrive in your family.

I need more information- what else can you share? Everything that we are able to share at this time is available on our website. If information changes or more becomes available, we will update the website. If a diagnosis sounds unknown or you are unsure about prognosis we encourage you to speak with a pediatrician. It is not possible to visit with the child before being identified as the adoptive family.

How much will this cost? In order to reduce barriers to special needs adoption there are no professional service fees for this adoption program. There is no cost to submit the online pre-application and be matched with a child. Costs to consider include home study, travel to NYC for the placement, post-placement reports, and adoption finalization. If a two-parent household then both parents are required to travel to the Spence-Chapin offices for the placement and should expect to stay in NYC metro area for about 1 week.

Who picks the adoptive family? Am I eligible to adopt? Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of large families, 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 states 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! Whenever possible the birth family chooses the adoptive family. 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. 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.

Where do the children come from? All of the children are born in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut Spence-Chapin offers free, unbiased options counseling to women and their partners in the NYC metro area. Sometimes birth parents know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby.

You can watch two videos on our special needs adoption webpage from birth parents of children with special needs. You’ll hear Melissa talk about how when her daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome Melissa and her husband did not feel ready to provide her with the parenting she needed. They made an open adoption plan. You’ll also hear Scott talk about the unknowns of 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. The same diagnoses with different outcomes and our social workers are here to support all birth parents in exploring their options. www.spence-chapin.org/asap

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. Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who are able to be considered. Other times we are in need of a more options for the birth family and looking for more prospective adoptive families.

If I’m chosen as the adoptive parent what are my next steps? The social worker will be in touch about gathering a current family profile from your family and to discuss the logistics of meeting the birth family in a match meeting, either in-person or through video chat. You’ll receive the any additional information that has become available and review medical history with your pediatrician. After the match meeting you’ll speak to your social worker about if you’re ready to move forward with the adoption and the same for the birth family. Our team will plan placement of the child to your family.

When will a child be placed with me? I wish this was simpler to answer! There are so many factors that go into an adoption placement that this is very difficult to predict and there is no guarantee that a child will be placed with your family through this adoption program. We encourage you to network with other agencies or advocacy groups once your home study is completed. Whenever possible biological parents chose the adoptive family. Some biological families have requests about the adoptive family, such as 1 or 2 parent household, religious, or racial preferences. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with all biological parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile.

Who are the children? What are special needs? The children are infants and young children in the NYC metro area who have been diagnosed with a medical condition or are at significant risk for developing a severe medical condition. The children are born in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut and are from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The infants and children in need of adoption have a variety of special needs, from significant developmental issues to serious medical and congenital conditions.

The conditions usually require therapeutic and/or medical interventions during the child’s entire life. These non-correctable conditions can include:

  • Genetic Disorders
  • Brain Anomali
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Rare Syndromes
  • Cardiac and Pulmonary Disorders
  • Shortened Life Span
  • Excessive Drug and/or Alcohol Exposure
  • Significant Risk of Psychiatric Disorders

Many children are eligible for Early Intervention Services, Social Security Disability, Adoption Subsidy, and Medicaid.

When Doctors believe that a child’s prenatal environment will most likely lead to developmental delays or other medical needs then that child will be placed with adoptive parents ready for special needs. This includes significant prenatal drug or alcohol use, or extreme prematurity.

Where will I finalize the adoption? It is case-by-case. Some cases need to finalize in NY or NJ, others can be finalized in your home state. If you are called about a child, it would be an important question to ask about a specific situation.

Where is the child living? Infants may be living with our volunteer interim care families, receiving treatment in the NICU, or pediatric hospital, or living with biological family. When writing about a child’ situation on our website we try to indicate where the child is currently living.

Independent vs. Agency Adoption- What’s the difference?

Many individuals who are new to adoption are often confused about how an independent adoption and an agency adoption differ. When it comes to a domestic adoption, the first thing an adoptive family must decide on is whether to work on your own or work with an experienced adoption attorney or with an adoption organization. We often say that there are two different paths that end at the same point—becoming an adoptive family. In an independent adoption, prospective adoptive families are guided by an adoption attorney. Families decide where and how to locate a potential birth mother, usually by networking, advertising, or by creating an online profile of their family. Adoptive parents are responsible for appropriate expenses related to the birth mother’s pregnancy and birth of the child; these expenses are state-specific and may include travel to and from the doctor, prenatal care, and/or hospital bills. The type of ongoing relationship between birth and adoptive families (an open adoption) is often discussed prior to the birth of the child between the parents. Many adoptive parents share that they chose the path of independent adoption to network across the entire country in order to be chosen by a birth mother. A home study is a document required for all adoptive parents and even families working with an adoption attorney will need a home study document to finalize the adoption. Spence-Chapin provides many home studies for families pursuing an independent adoption. Families are encouraged to work with an attorney with adoption experience; Spence-Chapin recommends working with a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

In an agency adoption, prospective adoptive parents are guided by social workers. Families are encouraged to seek out an accredited or licensed adoption organization. An adoption agency provides options counseling to birth parents, and prepare families to become adoptive parents. The social workers provide the home study and all related adoption documents for the birth and adoptive families. The adoptive parents will create profiles of their family to be shown to birth parents who are making adoption plans. Depending on the agency, adoptive parents may or may not be responsible for supporting a birth parent throughout the pregnancy. At Spence-Chapin, adoptive parents are not individually responsible for financially supporting a birth parent throughout options counseling. Often, the ongoing open adoption relationship will be negotiated with the support of social workers. Adoptive parents share that they chose to work with an adoption agency for the ongoing support and guidance provided by the social work staff. Social workers are there to help each person though every step of the process as well as provide support.

Visit our website to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program or contact us at (212) 400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.  

Meet Elizabeth!

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

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

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

 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

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

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

Describe your experience in mental health counseling.

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

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

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.

Can we do this?

Can we do this blog post picture How this question all parents face relates to parenting an older child

Inevitably there is a “can we do this?” moment for parents—all parents. It can occur before a child arrives. It can occur when that child is growing. It can occur if that child is a biological child. It can occur if that child is an adopted child. It can occur during easy, happy times. It can occur when there are storms to be weathered. It can occur once. Or it can occur every day. Inevitably—it will occur.

Questions we often hear prospective parents ask include:

  • Can we do this? Can we adopt? Can we raise a child who may not look like us?
  • Can we raise an older child? What about a child who was born in another country?
  • What if they have experienced trauma? Will that child be able to understand that we love him or her?

Will we be able to weather those storms?

We know that there are certain traumas that can accompany life in the child welfare system, either domestically or internationally. Sometimes the separation from biological family is itself the traumatic event and sometimes that trauma is only realized later. The knowledge of this as a possibility for their child can cause worry for parents. It can cause parents considering international or older child adoption to ask the same question other parents ask themselves every day: “Can we do this?”

At Spence-Chapin we provide families with the resources needed to make an informed decision and one that is right for each family. We support families in arriving at their answer to that inevitable question and provide continued support as that question is bound to come up again—and that’s okay.

Some helpful essential reads on older child adoption can be found here:

  • Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child by Trish Maskew
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck
  • Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together    Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen
  • The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier

For more information about our domestic, international and older child adoption programs, please contact the Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

To schedule a pre-adoption consultation or if you would like more information about our Adoption Support & Counseling Services, please contact Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center at 646-539-2167 or info@modernfamilycenter.org.

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.

Mark_no_title

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.

Fall 2017 Colombia Host to Adopt Program

Host to Adopt blogpost

Spence-Chapin partners with The Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) in Colombia for a special host-to-adopt program. This is an opportunity to host a child or children in your home for three weeks over the fall before finalizing the adoption. Waiting children are boys and girls (including sibling groups) ages 11-14. Participating families must be located in the greater New York City area (includes Long Island, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Connecticut).

Colombia Fall 2017 Host to Adopt Program Timeline:

  • May 15, 2017: Adoption applications are due
  • May – August, 2017: Begin home study and adoption trainings
  • August 2017: Home study must be completed, due at this time to Colombia’s child welfare Central Authority.
  • August – October 2017: Learning about the child or children family is matched with, continuing to prepare for hosting and adoption-related paperwork. Hosting dates will be decided by Colombia and announced during this time.
  • Fall (October or November 2017): Hosting time is 2-3 weeks, supported by bilingual psychologist from adoption house FANA and Spence-Chapin staff
  • December 2017 – June 2018: After hosting period, complete adoption paperwork to move forward with finalizing the adoption, estimate of 6 months though times will vary for families.
  • Summer 2018: Travel to Colombia for approximately 4-6 weeks to finalize the adoption

Contact our Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.              Ready to apply? Download the Colombia host-to-adopt application here.

A Week in Provincetown: Celebrating Families at Family Equality Council’s 20th Family Week

This year, the Modern Family Center was proud to sponsor Family Equality Council’s “Family Week” – a joyous celebration of LGBTQ parents, their children, and their allies. Throughout the week, parents attended educational workshops, kids participated in camp activities, and our Director, Stella Cook, got to know the staff, volunteers, and families that make Family Week such an incredible community-building event.

I arrived in Provincetown with suitcases, cameras, checklists, brochures, flyers, and a wracking anxiety that I, a white, Jewish, heterosexual, middle aged social worker with nearly 2 decades of experience working with children and families, may not be welcomed by the 1,000 parents in attendance as the expert in raising children in a gay parent home.

However, within the first 24 hours of meeting the Family Equality Council staff, and after delivering my presentation “How to Talk About Our Families, to our Children & others” to a packed room, I learned two things: 1. Gay parents are actively seeking support and education to help ease the path for their children and themselves within their extended families, peers, schools, and communities, and 2. Spending a week with this group of parents and their incredible kids was going to be AWESOME.

And it was. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the first family event – a beach bonfire on a gorgeous, warm afternoon, with a diverse group of parents and their children frolicking in the water, making s’mores, and everyone simply enjoying the exhilarating freedom of being themselves. There was even a surprise proposal (he said yes!) and anyone there could literally feel the love and joy in the air.

But, for LGBTQ parents and their children, it’s not always awesome. Throughout the week, mingled in with the fun, parents shared their stories with me; extended family members who “forget” not to use derogatory language, children who are teased, bullied, or simply have no friends, schools that are far from affirming, and communities that simply don’t understand, accept, or include LGBTQ parents and their children. Additional challenges include how to help their children understand their conception stories, how to respond to questions about birth parents, surrogates, and donors, and how to find the balance of preparing children for a world that is not always welcoming of their family while not scaring their kids and exposing them to ugliness they may not yet understand.

The Modern Family Center programming during Family Week helped to bring these conversations to light. Together, we talked, laughed, cried, and laughed some more as we explored the emotional and practical nuances of raising children today. The parents I spoke to and the adorable kids I met helped assure me: the Modern Family Center exists because Spence-Chapin saw a need to support LGBTQ parents, Family Week exists because LGBTQ family advocates saw a need to normalize, celebrate, and advocate for all families, and together, we were and are making a genuine and needed difference.

I am honored to have participated, humbled by what I have learned, and even more motivated to deliver quality, affirming, emotional care, inclusive family events, and LGBTQ parent education to the incredible moms and dads that I had the pleasure to spend time with. Thank you to those who attended my workshop, stopped me on the street to talk, welcomed my family into your community, and confirmed my suspicion that attending Family Week was going to be a life changing event.

For those of you in the NYC/NJ Tristate area, we’re going to keep the fun going at our upcoming LGTBQ Family Sundae Funday, so please join us. Otherwise, see you next year in PTown!

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We’re opening a new office in New Jersey!

new-jersey-nanny-taxesTo serve our New Jersey families even better, Spence-Chapin and the Modern Family Center are excited to announce that we’re expanding our locations! Our new office is located at Work and Play, 19 Prospect Street, South Orange, NJ  07079. Celebrate with us at our Grand Opening on Tuesday, October 20th from 6:00 – 8:00pm, and meet the newest member of our New Jersey team, Addie Haler, LMSW. Drop by, check out the amazing space, and learn about our services, including adoption programs, counseling, parent coaching, and social events. You won’t want to miss our first New Jersey Bagels & Blox on Sunday, November 15th, from 10:30am – 12:30pm. See you soon!

Staff Interview: Meet Dana!

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? DanaThis month we talked to Dana Stallard, LMSW, Community Programming Coordinator, about her work.

  1. How did you become interested in adoption? I’m adopted, so it definitely was a personal thing. I had never thought about working in adoption, but I saw a posting for a position at Spence-Chapin. The agency has a really good reputation and when I had an interview I really liked the people who worked here, so I thought it would be a good fit. There are positive things about working in adoption while being an adoptee, and things that make it harder at times, as well. I think it helps to share an experience with the community that you work with, and really have that empathy and understanding as to what support services you can provide. But on the flip side, I sort of expect more of myself in working with the community, and sometimes put more responsibility on myself to be able to do more than what I’m actually able to do in my position. They may not feel I am being helpful or that I’m doing all that I can do to support them, and then I feel that extra pressure to be able to make a positive influence or difference.
  2. What’s a typical workday? The majority of my work is personal adoption history, so working with clients who want background information, and programming, so developing adoptee services programs, workshops, events, groups, or coordinating our mentorship program. And then there are some more miscellaneous tasks, but those are where I spend most of my time, either with preparing information for clients or actually developing and consulting programs.
  3. What is the most challenging part of your job? I definitely think that my work with adoptees wanting access to their birth family information is the most challenging part of the job. There are a lot of legal constraints to the work that I do, and I’m not able to share any identifying information with domestic adoptees. So if they come to the agency wanting to know more about their background or their birth family, I can only share really general information with them. I can share information that could be really helpful. I could find out about the education or health or nationality of their birth families, but adoptees ultimately want to search for their birth parents, and I can’t help them with that. Because of the legal restrictions, it feels like we’re not able to help people as much as they would want. It’s kind of an ongoing moral dilemma, like “how can we possibly help people with their ultimate goals which we’re not able to provide for them?”
  4. What is the most rewarding part of your job? There are a lot of really good things about working here, like being able to create a sense of belonging and community for adoptees. The Mentorship Program is my most favorite part about my position. The most rewarding part of the program for me is seeing the kids connect with one another and with the adults, and having a space where everyone in the room is adopted and has shared experiences. With kids or with adults it seems to be really memorable and has a really big impact on me when I leave an event and just want to call someone and say, “This event is going so well! The families are connecting and the kids are playing with each other.” Or just meeting an adult who has never had an opportunity to really be with other adoptees before. You’d be surprised at how many people who are forty, fifty, sixty years old, or even older, say they’ve never met another adoptee before, or they’ve never talked to someone who is adopted, or heard an adoption story. So it’s really meaningful for them to able to find that here.
  5. Describe your job in three words. Community, history, and identity.
  6. How has working at MFC changed you, in any way? It’s definitely helped me to grow and to learn more about the birth parent community which I hadn’t had any experience with. Working at Spence-Chapin and MFC has helped me to grow professionally and as a social worker. I’ve only been out of school for five years so I’m still very new in the world of professional social work, so I think it’s been really good to have colleagues that are so professional, so intelligent, and people that have worked here for so many years and are so dedicated to our mission. It’s been really good to see that model and be around so many committed social workers.

You can meet Dana at our upcoming event, Korean Cultural Connections! We’ll be joined by the Donghwa Cultural Foundation to honor your child’s Korean heritage through food, language, and a traditional tea ceremony.

Adoption Lifestages

Not all kids develop their adoption understanding at the same time, but there are some commonalities that can help parents understand how to support their child. AdoptionLifestagesWe offer programs, as well as short-term parent coaching to help you get the ball rolling on these important but sometimes difficult conversations.

Staff Interview: Meet Lauren!

Lauren Photo

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.