adoption support

What to Do After Finding Birth Relatives Through DNA Testing

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Have you identified a birth relative through DNA testing and are wondering what to do next? The technology moves so quickly that even those who plan carefully are often caught off guard by the rush of emotions and the flood of decisions that need to be made. Years of fantasies, imaginings, and what-ifs now have the possibility of becoming part of your reality. This brings tremendous opportunity as well as a loss of control that worries many adoptees and their families. In consultation with a coach, families can find an ally to navigate this complex moment in birth family connection.

Here are some things you can do to feel steadier in this process.

  • Identify your unique motivation and allow for flexibility. Now that you have identified a birth relative, it can be helpful to revisit why you originally initiated the search. For some, it is purely about finding medical information or to learn about their ancestry. And for others, there is a strong desire to develop an ongoing relationship that may begin gradually with correspondence and phone calls and could culminate with in-person meetings. We often coach people to give themselves permission to slow down and take the time they need to think things through. You may become more curious and open, or you may find yourself becoming more cautious and hesitant. And, many adoptees we have worked with find that as they get deeper into the process their paths can take unpredictable turns.

  • Think carefully about how you want to exchange information. Technology and birth family contact often moves more quickly than anticipated. It is likely that together you are going to be working out ways of communicating with your biological relative. Receiving new information can be exciting and welcomed, yet we find that this can also result in feeling exposed or overwhelmed. For instance, integrating new information about your early life circumstances or newly discovered biological siblings can powerfully impact your present life and relationships. Each new piece of your story, (for example a retelling of your relinquishment), may affirm, challenge or transform your personal narrative. Setting the right pace, creating comfortable boundaries, and finding careful ways to disclose personal information are tasks that can be worked through successfully in partnership with a coach. Remember that there isn’t a right or wrong way to develop your connection. Contact may move forward quickly and easily or may require more thought, negotiation and support. Sometimes these new relationships unfold slowly over weeks, months, or even years.

  • Attend to the emotional response. The momentum and the logistics of the search itself can be all- consuming and eclipse the importance of attending to emotional outcomes. Most adoptees have conflicting feelings when they identify a birth relative that range from elation, relief, and joy to fear, panic, and sadness. All of these feelings are expected and need to be explored and understood so that you can move forward with more confidence and less anxiety. Exploring the emotional side of your search with the guidance and support of an adoption-competent professional, can help you organize and manage these powerful feelings.

  • Find un-biased support. Having a solid support system of trusted people who are readily available to you is critical. Consider the different kinds of support that you may need. For instance, who in your circle can provide guidance with objectivity and won’t be influenced by their own needs or agenda? Who is a patient, empathic listener? And, who can provide sound advice about the wide variety of ways to make and maintain contact? Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding this deeply personal process. If you feel this way, consider joining an adoption community that can offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experience. Having the support of other adoptees offers invaluable camaraderie on this journey. In addition, there are books, blogs, support groups, advocacy and social organizations, and on-line communities, each offering different ways to engage with people who can relate personally to your experience.

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you to explore the emotional side of your search and figure out what to do next. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Beginning the Domestic Adoption Journey: The First Steps

Adoption can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. For more than 100 years, Spence-Chapin has been supporting families through the adoption process with broad services and a lifetime of support. As you begin the adoption process, you will likely have many questions about the steps involved.

1. Learn about the different adoption pathways

Domestically, there are three ways to adopt - through an accredited organization or adoption agency, an adoption attorney, or adoption from foster care. Families interested in the adoption of an infant typically pursue an attorney or agency adoption. Both adoption pathways will take you to the same place – the child who will be joining your family, but the pathways are different and it’s important to do your homework in order to determine the best pathway for your family. Attending an Adoption 101 webinar is a great way to learn more about the landscape of adoption and these pathways.

2. Ask questions – of yourself and of the professionals.

Different people are drawn to one pathway or another for different, important reasons.

Regardless of the pathway you choose, it’s important that you find a provider that fully supports you. Adoption professionals tend so set rules for their services based upon their own philosophies and personal beliefs, or because they may have experienced longer wait times for certain applicants. Information gathering (speaking to people, learning, and taking time to absorb and listen to how you feel) is an important early step. Adoption is a very intimate endeavor and you owe it to yourself to find the team that is the right fit for you.

If you are interested in pursuing an infant domestic adoption with an adoption attorney, Spence-Chapin can provide recommendations for reputable adoption attorneys in the NYC area. For families who pursue this adoption pathway, Spence-Chapin can provide home study and support services as you work closely with the attorney to navigate the legal process of adoption. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys may also serve as a helpful resource, as they have a directory of members by state.

Questions to ask when interviewing an adoption professional:

  • What types of adoptions do you do? Do you do domestic infant adoptions? Or adoptions from foster care? Are most of the adoptions transracial adoptions? Open adoptions?

  • What states do you do adoptions in? Do you operate only in our state, or multiple states? Or not in our state at all?

  • How many placements did you have last year, and what is your average number of placements a year?

  • What is the average wait time for families that look like mine in terms of marital status, age, race, sexual orientation, and risk factors, open vs. closed adoption, and race/ethnicity we are open to?

  • What is your total fee and what does it go towards? Are there potential extra fees we should be aware of? Do your fees include living, medical and legal expenses?

  • How do you find expectant mothers that may be considering an adoption plan for their child? Do you search for birth mothers nationally or locally and how is this done? Why do you think birth mothers choose to work with your program over others?

  • What type of support do you provide to expectant mothers? What counseling options are provided both pre and post adoption?

  • What other adoption professionals will I need and how do I find and integrate them into our adoption plan?

  • Why should I work with your organization over any others? How will it benefit me?

3. Attend a webinar or begin the home study

Depending on the pathway you choose, families will either submit an adoption application to your adoption agency or schedule a meeting with your adoption attorney.

For families who would like to join Spence-Chapin’s full-service domestic adoption program, the first official step in the process is to attend a Domestic Adoption Webinar. You can register for an upcoming webinar directly on the events calendar of our website. This webinar is dedicated to exploring the nuances of Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program. Our team will share details about the adoption program, the application process, options counseling for birth parents, and more. Unlike other agencies that may accept an unlimited number of families, we make efforts to balance the number of adoptive families with birth mothers in our full-service program. By limiting the number of families, we reduce wait times to be matched with a baby.

Attendance at the Domestic Adoption webinar is a requirement for families pursuing Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program as all attendees of the webinar will receive the Domestic Adoption Application.

All families adopting will need a home study. For families working with an adoption attorney to navigate the legal process of adoption, or an adoption agency out of state, our social workers are able to provide home study services, pre-adoption counseling and support. If you are ready to begin the home study process, you can download the application from our website today.

4. Submit an Application

Our team reviews any new applications we receive every week. Through the application, we are able to get to know your family better and learn about who the child is you feel can thrive in your family. In addition to assessing your family for eligibility for the program, our team is also assessing program fit – that our domestic adoption program aligns with who the child is you envision joining your family. We want to know that the children we see in need of adoption align with your family’s openness around factors such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, common medical risks and open adoption. We want to be confident that we (your family and our team) are on the same page when beginning the adoption process. Check out our Domestic Adoption FAQ to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Ask Yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

International Home Studies with Spence-Chapin

Interested in Adopting Internationally?

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In addition to our placement programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa, Spence-Chapin also provides international home study services for families adopting from many other countries. In the past, we have supported families pursuing adoption from Ghana, Jamaica, Haiti, India, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and elsewhere around the world. We offer Home Study, pre-adoption counseling and more for every type of adoption.

Regardless of the country you are adopting from, all families, need to complete a home study. Spence-Chapin provides international home study services for families living in the NYC area, including New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and Long Island. We work with families living within 100 miles of New York City. Our home studies are of the highest caliber, and meet the highest legal regulations set for international adoption.

Finding a Primary Provider

In order for our team to fully review and consider your home study application, you’ll need a Primary Provider. A primary provider is a Hague accredited agency in the United States that is responsible for your international adoption. This agency will help navigate the inter-country laws and documentation you will need for your international adoption.

For international adoptions, it is very common for a family to use two adoption agencies – a home study agency & a placement agency. A home study agency provides the home study, parent preparation/training, and post adoption supervision. The placement agency is responsible for the overseas adoption process including the child referral, travel, and dossier preparation. The two agencies work together to ensure that all parts of the adoption process meet state, federal and country requirements.

How do I Find a Primary Provider?

You can visit our website for links to helpful websites and organizations that may help you identify a primary provider for the country you are hoping to adopt from. We recommend reviewing potential Primary Providers through COA or the National Council on Adoption. The United States Department of State oversees all international adoptions to the United States and may also be a resource for you: adoption.state.gov.

Once I’ve identified a primary provider, what’s next?

Once you’ve identified a primary provider, the next step is to fill out our FREE Home Study application on our website. You may access and download the application directly on the site at any time. The Home Study Application is an opportunity for our team to get to know your family better and to learn more about the nuances of the adoption you’re hoping to pursue. After we receive your family’s application, our staff will follow up with you to schedule a convenient time to speak, to further discuss the adoption you’re looking to pursue and next steps in the process!

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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.

Staff Interview: Meet Mark!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are? This month we talked to Mark Lacava, LCSW-R, Director of Mental Health Services, about his work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month is celebrated every November across the United States. We know adoption is not a moment in time, but a life long journey. While we celebrate the many ways people become a family, we know it takes work to grow a happy family.