child adoption

Talking to Your Child About Adoption

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If you are like many adoptive parents it can come as a big surprise when your elementary school-aged child, who has always “known” that they were adopted, begins to ask questions you thought were answered years ago. In many ways you’re right—you have probably told your child their story many times and answered their questions. But something transformative happens between the ages of six and eight that shakes everything up. As your child moves into middle childhood, they experience remarkable cognitive changes, from newly found reasoning and problem-solving skills to being able to take another person’s perspective for the first time.

By this age, most children are not only able to notice what makes them similar to and different from others, but they are able to arrange their thoughts into questions about skin color, family composition, and reproduction—which allows them to think about their adoption in a whole new way. It’s an exciting time, but also comes with some sadness and confusion as many adopted children are able to understand for the first time that relinquishment led to their being adopted. This is a significant shift for children and their parents and many of our coaching clients reach out to us at this time for support and to get practical tools and tips to help navigate these conversations.

Here are some of the techniques we use when coaching parents thru this stage of adoption development.

  • Go Slowly and Listen Carefully. It may sound counterintuitive but try your best not to rush in to answer your child’s questions or fix what might seem like a problem. Instead, listen carefully and ask your child simple questions to help them express what’s on their mind. This could sound like: “You mentioned that you wish you grew in my belly; what do you think that would have been like?” With a focus on listening, you will learn to see the world from your child’s perspective and be better prepared to respond to your child’s unique needs. We often use role playing in coaching sessions to help parents develop and practice this skill.

  • Keep Playing. If you’re getting tripped up over finding just the right words you are in luck because helping a young child make sense of adoption also happens through play. Play themes of caretaking, nurturing, separation and reconnection, belonging, being lost and found are common among all children and can have an added layer for adoptees. Your child may incorporate elements from movies or stories that worry or delight them, and it is through their play that they express their emotional experience symbolically. We often inform parents that it’s not necessary to correct a child’s play or to interpret the story line, just acknowledge the story line. You can simply enjoy the intimate experience of being included in their imagination and take note of the concerns or themes that your child is working through.

  • It’s Not about You. At this age, children are able to ask very direct questions about their biological family, and some parents feel hurt by their little one’s curiosity about their past. One thing that may help is to keep in mind that your child’s interest in their birth family is not a rejection of you. It’s hard, but crucial, that parents do not take this personally. Even at a young age, children are experts at picking up on this kind of defensiveness, and if your child feels that they are upsetting you, they may retreat from future discussions. Coaching sessions can help parents recognize how their own grief and fear may be getting in the way of responding well to their child’s developmentally appropriate questions.

  • Use Props and Resources: Using props to help move conversations forward is especially grounding when emotions run high and we can literally “hold on” to something to help us stay on topic. For example, picture books help to identify feelings, reflect diversity in families, and show images from birth places. Children’s literature is now bursting with adoption-themed stories, including chapter books. There are non-competitive games to encourage communication and build attachment as well as videos created to help both children and adults understand adoptive family life. This is also an ideal time to attend a Lifebook workshop to create or re-create a Lifebook with your child that will help facilitate conversations about their adoption story. Consider your coach as a personal guide to help you identify the right tools and how to use them to keep these conversations going.

  • Build Your Community: The usefulness of making connections with other adults and children who truly understand what you and your child are experiencing can’t be overestimated. People who are not personally connected to adoption, although loving and well-meaning, are simply unable to help in the way that other triad members can. I often encourage parents that when the time is right, becoming part of an adoption community can truly be life changing. Here at Spence-Chapin we believe that adoption is a lifelong journey and help parents build their community early with our Bagels and Blox Sunday meet ups. This is where young children and their parents can meet to play and socialize. We also have Play Café which gives adopted children 6-8 a place to explore their feelings through arts and crafts. Whether through coaching, a playgroup or support group, mentorship program, social event, or on-line forums. There is a way to connect that can be the right fit for you.

Any parent who has ever wondered how much their child needs to know about adoption and how to share it with them can benefit from a coaching session. Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you to gain clarity and receive guidance no matter your child’s age. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Building Our Family Through Colombian Heritage Adoption: Chris and Michelle’s Story

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My wife and I decided to adopt in 2011. After weighing many options, including domestic adoption, we found the Colombian Heritage program at Spence-Chapin. My wife is half Colombian and half Portuguese and has always associated more with her Colombian culture and traditions.  In 2012 we submitted our application and started our training, home study, and dossier paperwork.  Our dossier was soon submitted to La Casa de la Madre y El Nino, one of the oldest orphanages in Colombia. We were matched with our daughter in July 2014 and traveled to meet her in September.

Our first picture of Genevieve, circa July 2014

In Colombia, the day a family and child meet for the first time is known as “Encuentro.” Our “Encuentro” was September 11, 2014. I remember waking up excited – until I turned on the TV and saw the 9/11 footage being replayed.  It was a roller coaster of emotions as we heard the names of people who perished that tragic day, but we reminded ourselves that we were only a few hours away from what would be the happiest moment of our lives.

We arrived at La Casa that morning, and met our beautiful daughter, Genevieve.  She let out a huge smile as soon as my wife took her into her arms, and the happy tears began flowing. The first days a family spends with their new child is known as “Integracion” or, in English, the Integration Period. “Integracion” went very well, as did all the remaining appointments, and we returned home together on October 24th.

 A couple of years later, 2016, we realized our family wasn’t quite complete. We started the process of adopting our second child. We decided to once again adopt from La Casa de la Madre y El Nino over the central authority (ICBF), despite potentially longer wait times, due to our connection with La Casa. It just felt right.

Genevieve meeting her (sleeping) little sister for the first time.

Genevieve meeting her (sleeping) little sister for the first time.

We moved from New Jersey to Maryland during this adoption, which added some time and additional paperwork, but we were matched with our second daughter in November 2018.  

We didn’t travel until March 2019 due to more delays in the paperwork, but returned home exactly one month later, with our second daughter, Madeleine.  In case you’re wondering, the girls’ names bring along a little of my heritage (my mother is French).  This trip was extra special for us as we got to experience Genevieve becoming a big sister; she was the first to see Madeleine at La Casa, and even helped getting her dressed for her big day!  

The process has been streamlined quite a bit in-country due to ICBF processing their cases through a court in La Mesa, rather than in Bogota. La Mesa is a beautiful city about 2 hours outside of Bogota, with a judge who is extremely supportive of adoptions. We stayed at the Kau Hotel, and highly recommend this hotel to families. 

I also would guide prospective Colombian Heritage families to a private Facebook group (Colombia Adoptions) that is extremely helpful with any questions that will arise during this often-daunting process.  We found the group to be an invaluable asset.  

Sisters Genevieve and Madeleine, snug as two bugs in a rug!

Sisters Genevieve and Madeleine, snug as two bugs in a rug!

There are times during the process when your patience will be tested, but I assure you there is a light at the end of that long tunnel. For us, that light has been seeing these two beautiful girls thrive in a loving home. 

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.

In South Africa, Caring for Children Awaiting Their Forever Homes – One Granny at a Time

Meet Granny Lizzy

Granny Lizzy

“The bonding and attachment that I have with my children motivates me to continue with the Granny Program. When the children I care for told me I should not go on vacation leave because they miss me, this touched my heart. It also gives me strength to wake up every morning and go to work.”

-Granny Lizzy

When Granny Lizzy first met two-year old Melokuhle* at Othandweni Children’s Home, he was not communicative. He didn’t speak. “I didn’t know what language to even address him with,” Granny Lizzy remembers. She began by sitting next to him and engaging him in play time. Everyday for the first week, she would come in and they would silently play with toys—stack blocks, roll a ball, color with crayons. By the second week, Melokuhle began pointing to the games he wanted to play with his Granny, indicating which he liked and which he didn’t. “He was communicating with me,” Lizzy explained, delighted. Since then, Melokuhle has begun to improve other skills as well, such as writing and properly holding a crayon.

The bond that Granny Lizzy formed with Melokuhle is a testament to the success of the Granny Program, and it is not unique to this pair. All fifteen of the Grannies in the program receive ongoing training to help them connect with and improve developmental skills of the children they care for.

The South African Granny Program—8 Years of Success

Since 2011, the South African Granny Program has helped young children living at the Othandweni Children’s Home in Johannesburg receive special care and attention from local women who live in nearby villages—the majority are mothers and grandmothers themselves.

The Grannies work with occupational and physical therapists to understand the individual challenges that each child is facing, and to learn the skills to help the unique child grow and develop. Some children may be behind in their gross motor skills and may be experiencing difficulty in crawling or walking. Others may have underdeveloped social or behavioral skills and may not know how to communicate their needs or play with others. The Grannies are able to work one-on-one with each child to help them reach developmental milestones.

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Many times, the Grannies are able to help the children in ways that the children’s home staff and even therapists cannot, because of the bond that the Grannies form with each child. This was the case with Baby Angel who was three months old when Granny Thandi began working with her. Angel had been attending therapy to help develop her motor skills, but she refused to do the exercises that the therapists recommended. Thandi worked with Angel a little bit everyday until she got used to the exercises. Now, 18 months old, Angel is walking by herself and has even started trying to run.\

The History of the Spence-Chapin Granny Program

In 1998, Spence-Chapin opened its first Granny Program in Bulgaria to address the need for additional interaction between young children and caregivers. The initial relationship between a child and their primary caregiver is a strong predictor of a child’s emotional and physical health, and ability to develop strong attachments later in life. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, children living in institutionalized settings are often deprived of consistent, nurturing human interaction. This lack of interaction is correlated to risks of lifelong developmental delays and challenges with healthy attachment. Due to its success, the program was brought to several countries over the next decade. In 2011, Spence-Chapin opened the South Africa Granny Program which currently provides Grannies to thirty children under the age of three. Seeing the impact that this type of program has on children, many other organizations working in South Africa and around the world have since implemented similar models.

Of the fifteen grannies currently in the Spence-Chapin South Africa Granny Program, seven have been Grannies for more than five years, and two Grannies have been with the program since it began.

Granny Thandi is one such Granny—she has been with the South Africa Granny Program since it started in 2011 and has looked after thirteen children, including Baby Angel. “I understand the role that a mother plays in a child’s life. I play that role by being part of the Granny Program. Seeing the children’s self-esteem improve gives me confidence to continue with the program.” For Granny Thandi, her role as a Granny is also personal: “I am motivated to continue with the program because of the stimulation that I provide to the children, which I did not get when I was little.”

The Lasting Impact on Children

The Spence-Chapin Granny Program includes all children under four years old at the Othandweni Children’s Home. Some of the children there are eventually reunited with their families or extended family members, while others are adopted domestically or internationally. Spence-Chapin opened its South Africa Adoption Program with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) in 2013 and has since placed 33 children with loving forever homes here in the United States. While not all of the children adopted were cared for at Othandweni, those that were in care there were paired with a Granny, and their parents have certainly noted the impact that the experience has had on their child’s life—like the life of Levi, who was adopted from South Africa.

Levi and Dad

Levi and Dad

“I could write pages and pages about the impact our Gogo [affectionate name for Granny] Beryl had on our sweet Levi,” mom Jen explains.

“She started seeing him when he was about seven months old and she began taking him to physical therapy. The therapists taught her what exercises to do with him and she did. I have a pediatric physical therapy background and I know that without her interventions and dedication to completing the exercises with him, he would not have been as strong when we went to adopt him. He formed a strong bond with his Gogo—she showed him what love is and that attachment has transferred beautifully to our family.”

Jen and her husband had the chance to meet Granny Beryl when they met Levi for the first time: “I was so grateful to be able to give this woman a hug and my thanks for caring for him so well. At the end of our month-long trip, we made a photo album for her of all the photos we took while we were in South Africa, along with our contact info. She contacted us about 6 months after we came home, by email, and so I send her email updates about Levi regularly. She is his connection to his home, which makes her so very important to us.”

They hope to visit South Africa again soon with their son and will be sure to visit Granny Beryl.

Spence-Chapin hopes in the future to be able to provide more Grannies at more children’s homes in South Africa. In the meantime, the fifteen grannies currently working with children continue to grow their relationships with and fondness for the children in their care.

Read more about the Granny Program and learn about Spence-Chapin’s South Africa Adoption Program here.

*Names of children at Othandweni Children’s Home have been changed

10 LGBTQ Parenting Tips

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All adoptive families will likely have conversations about the validity of their family, and how to deal with prejudice and questions from people outside the family. LGBTQ parents also have the added complexity that cross-gender parenting can bring. The counseling team at Spence-Chapin offers practical advice and support for LGBTQ parents raising adopted children.

These 10 tips offer support and guidance around the particular issues that LGBTQ adoptive parents navigate with their children.

1. USE TIME BEFORE ADOPTION TO PLAN AND ASK QUESTIONS

If you are just embarking on your adoption journey, or are in process, now is the time to really do your homework and ask the hard questions about what you and your partner (if co-parenting) want and what feels right in family forming for you. If working through an adoption agency, take advantage of their experience to ask many questions, or see if you can speak with other families that could provide you with insight. The more questions you answer early, the more informed and comfortable you will become.

2. BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR SEXUAL IDENTITY

The more comfortable you are with your sexual identity and the coming out process, the easier parenting will be for you. When you are comfortable expressing yourself, it models emotional expression for your children. The less issues we work out on our children the easier parenting them will be. If you or your partner struggle in certain ways with your sexual identity, consider seeking out a counselor who can help you sort through those issues before you embark on parenting. Being confident and comfortable in your identity will help your family model that attitude and behavior to also be confident and comfortable.

3. ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE

Whether your family was formed through adoption or not, honesty and openness are always the best policy. Your family may look different to the outside world, but to your children this is their family. This is what they are accustomed to and this is what makes sense to them. Start as young as possible reading affirming books to toddlers. If issues should arise from the outside world or they have questions due to their different developmental stages, let them know you are always open to them. This requires having on-going continuing conversations as needed throughout childhood and young adulthood. Open dialogue can be uncomfortable at first but gets easier as everyone shares their thoughts and feelings.

4. STAY INVOLVED WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S SCHOOL

Get to know their teachers. This sense of openness within the community and where your children spend so much time is important. Just by being present, you show that you are advocating for your family and your expectations for your children’s wellbeing.

5. CREATE AN LGBTQ NETWORK

This can be invaluable. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Others have done this before you. Just as an LGBTQ person you might have formed your own family outside of your birth family for certain types of support, this skill can be a great comfort to your family. Your children can see other children and families that look like their own. For children who are adopted this can be equally impactful to interact with other children who are adopted to help them form and express their own adoptive identities. It gives your children a chance to talk to other children about their experiences in the community. Whenever we feel we are not alone it is an ego booster!!

6. CREATE YOUR OWN FAMILY PRIDE

Your family is as important as any other. The more comfortable you are showing your pride, the easier it will be for your children.

7. SHOW AND EXPRESS YOUR LOVE

Do not be afraid to show and express your love. Children need unconditional love, to feel supported, to have their emotional and physical needs met. Your children will benefit from as much quality time as you can spend with them.

8. BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR FAMILY

Your children will learn from you how to advocate when they need to. Providing a safe environment at times might mean saying something at their school, to family members or friend’s parents. This does not mean being a bulldozer, but modeling self-respect, awareness , sensitivity, and education when possible. Remember all parents teach by positive modeling. This will help create a safe and supportive environment for your children.

9. HAVE ON-GOING CONVERSATIONS

Have on-going conversations with your children about their friends and their relationships with their peers. Friends are important, no matter the parents’ sexuality. Kids need to be connected and not made to feel that they’re different. Start involving them in activities with other children and their parents at an early age. This way, you are building support and recognition for you and your child outside of the immediate family unit.

10. TAKE TIME FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP

If you are in a partnered relationship don’t forget to make time to have a date night, special time together, or something you both enjoyed doing together before children. Like any other couple you will need to find ways and times to reconnect with each other. Parenting is stressful for everyone! Taking the time to reconnect and relax will help make your journey even more enjoyable.

Spence-Chapin provides a safe and family-friendly environment for you and your family. We offer culturally sensitive, LGBTQ-affirming care in an accepting, nonjudgmental environment. Services include pre-adoption consultations, counseling, parent coaching, community events, LGBTQ parent workshops and trainings for LGBTQ professionals. Learn more about our post-adoption support and community programs.

Contact us at postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org or 646-539-2167 to explore ways our team can support your family.

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.

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.

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.

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 teen/tween mentorship, counseling, parent coaching, Lifebook workshops and more.

Fostering, Adopting, and Raising LGBTQ Youth

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

Colombian-American Adoptive Families: Instructions for Obtaining a Colombian Passport

Spence-Chapin recently expanded our Colombia Adoption Program to find permanent, loving families of Colombian heritage for children in Colombia ages 0-4. How do you know if you qualify as Colombian heritage according to the Colombian Central Authority’s guidelines? This includes a person who was born in Colombia or has a parent who was born in Colombia.

In order to move forward with a Colombian heritage adoption process, the adoptive parent needs to provide a Colombian birth certificate or Cedula to document this heritage. Adoptive parents often use a recent certified copy of the Registration of Birth Certificate (Registro Civil de Nacimiento) issued by a local Colombian Consulate OR a notarized copy of the Colombian Citizenship Card (Cédula de Ciudadanía). Per United States adoption guidelines, at least one adoptive parent needs to be an American citizen.

Obtaining a Cedula as a Colombian-American Born in the U.S. Or a Colombian-American Born in Colombia

If you do not have either of the Colombian documents, it is possible to obtain them at your local Colombian Consulate. It is advised that Colombian-Americans apply for the Registro Civil de Nacimento and/or Cedula at their local Colombian Consulate as soon as possible as it is not possible to move forward with a Colombian heritage adoption process without these documents.

Parents between 25-45 years old can request to adopt a child 0-4 years old. The estimated wait time to adopt a child 0-4 by Colombian-American families is 12-24 months after dossier submission.

Colombian Consulate in New York:
10 East 46th Street New York, NY, 10017
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. a 1:45 p.m. – Saturday 9:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.
Phone: (212) 798 9000
Fax: (212) 972 1725

Colombian Embassy in Washington DC:
1724 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 387-8338
Fax: (202) 232-8643

We welcome families living anywhere in the United States to call us at 212-400-8150 to speak with our international adoption staff. Or, visit our website to learn more about Colombia Adoption.

Home Study Spotlight: Meet Sophia!

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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.


Highlights of the 2018 Gala: An Evening Celebrating Family

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Spence-Chapin’s 2018 Gala on Thursday, May 3rd was themed, “Every child deserves a family”—a guiding principle of the organization over its 110-year history. And while the event truly reflected this concept, it presented it through the lens of creating family, highlighting the many varied and beautiful ways in which we all build family.

Hosted at the lovely Current at Chelsea Piers in New York City, the event featured a silent auction, cocktail hour and dinner overlooking the Hudson River. Returning for his second year to preside over the evening was NBC New York’s Storm Team 4 weatherman, David Price. Opening the program with some lively quips and wit, Price then introduced Spence-Chapin’s President & CEO, Adam Cotummacio, to set the tone of the evening.

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Mr. Cotummacio spoke about the ways in which each family uniquely creates their own special environment—maybe through a set of household rules over chores or watching tv that may seem strange to the outsider, or through traditions that are set up and done every year without question—and in this way, begins to build family, that sense of belonging and safety.

Hardie Stevens then took the stage, an entrepreneur and adoptee through Spence-Chapin. Mr. Stevens spoke about the significance of adoption as a lifelong experience and the unique ways it has shaped his view of family.

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Spence-Chapin then premiered its short film, “Family,” which chronicles how Spence-Chapin helps to form loving, nurturing and permanent families through its domestic, international and special needs adoption programs; its Granny and Interim Care Programs that provide ongoing care for infants and children; and its unbiased counseling for pregnant women and birth parents as they navigate different options available to them.

Featured prominently in the film is Spence-Chapin’s very own family member, Antoinette Cockerham—an employee with Spence-Chapin for 25 years and the recipient that evening of its Lifetime Achievement Award. Ms. Cockerham, or “Toni” as she is known among friends, served as Director of Domestic Programs at Spence and helped to create hundreds of families through adoption during her tenure

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Spence-Chapin Board President, Ian Rowe, presented the award to Ms. Cockerham and said of few words about his and his wife’s own journey in an open adoption through Spence-Chapin, and the beautiful family that they have created. In her gracious acceptance remarks, Ms. Cockerham pointed to the many challenges that still lie ahead and the important work that Spence-Chapin must continue to do, and can accomplish, with support.

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That support became palpable as Celebrity Auctioneer CK Swett took the stage and led a direct pledge moment that helped raise $80,000 for the organization’s programs in just a few minutes. It was a spectacular outpouring of support for the work that Spence-Chapin has done in its extended history and will do in the future.

Later that evening, Mr. Cotummacio reflected on the whole of the evening, and the integral role Spence-Chapin has been able to play in the lives of so many children and families:

“Spence-Chapin is truly a unique organization. This year’s Gala was dedicated to the work we have done serving as part of the connective tissue to thousands of families throughout our 110-year history. The event enabled us to celebrate family and open-adoption in all its intricate, loving, challenging and wonderful forms. I am forever grateful to our amazing staff and the impact they deliver each day the Spence-Chapin Way by helping to create strong families and by providing women in crisis with the support and counseling needed to make informed decisions about their options.”

Spence-Chapin is appreciative to its Gala Committee, Board of Directors, attendees and supporters for making this night successful and wonderful. Please make sure to view the photos of the event and the featured short film, “Family.

Meet Lauren Jiang!

This month we talked to Lauren Jiang, LMSW, Associate Director of Permanency Services, about her work.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
February 10, 2014, after completing my Graduate Social Work Internship with Spence-Chapin’s post-adoption department.

Why did you want to work at Spence-Chapin?
I wanted (and still do!) to work at Spence-Chapin for its ethical approach to adoption. I could only ever see myself at an agency that welcomes all families regardless of age, race/ethnicity, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

How did you become interested in adoption?
To me there is nothing more fundamentally influential to human development than the family you are raised in. In this field, we have the opportunity to help support healthy foundations for children, whether it’s helping to empower individuals to raise the children who are born to them, or preparing families to raise the children entrusted to them through adoption.

What’s your favorite part about being a home study social worker?
Carrying families from home study into post-placement is rewarding. It’s great to see a person’s dream to parent become a reality. I also love seeing that through the relationships we build with families that trust is established; through that trust, when the realities of parenting are hard, or if a parent is struggling with bonding with their new child, the parent feels safe coming to us with that so we can support them and help work through the challenge.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s our job to dive deep with prospective adoptive parents and understand their life history in order to then talk through how that history may impact their future parenting. I think for those of us who are social workers, we came to the field with the belief that through challenges we can find strengths, and so we really work with families to build insight into how their own histories could support them as future parents.

Describe your job in three words.
Preparing & supporting families

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
I think they all do. There isn’t a person in our office whose desk isn’t decorated with photos from the families we’ve help create.

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.

Colombia Program Updates

Spence-Chapin’s fundamental belief is that Every Child Deserves a Family. We are a Hague accredited agency with over 40 years of experience in international adoption. Since 1994, we have been finding and preparing families to adopt children from Colombia, a Hague country. Our agency is approved by the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), the central authority for inter-country adoption.

Colombian Heritage Program

In July of 2017, we expanded our Colombia Adoption Program to find permanent, loving families of Colombian heritage for children in Colombia between the ages of 0-10 years old. According to Colombia’s eligibility parameters, families of Colombian heritage who are between 25-45 years old may apply to adopt a child as young as 0-4 years old. Children adopted through this program may have no pre-identified special needs.

How do you know if you are of Colombian heritage? This includes a person who was born in Colombia or a person with a parent born in Colombia. When submitting your application for the program, the adoptive parent would provide a Colombian birth certificate, passport, or Cedula to show this heritage. The estimated wait time for child referral after dossier submission by heritage families is 18-24 months.

Greatest Need of Adoption in Colombia –Children with Special Needs, Older Children and Sibling Groups

We continue to seek American families living anywhere in the United States who are drawn to Colombia as the country to build their families and who will embrace the process of incorporating Colombian culture into the life of their family going forward. Through our Colombia Waiting Child Program, our agency remains committed to finding families for children in the greatest need of adoption in Colombia, including toddlers and school-age children with significant special needs, such as Down syndrome, and developmental delays. There are also siblings in need of adoption in Colombia. Since this is a waiting child program and families will be recruited for specific waiting children, there is no wait time to be matched with a child. The entire process is estimated to take 12-18 months.

Support and Guidance for the Lifetime of Your Family

Many adoptive families are drawn to Colombia as it’s a country with beauty in its people, landscape and culture. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of school-age children, children with special needs and sibling groups discourage many prospective parents. Spence-Chapin offers myriad of services during the adoption process to encourage and support adoptive parents to overcome these barriers. Our social workers assist families in taking inventory of their individual, family and community strengths and determining various resources available to help their child and family thrive. We take great care in helping adoptive parents anticipate the needs of the child in order to develop a resource plan for parenting children in the areas of medical, school, mental health, parenting, attachment, sibling preparation, home, support system, stress reduction, self-care and budgeting.

Following placement of a child or sibling group from Colombia, Spence-Chapin is available for support and guidance for the lifetime of your family. Spence-Chapin offers counseling, parent coaching, post adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips.

Children in Colombia are waiting for you! We would love to tell you more about our program in Colombia. We welcome families living anywhere in the United States to call us at 212-400-8150 to speak with our international adoption staff. Or, visit our website to learn more about Colombia Adoption by clicking here!

Domestic Adoption Home Studies at Spence-Chapin

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Spence-Chapin supports adoptive parents pursuing a domestic independent or attorney adoption. We offer Home Study, pre-adoption training, consultations, and more. We provide adoptive families with expertise, professionalism, and the support of an entire adoption team. With over 100 years of experience in adoption, we know how to support adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees! If requested, Spence-Chapin can provide recommendations for reputable adoption attorneys in the NYC area. Overall, Spence-Chapin recommends working with an experienced adoption attorney, preferably a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Home Study Services

A home study is a document required for all adoptive parents and is the first step to any adoption process. Spence-Chapin has provided home studies for thousands of families adopting domestically. We have the expertise to work with you and your adoption attorney or out-of-state agency. Families can begin the home study process while they are identifying their agency or attorney. If you’re ready to get started on the adoption process, please visit our website to download our free home study application.

Pre-Adoption Support

Throughout the adoption process, Spence-Chapin social workers and staff are available for support and information. Families can schedule one-on-one meetings to talk about their questions or concerns, such as how to manage the wait to be matched with a child, how to speak with a birth parent once connected, what to do if spouses aren’t on the same page about the adoption, navigating open adoption, and much more!

Post-Adopt Support

Regardless of how you choose to build your family, our ongoing family support is available! We offer robust post-adoption support through consultations, counseling, parent coaching, and events for parents and kids. Our post-adoption services are available to all families after your child joins your family! We offer a monthly playgroup for adoptive families with kids 0-5, an annual Halloween party, Global Family Day Picnic in Central Park, and ongoing workshops for kids and parents. We invite you to join us for these community events!

Get started with a domestic adoption today by starting the home study process! Visit our website to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s home study services or contact us at (212) 400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.