As we celebrate National Women's History Month, we can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence.
We are joining the Orphan Sunday movement to bring awareness to the many children waiting for their adoptive parents to find them.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Help your child feel prepared: Discuss issues that may arise or questions they may receive from classmates and how to respond. Tour the school so they feel comfortable in a new environment. Have your child meet their teachers/ principal. Talk about the rules and expectations of your child's school.
- Lunchtime: Bring your child to the grocery store to pick out foods that they like. If they buy their lunch, make sure lunch money is in a safe place.
- Transportation: Make sure your child knows their bus number. Discuss bus rules and talk with your child about only leaving school with a parent or designated adults. Have a safety plan in place.
- Iron out a schedule: Establish your routine before school starts. Consider using a large family calendar to keep track of everyone’s schedules.
- Resources: Talk to your child’s teachers about special needs accommodations, ESL, IEP, and/or tutoring programs. Join an adoptive parent support group or attend parent workshops (link to http://www.modernfamilycenter.org/adoption-support/).
- Social skills: Help your child practice appropriate social responses, conversations, and understanding appropriate physical boundaries. Set up short, structured play dates. Reach out to classmates before school starts.
- Social issues: Listen actively to your child and encourage positive attitudes. If bullying at school is involved, insist that it be appropriately addressed by the school.
- Open the adoption dialogue: If you want it known that your child is adopted, inform new teachers and provide them with any information about adoption you feel they should know. Bring a book to share about adoption with the class. Talk to your child about questions they might be asked and how they can answer them.
- Talk about educational goals: Empower your child to be a part of their own educational process. Support your child through highs, lows, and plateaus in learning. Be realistic with your expectations of both your child and their teacher.
- Don’t forget to breathe! Practice taking deep breaths with your child so that they know how to help themselves calm down if they get stressed.
Over 85% of families in the United States include at least one sibling. Siblings are the longest and most significant relationship most of us will have over the course of our lifetimes. For many children, being adopted with their siblings provides continuity and mutual support during what can be an exciting and overwhelming time. For children in need of adoptive families, being adopted with a sibling has immeasurable benefits. Not only is there is a positive impact on children’s initial adjustment period with a family, but children adopted with their siblings also experience lower anxiety and higher overall mental wellness. Siblings support and understand each other’s stories in a unique way, helping each other make sense of new life experiences. Children who have siblings often learn to build strong relationships and develop healthier attachments to others as well. Families can help maintain this powerful connection by adopting a sibling group.
We have seen many sibling groups in need of families in our Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa adoption programs. We share the belief with our partners that there is incredible value in keeping siblings together. Our in-country partners are committed to keeping siblings together whenever possible and have minimal additional fees for adopting sibling groups.
There are many joys and unique challenges that come with adopting a sibling group. Questions to consider include:
- Do I want a large family?
- For those currently parenting: How would your family dynamic change by adopting a sibling group?
- Does my family have the ability to welcome two or three new members at the same time? Does my family have the capacity and resources to provide one on one time with each child in the sibling group?
As you explore if adopting a sibling group could be right for your family, contact us at email@example.com or 212-400-8150. We can provide resources about adopting and help you consider your adoption options.
References: Adopt US Kids. Ten Myths and Realities of Sibling Adoptions. Link: https://www.adoptuskids.org/_assets/files/NRCRRFAP/resources/ten-myths-and-realities-of-sibling-adoptions.pdf
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Sibling issues in foster care and adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Link: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/siblingissues.pdf
Creating A Family Radio. Adopting Siblings: Special Issues to Consider. Link: http://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/adopting-siblings-special-issues-consider
Arriving in South Africa one is immediately struck by an intense color contrast never seen walking the streets of New York City. Bursts of purple are framed against the blue sky, the green landscape, and the white exteriors of buildings.
We are told by our hosts that we have fortuitously scheduled our visit during the brief window of time that the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. We have come to Johannesburg to learn from our South African counterpart, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW). JCW is a vast child welfare agency providing services within Johannesburg and its surrounding areas. The work they do spans from child abuse treatment to family integration. It is a privilege to see the broad range of their work and to hear from the adoption team about the realities that inform our shared effort to find homes for children where no domestic adoptions exist. For one week, against the colorful backdrop the Jacarandas have provided, we will make visits to the various institutions and shared group homes where many of the children JCW advocates for reside.
Our first stop is Othandweni, a JCW-run institution located in the township of Soweto. Othandweni has the capacity for about ninety children, thirty children live in the nursery and sixty older school age children live in five cottages that are segmented by age. There are close to fifteen full time staff. The environment at Othandweni is lively, bright, and loud.
Part of the reason why this welcoming and safe atmosphere exists is the presence of the Grannies. Othandweni is the site of our Granny Program, which we first established in 2011. Fifteen women from the local community dedicate their time to visit with the thirty children who live in Othandweni’s nursery. They come Monday through Friday for at least 4 hours a day, dividing their time between caring for two children. The children they are working with are between birth and 6 years of age and have a range of significant special needs, from HIV to cerebral palsy. The dedication, consistency, and passion of the Grannies bring to life a specially-designed curriculum that helps these children meet their developmental milestones. The visible impact this program has had on the children who have benefitted from a relationship with a granny makes it easy for everyone involved to wholeheartedly buy into this program. It is a model that JCW hopes to implement in other institutions as its benefits have proven to extend beyond its original goals, the “gogos” speak of the sense of enfranchisement this program has brought them – as one gogo puts it, the program “has given me a new lease on life”.
Over the next two days we visit three other institutions. Princess Alice is a JCW-run home for infants and is located in a particularly affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg. The focus at Princess Alice is on providing a nursery and pediatric services to infants who have been abandoned or orphaned. Many of the children at Princess Alice have special needs and are on medication regimes that need to be strictly monitored. There are between twenty and thirty infants residing at Princess Alice and a combination of full time staff and community volunteers who are a constant presence. We next stop at Cotlands, which is an institution caring for infant and toddler age children. Cotlands had recently reduced their capacity at the time of our visit and was focused on expanding its community-based family services while still providing care for around fifteen to twenty infants and toddlers. Like any other institution in Johannesburg there are many special needs infants. Learning about the particular profiles in the care of these institutions continually reinforces why Spence-Chapin is doing the kind of focused work it is doing in South Africa. The population of special needs infants and toddlers is significant in size and growing domestic options for these children is a work in progress for JCW.
Ethembeni, a Salvation Army-run institution within Johannesburg, is our last stop. Ethembeni has the capacity for close to fifty or sixty infants and toddlers. There is a nursery and separate living areas for the toddlers. Ethembeni is a longtime presence in the child welfare landscape in South Africa and has done a lot of important work on behalf of vulnerable children in Johannesburg. Continuing the theme of the trip, we met many toddlers with significant special needs including children with a combination of cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities. There is a sizeable population of children with minor to severe cerebral palsy and also Down syndrome. Part of the normative mindset of caregivers and administrators at these institutions is that finding homes for these children is a near impossibility, an idea that we have seen be defied time and time again by families who possess the expertise and resources to responsibly provide homes for children with these specialized needs. Sharing our optimism with them will hopefully encourage them to continue their active advocacy on behalf of these children.
We return to Othandweni on our final day in Johannesburg to meet some of the older children who live in the cottages. We are greeted with a performance of music, dance, and poetry. As the older children at Othandweni come from a variety of tribal backgrounds their presentations are cultural fusions of their different backgrounds, combining the features of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other cultural traditions. We met many children whose legal statuses were not settled and/or they still maintained connections with their birth family through visits and other forms of communication. However, there certainly are children who desire to be part of a permanent family and Spence-Chapin hopes to be able to work on their behalf.
It was a poignant time to visit Johannesburg as the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing was approaching. His work on behalf of the marginalized is an evident influence to the incredible work that JCW does on behalf of children who are vulnerable. Spence-Chapin is privileged to be working with such an ethical and altruistic organization. I returned feeling energized about the focused kind of work we are doing and with a deeper sense of accountability to the children who we met.
Associate Director of International Adoption Ben Sommers shares his perspective on the changing landscape of adoption in Colombia.
There are over 1,800 older children, siblings, and children with special needs in Bulgaria who are eligible for international adoption but have not yet found families.
There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family: Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.
In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith's daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.
Finally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it's hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I've ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother's adoption had on her.
It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.
December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt - but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund.
Scott and Tari grew their family through the Spence-Chapin special needs adoption program.
Spence-Chapin presents child welfare training to Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) and Colombian child advocates.
This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adoption of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does. Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.
In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applications for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.
In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and children experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.
In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of children, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedication as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.
Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.
Read more about Waiting Children on our site.
Today is #GivingTuesday. How can you make the world a better place?
Kim Sava lives by an uncommon philosophy: Keep only what you use, make peace with imperfection, and (seriously) help those in need. Her beautiful home is a snapshot of her spirit. By Marjorie Ingall
Loving and Letting Go
With a newborn in one arm, Kim talks about the volunteer work that she has been engaged in for the last four years. “I think I’m officially called an ‘interim care provider,’ ” she says, spreading a blanket on the floor to change the diaper of her current charge. The adoption agency that she is involved with, Spence-Chapin, brings newborns to Kim for anywhere from a week to three months, to give birth mothers time to make an informed decision. “I went through the same background checks and training as an adoptive parent would,” she says. Kim has had more than two dozen babies stay with the family, sometimes two at a time. Is it hard to give them back? Kim answers right away: “It’s the deal,” she says, lifting the baby. “And I knew the deal.”
Opening Her Heart—and Her Home
Kim’s twin sons, Declan and Wesley, age 13, are sweet to the babies but only as interested as any busy, social seventh-grade boys would be. Some of the little girls in the neighborhood, however, flock to the house. “I live a block from the school, so between the boys’ friends and the girls coming to hold the babies, my place is always swarming with kids,” says Kim. Are the newborns disruptive to family life? “There’s not a whole lot of screaming going on,” she says. “They really just want to be held.”
Tasty or not, proper nutrition is essential to every child’s healthy development. Without it, the body won’t function normally: the immune system struggles to fight infection, bone growth is stunted, and cognitive development lags behind.
Children who don’t have a permanent parental figure in their lives are more at risk for under-nutrition, priming them for other devastating delays in their childhood development. Children living in institutions are still at risk for malnutrition from the type of foods they are fed. Porridge, a staple of many orphanage kitchens, is inexpensive and easy to cook for large groups. Oats and honey may sustain hunger, but a solid diet of porridge (or any one item) doesn’t provide the complete nutrition for any growing child.
OrphanNutrition.org is a collection of nutrition resources created to increase advocacy and awareness on this global problem among orphaned children. The website is an initiative of A Child’s Best Start, a Mead-Johnson organization committed to improving nutrition conditions for children. It shares, information on nutrition best practices, food safety practices, and individual country data on nutrition. Orphan Nutrition has also started humanitarian initiatives to provide specially designed bottles for babies born with cleft palettes.
Be sure to visit the site to read all the valuable information on orphan malnutrition, and find out ways you can help stop this preventable problem from growing.
Spence-Chapin is hosting a four-day training, geared for therapists and social workers, in the treatment of children with trauma-attachment problems. Early deprivation, neglect, abuse, significant early health problems and hospitalizations, repeated moves, or more than one year in an orphanage can create attachment problems that require specialized treatment. This workshop, led by Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman, will provide therapists and other professionals with an opportunity to learn and practice effective treatment methods for trauma-attachment disordered children.
Attendees will earn a Certificate of Attendance for 34 CEUs. Learn more at www.spence-chapin.org/dyadicdevelopment .
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) recently announced the awardees for the 2011-12 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Prevention and Post Adoption grants. Spence-Chapin's FACES - Foster-Adoption Counseling, Education and Support- program was one of the honorees. The FACES program supports families who have adopted from foster care, or are at any stage in the process of adopting from foster care. The program provides FREE counseling in both English and Spanish.
FACES also offers FREE on-site trainings for child welfare professionals.
For more information FACES contact Jana Leonard at FACES@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0267 .
In South Africa, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a "granny" through Spence-Chapin's Granny Program.