spence-chapin adoption

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.

Adoption FAQ Fridays

Each Friday during National Adoption Month we are promoting a Frequently Asked Question about options counseling and adoption The Spence-Chapin Way to help everyone better understand how options counseling, including interim care, and the adoption process works at Spence-Chapin. Read all of the questions and answers below!

What is Open Adoption?

Answer: Open Adoption is having some form of communication and contact between the adoptive family and the birth family over time. Today, the majority of adoptions are done with some degree of openness, with the extent and frequency of contact varying from family to family. Open adoptions have been shown through various studies to benefit all members of the adoption triad—adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. At Spence-Chapin, the open adoption process is led by birth parents, who can decide what kind of communication–if any–that they want to have in the future, which can include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Spence-Chapin helps adoptive families and birth families craft an open adoption agreement, and our social workers provide counseling and guidance during the planning process, and at any time in their lifelong journeys.

What is the Adoption Triad?

Answer: Adoption triad is a term used to the three groups that make up adoption: the adoptee, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. The adoptee is the child who is being adopted. The birth parents are the biological parents of the child. The adoptive parents are the individual or couple who adopts the child. Spence-Chapin supports all members of the adoption triad through our community programming, counseling, and support groups. We believe it is important to provide a space where all members in the adoption triad can come at any point in their lives to receive guidance, advice, counseling, and community.

What is Options Counseling?

Answer: Options counseling is a free service that Spence-Chapin provides to pregnant women and women who have recently given birth who are unsure about parenting. Our social workers review all options available in a safe space where women can talk about their questions and concerns and not face judgement or bias. Spence-Chapin works with local organizations to help women access resources and assistance based on their choice. Spence-Chapin will travel to meet with women seeking counseling anywhere in New Jersey and the New York City metro area (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Westchester).

What is Interim Care?

Answer: We understand that women and their partners need appropriate time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth. Placing their newborn in Interim Care allows biological parents to continue counseling to fully explore their options while knowing their baby is being cared for by a nurturing caregiver in a loving home. Birth parents retain their legal rights while the baby is in care and are encouraged to visit their baby. Our services are free for biological parents while they take the days or even a few weeks to make a decision.

Why consider Adoption?

Answer: This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have made an adoption plan for their child. Many say it’s because they aren’t ready or able to fully parent a child at this time but want to stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find a family who can. Others choose to make a private open adoption plan instead of involvement with the public child welfare system.

Who are the Adoptive Families? How are adoptive families selected?

Answer: Spence-Chapin works hard to recruit diverse families that are hoping to adopt a child. Our waiting families vary in age, background, family structure, religion, etc. After submitting an application, each family must attend several webinars and trainings to ensure that they are ready to begin the adoption process. Spence-Chapin then conducts a home study to get to know the family and their home environment more. When a birth parent is making an adoption plan, she is presented with information and descriptions of all of our waiting families and can select a family of her choice to set up a meeting with. If all goes well at the meeting, our social workers help the birth parents and adoptive family to create an open or closed adoption plan, depending on the birth parents’ preference. Spence-Chapin works closely with the birth parents and adoptive family every step of the way to placement and continues to provide lifelong guidance and support through counseling, community programming, and support groups.

Spence-Chapin has all types of waiting families! They vary in age, background, family, structure, religion, etc. They are all eager to adopt and provide a loving family to a child. You will be able to meet and connect with the people you select. Adoptive parents registered with Spence-Chapin have been screened by our social workers and prepared for open adoption. You can also browse through profiles on our website.

Orphan Sunday: Join Us to Support Vulnerable Children

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Orphan Sunday is about raising awareness of the many children here and around the world who are in need of a loving and nurturing adoptive family. On November 11, 2018 Spence-Chapin will once again join the Orphan Sunday movement to help bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and single women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Whether living in a children’s home or with a foster family, today we stand alongside every child who has been disconnected from the possibility of a permanent family.

Spence-Chapin advocates for children in the New York Metro area and around the world through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. We also offer lifelong support for children and their families through our counseling, parent coaching and post-adoption support services.

Building and strengthening families is our top priority. We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition, and we focus on finding families for the most vulnerable children: the thousands of pre-school and school-age children, sibling groups, and children with medical needs living in orphanages and foster care around the world.


To learn more about domestic and international adoption at Spence-Chapin, or to view profiles of Waiting Children ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.

To learn about post-adoption support services and community programs, contact us at 646-539-2167 or info@modernfamilycenter.org.

Domestic Adoption Story: Mary and Sal

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Mary McCabe is a social worker at Spence-Chapin and a new mom through domestic adoption. With Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month on the brain, we asked her the question: What are you thankful for?
“Having a child was always a dream of ours. After unsuccessful fertility treatments, we decided to adopt. My sister was adopted, and I was an adoption counselor, so it was a natural progression. I thought I knew all about adoption, but it was more than just paperwork, home studies, and clearances, it was an emotional experience. [We were] waiting for the phone call, the email, or any sign that our prayers were answered.

In September of 2017, a girl named Delia selected my husband and I to parent her unborn child. Delia asked to meet us and shared that she was due in November of 2017. The call was exciting, overwhelming and included a lot of butterflies!

We met with Delia and her mother on a beautiful sunny day at a small café. We were immediately taken back by Delia’s kindness, maturity and her way of making US feel at ease. Delia and I had an immediate connection, as if we had already known each other. My husband sat quietly, afraid to say anything ’wrong’. Delia asked him if he was ‘nervous about being a father’ and he answered, ’yes.’ Delia assured him that he would be a great father. She then turned to both of us and said: “I truly feel this child was never meant for me, and after I saw your profile I knew that the baby I am carrying was always meant for you”. We all cried and hugged each other.

Two weeks later, we found out Delia was having a boy. Her due date was November 22, 2017. Then, we waited. November 22nd passed and there was no word from anyone, the 23rd and 24th passed and still nothing. We were prepared for Delia to parent, and if she did, it would have been ok with us as she was a wonderful person.

On November 25, at 10:15pm, I received a text from Delia saying, ‘I’m in labor, headed to the hospital.’ I sat staring at the text in disbelief. Was it real? Is this really happening? Am I going to be a mom? Within minutes her next text read ‘Your son was just born!’ I ran upstairs to my sleeping husband saying, “our son is born!” In shock, he jumped out of bed and began packing. Delia then texted again to say that she would see us in the morning because it was late, and our drive would be long.

The next morning, with no sleep, we drove to meet our son. It felt like forever, but when we arrived, this perfect little boy was in a crib in Delia’s room. I asked Delia if I could hold him, she said, ‘of course… he is your son. I gently picked him up, telling him how perfect he was, as my husband sat quietly in a chair. I faced our son toward him and said, “this is your son” and he began to cry. I handed our son to him and we all began to cry.

We spent two days with Delia and her family. Delia asked what we would be naming him, and we told her Michael. She said she loved the name. We headed home with Michael on November 27, 2017. We keep in touch withDelia and we look forward to seeing her in a few months.

Michael is now almost 11 months old and he is the love of our lives. We love being parents and cherish everyday with him. The list is endless of the things we love about Michael; his eyes, his smile when he laughs…He loves to snuggle and hearing him say “mama” and “dada” melts our hearts. Our lives have changed forever. He makes us better people; kinder, patient and loving people.”

So, what are we thankful for?
Delia, for making our dream come true.”

To read more from Spence-Chapin families, friends and colleagues touched by adoption, search #ThankfulThursday on our Facebook and Instagram accounts every Thursday throughout National Adoption Month.

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.

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.

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!

Bulgaria Program Updates

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Spence-Chapin’s mission is driven by a fundamental belief that all children deserve a forever family. Since 1995, Spence-Chapin has been finding permanent, loving homes for children in Bulgaria. Our agency partners with ANIDO, a highly reputable non-governmental organization licensed by the Ministry of Justice, Bulgaria’s central authority for adoption. Spence-Chapin is a Hague accredited agency with over 40 years of experience in international adoption and we continue to seek families living anywhere in the United States who are drawn to Bulgaria as the country to build their families and who will embrace the process of incorporating Bulgarian culture into the life of their family going forward.

In July of 2017, we expanded our Bulgaria Program to find permanent, loving families for toddlers, pre-school age and school-age children in Bulgaria. There are thousands of young and school-aged children, sibling groups, and children with special needs in Bulgaria who are waiting for international adoption. The children are typically cared for in state-run institutions, small group homes or foster care. Children reflect the full range of ethnicities in Bulgaria and are primarily Roma or Turkish descent. As ethnic minorities within the country, these children are more vulnerable to factors that leave them in need of a family.

The wait time for adoptive families to be matched with a child after dossier submission to Bulgaria varies based on each family’s openness around age of the child:

  • The wait time to be matched with medically healthy children ages 0-3 years old is approximately 5 years after dossier submission.

  • The wait time to be matched with medically healthy children ages 3-6 years old is approximately 4 years after dossier submission.

  • Families can also request to adopt a healthy sibling group under the age of 6 and the wait time to be matched is approximately 4 years.

In addition to older kids and sibling groups, there are also younger children diagnosed with medical needs, such as Down syndrome and developmental delays, in need of adoption. Families are encouraged to speak with a medical professional who can assist them in determining their family’s particular medical openness. Families open to a child with special needs are typically matched in 6-12 months after dossier submission.

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Waiting Children

In addition to the being matched with a child, adoptive families and Bulgarian children can be matched with a Waiting Child.

Through ANIDO, Spence-Chapin receives profiles of identified Waiting Children who are available for immediate matching with a family several times per year. The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice maintains a Waiting Child registry of over 1,800 children and provides profiles of these children to agencies as one more way for families and children to find one another. The Waiting Child profiles are reflective of all children available for adoption in Bulgaria and range in age and health status.

Spence-Chapin advocates for Waiting Children by featuring their profiles on our website in the hopes of identifying the right family. Families can be matched with a Waiting Child at any phase of their adoption process. Many families adopting older children are often adopting waiting children and therefore don’t experience the typical wait time to be matched.

Current Waiting Children from all of Spence-Chapin’s programs can be viewed on our website.

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

Children in Bulgaria are waiting for you! To learn more about adoption through our Bulgaria program or to view profiles of Waiting Children in Bulgaria ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.