Family Story: Chris and Mary

Davila family

Photo by Jess Rotenberg Photography – www.jessrotenberg.com

Chris and Mary share their story of adopting their daughter from South Africa.

The Davila family knew they wanted to grow their family through adoption after a mission trip to Liberia brought them face to face with the children who were in need of family. They wasted little time after their realization that adoption was right for them. Two years later were able to adopt their daughter Arri from Ethiopia. Another two years flew by, and they knew they were ready to adopt again.

After years of searching for the right program, Chris and Mary finally decided that the South Africa program at Spence-Chapin was a perfect fit for their family. According to Mary, they came to this conclusion because they were encouraged by the answers that they got about the South Africa program. They liked that the children placed internationally tend to fall into a more vulnerable category of having special needs, being older, or being part of a sibling group. And also “we were encouraged by Spence-Chapin’s enthusiasm about the program and their honesty about the adoption process.”

One of Chris and Mary’s most memorable moments in the adoption process was when they received “the call”. They had been matched with a 20 month old little girl! A few months later they travelled to South Africa with their four year old daughter on what they describe as a transformative trip for their family.

“We are so grateful that our whole family was able to be in South Africa together. We were welcomed with open arms and made so many friends there. We met our daughter, Etta, on our first full day in country and it was love at first sight. Etta took to our older daughter, Arri, in a heartbeat, and one of our most cherished memories is the sight of Arri taking Etta by the hand, walking her out of her care center for the last time, and into the arms of our forever family.”

The Davila family was struck by the commitment of the staff to the children in their care at Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa. Mary says that their social worker was “a saint who advocates tirelessly for the children and also manages to be 100% on top of all of the paperwork involved in an adoption.” They took comfort in knowing that their social worker would be by their side in every meeting in South Africa and that she knew their daughter: her personality, likes, and dislikes. She was available to answer questions at any hour of the day and clearly loved the children.

Chris and Mary have been home with Etta for about eight months. They describe Etta as “playful, hilariously funny, and sweet, sweet, sweet. “ According to Mary, their family transition has been very smooth.

“We are so grateful to Spence Chapin for helping us grow our family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa, please visit our South Africa program page or contact us at info@spence-chapin.org.

74 Year-Old Adoptee Advocates for Open Records

From my oldest memory I always knew that I was adopted and never hid that fact. I grew up Brooklyn, graduated from Bernard M Baruch College, got married, and had two children. I was never very interested in finding out more about my adoption, but my wife and children asked me from time to time. Then about 5 years ago I was going through some old papers and came across the legal adoption papers as filed with the court. That triggered my search. The agency I was adopted through was Louise Wise, which no longer exists, and I was referred to Spence-Chapin.  I contacted Spence-Chapin and after filling out the necessary paperwork I was contacted by one of their social workers. Needless to say, I was extremely anxious to get the info. She gave me much information that I had never known and I found it very interesting. But when pressed for additional information I was told that she could not reveal anything more as she was bound by law. I told her that was archaic and ridiculous considering the current state of adoption. She agreed and told me that was it. Subsequently I tried to coordinate the information that she had given me with the US Census for 1940, but that became a huge project.

I have shared my current journey with my family – wife, daughters, and 7 grandchildren.  They are all interested in finding out about this part of my life… their lives.

As suggested by Spence-Chapin, I sent an email to the New York State senate, asking them to oppose Bill A2901a that prevents adoptees from receiving their original birth certificates:

Dear Senator, 
I have also written to you via the senate general email.

The essence of my email is that I am asking that this proposed law be changed to the original.  As presented currently A2901A will forever close the Door on my search for complete information on my adoption.  

I am 74 years old and recently (5+ years ago) came upon my formal legal adoption papers while going through my mother’s papers.

This triggered my search and with the help of Spence-Chapin learned as much about my family history as was permitted under the current law.  I was hoping that before long that the law would be changed so that I could complete the search, not only for myself but for my wife, daughters, and seven grandchildren.

I do not understand the logic behind this amendment.  Having a Judge decide with all of the pre-conditions is a sure way of preventing many people who are in search of information. 

I have never written about any piece of legislation till now.

If I could make one statement to the Legislator it would be, “walk in my shoes as well as let the sunlight in.”

Paul Pruzan (Birth Name: David Cohen, born August 29, 1940)

Mentorship Celebration

DSC_0156With summer approaching, our Mentorship Program is winding down a successful eighth year! However, before school breaks for the summer, our mentors, mentees, and their families participated in our first ever year-end Mentorship Celebration. Over a delicious lunch, we enjoyed photos and videos from the years’ events, honored our four graduating seniors (Emily, Lillia, Elena, and Pooja, who have collectively been with the program for over 10 years!) and acknowledged the incredible efforts and commitment of our volunteer adult mentors!

At the end of the year, we like to look back and reflect on what we’ve accomplished. When we asked our teens “What is the best part of the mentorship program?” the themes we heard most often are:
• “Learning there are others like me and feeling connected, sharing stories and finding kindred spirits”
• “Meeting other adopted teens who don’t know me from school so I could talk about whatever I wanted”
• “Getting to meet other people who are adopted and being able to have fun and discuss adoption”
• “Meeting other people who know how it feels to be adopted”

One of our graduating seniors is Lilia, born in Bulgaria and adopted at the age of 2. She is preparing to head off to Johnson and Wales University in the fall to study Sports Management, and has been a dynamic, energetic, and positive addition to the program. Before she heads off on her next adventure, Lillia wanted to share her feelings about being in the Mentorship Program:

DSC_0163“I really loved being part of the mentorship group. It was great meeting so many kids and adults and sharing our adoption stories. It was important for me to make friends with other adoptees. We did a lot of fun activities-Chelsea Piers Sports Complex, a scavenger hunt, ice skating, and games in Central Park… I am also hoping to plan a trip to Bulgaria sometime in the future!”

When we hear these words and sentiments, we know we are providing a necessary and important program for the adoption community. Mentorship is a key support to many adoptees in forming healthy identity, having a safe and inclusive place to explore genuinely difficult feelings, and bringing all members of the adoption constellation together in support of our young people. This program continues to grow, and to be an inspiration to our staff, our mentors, and of course the young people themselves.

Interested in having your child join the 2015-2016 Mentorship Program? This program is open to adoptees who will be enrolled in middle school and high school this fall. Contact Dana Stallard, LMSW, Adoptee Services Coordinator at 212-360-0213 or dstallard@spence-chapin.org to learn more!

Adopting a Sibling Group

SiblingsBlogPostOver 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 info@spence-chapin.org 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

 

Let Me Know My True Name

UnknownMy name is Allie Herskovitz. I am a junior at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, NY.  I am a varsity cheerleader, study dance, serve as a volunteer with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua, and am working on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I was adopted domestically at birth and since fourth grade I have participated in several Spence-Chapin groups.

This winter, as an English assignment, I was asked to write an editorial on any topic important to me. Just a month before I had traveled out West and met members of my birth family for the first time. I was fortunate because my mom had kept all the documents from my adoption. I was able to make the connection without much of a search. My experience was very positive in many ways; however, I had attended a Spence-Chapin reunion workshop in 2014 and knew it could be very different- and frustrating- for many adoptees. When my teacher assigned the editorial I had reunion issues on my mind, so I decided to research and write about adoptee access to U.S. birth records. What I learned has made me a strong advocate for full and open access-for every adoptee.

Imagine that you were denied access to all information about your birth. No original birth certificate. No names of your birthparents. You might not even know where or even when you were born. How might you feel? For adoptees born in forty- three U.S. states this is current law- we are denied access to our original birth records. We are banned by the state from knowing our true origins. This practice of “sealing” birth records for adoptions began in Minnesota with the intention to overcome attitudes about the shame of adoption and illegitimacy. Over time almost all U.S. states banned adoptee access. Attitudes in some states have changed in recent decades, but almost six million U.S. born adoptees are still denied their basic birth information. I am one of those adoptees and in 2015 I believe everyone deserves full access to their original birth records as a fundamental human right.

Many Western countries, including England, Scotland and Israel, allow open access. In the United States, adoption regulations are delegated to the states, not the federal government, and the majority of states have laws preventing direct adoptee access to original birth documents. Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, social workers and adoptive parents encouraged states to seal records when an adoption was finalized. By 1950, most states had regulations that forever barred adoptee access. Since then, only a few states have changed their laws. Currently just seven states have completely opened their records, while several others provide for unsealing with restrictions. For example, Maryland and Iowa only allow access through a “mutual consent registry” and Nebraska allows adoptive parents, as well as birth parents, to veto unsealing.

Researching the history of U.S. adoption, I learned that over the years adoptees have been denied their records for three main reasons. The first reason, strongly promoted by some prominent adoption lobbies, has been the protection of birth parent confidentiality. According to this argument, unsealing records now would betray a promise of anonymity made at the time of the adoption. However, in the only two legal cases that have ever ruled on this claim, the courts have said open records laws do not violate privacy rights. The second reason dates from decades past when adoption was viewed as a stigma and spoken only in whispers. During the Depression and after WWII, issuing “amended” birth certificates became routine and helped to reinforce a “culture of shame that stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and adoption”. A third rationale is a concern for “disruption,” that sharing original birth information would disturb the lives of the adoption triad-birthparents, adoptive parents, or the adoptee. While some adoptive parents may still favor closed records for this reason, recent surveys show they are now a small minority. The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption, and rather than viewing open access as a disruption, states that sealed records are “detrimental to the psychological well-being of the adopted child”.

Among the public, as well as different members of the adoption community, there is a growing consensus that adoptees deserve full access. My family and I strongly support this position. We reject the age old reasons for sealing birth records. We see no valid justification for the state to deny me my original birth documents. I should have the same rights under the law as anyone else born in the United States- the right to know who I am. I should be allowed unrestricted access to my original birth certificate so I may know critical legal, medical, and genealogical information. That knowledge is part of my true identity. One organization, Adoption Find, really speaks for me when they state, “Adoptees did not sign away their rights. Identity is a human right…Adoption is not magic. Babies do not disappear into a void, never to be heard from again. We are real living, breathing people who deserve the same history, and wholeness of being that every non-adoptee takes for granted”.

Anyone favoring open access has opportunities to change state laws. At the current time, several states including Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Connecticut, have legislation under consideration that would expand adoptee access to their birth records. Citizens of these states, as well as all individuals advocating open access, can write to their state representatives. They can also write letters to their local newspapers and make donations to organizations that encourage unsealed records, such as Spence-Chapin.

According to one advocacy website, thelostdaughters.com, “what is missing the most in adoption is the truth”. Like so many American adoptees, I am not allowed by state law to see my original birth certificate. I believe it is time to get past the old arguments and to unseal every U.S. birth record. Without a change in the law, I could spend a lifetime of longing and searching for my true identity.

Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bulgaria

1. Bulgarians shake their heads to mean yes and nod for no.

nod yes

2. Bulgaria produces 70% of the rose oil in the world, which is primarily used in fragrances but is also known for being great for your skin.

rose oil

3. Founded seven thousand years ago, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is the second oldest city in Europe and the biggest and most developed city in Bulgaria.

Sofia, Bulgaria

4. Spartacus, gladiator and escaped slave during the time of the Roman Empire is from modern day Bulgaria. Roman ruins have been unearthed throughout Bulgaria and excavations of artifacts continue to this day.

spartacus

5. Bulgarians have led the way in technological advances, including the invention of the first electronic computer, digital watch and car air bag.

1st electronic computer

6. People often think Bulgaria was part of the former Soviet Union as their Communist party aligned with the Soviet government. Communism ended in 1989 in Bulgaria and the government is now a parliamentary democracy and part of the European Union. The current Prime Minister of Bulgaria is Boyko Borisov; Borisov is also known in Bulgaria for being the oldest professional football (soccer) player.

Boyko Borisov

7. Bulgarian cuisine is largely Mediterranean. Food staples include giant stuffed grape leaves; a feta-like white cheese; salads of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers and parsley, tossed with vinaigrette; and tarator, a combination of Bulgarian yogurt, cucumber, olive oil and garlic. Bulgarian yogurt has a unique taste due to the herb-rich pastures Bulgarian cows and sheep graze and the bacteria used to make it. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the local strain of bacteria used in Bulgarian yogurt, is so popular that its biggest importers include the European Union, United States and Japan.

bulgarian salad

8. Some of the oldest trees in the world can be found in Bulgaria’s forests which cover 35% of the land; most of the forest has been designated with environmental protection by the European Union.

Bulgarian forest

9. Bulgaria is located in southeastern Europe. Considering its size, Bulgaria has a huge variety of topographical features, including over 540 rivers, mountain ranges, and beaches along the Black Sea.  The southern part of Bulgaria bordering Macedonia and Greece experiences Mediterranean climates while other regions experience a broader range of seasonal changes in temperature.

map of Bulgaria

10. “Name Days” are celebrated in addition to birthdays in Bulgaria. As a matter of fact, most Bulgarians value their ‘Name Day’ more than their birthday. A Name Day, or “Saints Day” is celebrated by people named after a particular Saint (e.g. everyone named Peter celebrates Saint Peter’s day).

happy name day

 

Click here to learn more about our Adoption from Bulgaria program online.