The Children in Need of Adoption in South Africa

We’ve known for many years that there are children in South Africa who need adoptive families, but it took many years for the governmental permissions to grant Spence-Chapin as an accredited adoption provider in South Africa. Adoptions opened to American families in 2013 and Spence-Chapin has been actively finding families ever since! South Africa is signatory to the Hague so adoptive families have the benefits of the Hague Treaty, which is designed to ensure that international adoption is a transparent, ethical process with an established infrastructure to protect and support children and families.

We made many visits to our partners in Johannesburg, Johannesburg Child Welfare, to visit with their social workers and the children. It became clear that the children in need of international adoption are toddlers and young children with medical needs. JCW shared their proud history of a robust domestic adoption program and finding families for healthy infants. Their social workers noted that even other international adoptive families were not open to adopting children with special needs – and this is where Spence-Chapin knew we could make a difference.

It’s a simple focus: the kids who are the most vulnerable and are in need of adoption. We are their advocates.

The children are living in JCW’s care in the Johannesburg metro region. They are cared for in nurseries with caring staff. JCW partners with a Thusanani Children’s Foundation to provide safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc.

Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children – the children who are ready for adoption and need an international adoptive family. These are kids from 18 months – 8 years old with an identified medical diagnosis. It’s this medical diagnosis that’s been a barrier for domestic adoptive families and other international adoptive families.

There are millions of children around the world living with HIV who are waiting for a family. Years ago, immigration laws prohibited HIV+ children from being adopted into American families. After advocacy, legislation was passed allowing for the intercountry adoption of these children. There are many families open to adopting a child who is HIV+ and have the resources to provide the medical care and love an adoptive family can provide!

Spence-Chapin is an advocate for all types of parents to adopt – single men & women, married and unmarried couples, and LGBTQ parents. It’s exciting for us to partner with JCW who is also open to all types of parents! All types of parents can adopt from South Africa – married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQ parents, single women, and single men. The South Africa government is committed to a practice of non-discrimination and we’ve seen this be true in our adoption program as married couples, LGBTQ parents, as well as single parents have adopted! It truly is about finding the right parent(s) for a child!

We strive to reduce barriers to adoption and that’s why Spence-Chapin advocates fiercely for all types of parents to be eligible to adopt, sets our Professional Service fees lower than average adoption costs, and provides financial resources whenever possible. All families adopting through Spence-Chapin have access to the Adoption Finance Coach, a private coach who offers adoptive families the tools they need to create a customized financial plan to fund their adoption. Our commitment to adoptive parents, adopted people, and birth parents is why we guide families with lifelong support and education through our Modern Family Center.

Spence-Chapin sponsors a “Granny Program” at JCW to help the children develop the important socioemotional bonds that needs to accompany childhood. This program brings local women from the community into the nursery everyday. Each granny volunteer is matched with a child and the granny visits everyday and plays with the child – like a surrogate grandparent! We see an incridble progress made by children who are matched with a granny. In South Africa the children call their grannies “gogo”!

Listen to the gogos sing a song!

Are you considering adopting a child with special needs? Children in South Africa are waiting for you! It takes a special type of parent to adopt a child with medical needs. We’re here for you before, during, and after your adoption to provide information and support to your family!

Championing the Waiting Child

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.

South Africa Adoption Program: Program Development

Orphanages around the world have one thing in common: beautiful children who deserve a loving family to call their own.  While this theme is consistent, there are numerous differences that set them apart.  As the Coordinator of Program Development at Spence-Chapin, it is my responsibility to establish adoption programs that will be successful.  Success, in this context, is defined as identifying countries where there are children in need of families and confirming that the country has systems in place to process adoptions in a transparent and ethical manner.  South Africa meets these criteria perfectly.

Spence-Chapin South Afica Adoption Program

So what makes South Africa different?  Having placed children with families from Belgium and Finland for many years, Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW) is experienced in international adoptions and has formalized procedures in place.  They are involved in all phases of the adoption process from monitoring the children in care to providing families with a cultural integration program while in South Africa.  JCW is responsible for written reports on the children, assessment of families, and providing the Central Authority with recommendations for placement; the process that JCW has established is about as seamless as it gets.


The care of the children is another area where this program differentiates itself.  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. While many orphanages around the world struggle to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, the orphanages we visited in SoutSpence-Chapin South African Adoption Programh Africa were able to go above and beyond.  Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, in 2011 Spence-Chapin established its first Granny Program in Africa at the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years.  Through this program, children are paired with experienced women in these communities, who spend special, one-on-one time with each of them. During our visit in July 2012 we witnessed the commitment of the staff and Grannies, and the genuine concern for the children.  Additionally, JCW has contracted with outside organizations including The Big Shoes Foundation and Thusanani Children’s Foundation who provide medical and developmental servicesJCW provides the children in their care with a solid foundation which inevitably makes the transition into their forever family that much smoother.

In short, when examining international adoption options, need and infrastructure often do not go hand in hand.  However, South Africa proves that it can be done and as a result children receive the critical love and care they need until they join their forever family.

 Gina Pariani, Spence-Chapin

Visit our Flickr set to see more pictures from this trip.


South Africa Granny Program

This spring Spence-Chapin proudly started our first Granny Program in Africa with the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years. Othandweni is operated by Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), one of the oldest, largest and most respected organizations of its kind in the country.   In September JCW and Othandweni held a dedication event to introduce the program to the local Soweto community, which was attended by many community members and local media.

South Africa Granny Program

Every week, Monday through Friday, 20 children spend quality one-on-one time with their grannies.  JCW staff reports that they immediately began to see changes in the participating children, who now look for their grannies every day!

The introduction of a granny to a young child is literally life-changing; it gives that child the opportunity to live a healthy, confident and well-adjusted life. Orphanages are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of the children in their care and are asking for programs like this one to help them improve the lives of these little ones.

Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.


Moldova: Grannies, Children and a Harvest Festival

Ann Hassan, Spence-Chapin’s Humanitarian Aid Coordinator, posts her second report on a staff visit to Chisinau, Moldova.

As we entered the Municipal Children’s Home in Chisinau, which has had a Granny Program since 2005, we walked into an autumn festival! The room was decorated with leaves, branches and fruits of the harvest. It was beautiful, welcoming and also playful—as the decorations were interspersed with children’s artwork. The decor also included folk elements which captured the essence of traditional Moldovan culture. The day kicked off with a well-orchestrated performance by the grannies and children together. The emcee was one of the original grannies who has been with the program since its launch. She was dressed in a traditional costume featuring a beautiful hand-embroidered blouse and vest, with a long skirt and sash in bright colors.  As the children marched into the room, we were delighted to see that many of them were also wearing traditional outfits.

Each group of children had center stage for its presentations—songs, dancing, poetry and games. The performances were so engaging that we couldn’t help humming and clapping to the music. Milena Kazakov, the coordinator for our adoption programs in Moldova and Bulgaria, and I were even able to put our Balkan folk dancing lessons to use, as we were beckoned to join the circle of dancing children and grannies. A staff member’s accompaniment on the accordion kept the energy and spirit upbeat. The way the children watched their grannies as they performed together was a clear visual testament of the bonding that has occurred between them and that is helping the children make developmental progress. We were moved to see how the staff, grannies and children worked seamlessly together in preparing this celebration in our honor.  Before the children went to their rooms for a nap, they gave us pictures made of their handprints as keepsakes of our autumn celebration.

Afterwards, we were treated to a delicious traditional meal including placinta and an intricate round bread with designs of leaves and birds—homemade by some of the grannies.  At the end of the feast, there were speeches. The psychologist who supervises the Granny Program on site gave a summary of how it has been working, which perfectly reflected the concept of the Granny Program.  Then the grannies shared stories about how happy they are to be a part of the program and some of the special interactions they have had with their children.  The Director spoke eloquently about how much she values the collaboration between her children’s home and Spence-Chapin.

With the official business of the day behind us, we were all connecting and communicating with smiles, gestures and the occasional Moldavian word that we had picked up during the day.  Dr. Maria, director of the children’s home, brought me one of the displays as a token gift—a gourd decorated as a snake by the children.  I loved it and wanted to take it home with us to New York.  One of the grannies put it into a box, and the others spontaneously began adding things—fall leaves, apples, branches, and even the bird from atop the round bread. Until there it was…a box brimming with love and appreciation.  We were moved by what this box represents, and the idea that both parties in this long collaborative relationship give just as they receive.  Stay tuned to find out whether we are able to get the box through customs…we hope to share the generous spirit of our Moldovan friends with everyone at Spence-Chapin in New York.

Moldova: An Adoption Journal

Ann Hassan, Spence-Chapin’s Humanitarian Aid Coordinator, is reporting on a trip to Moldova and Bulgaria.

MOLDOVA—What a coincidence to arrive in Moldova to visit Spence-Chapin’s two Granny Programs on September 6, the very day that this small nation celebrates Babushka Day, the day of the grandmother! Here with me are Rita Taddonio, Director of our Adoption Resource Center, and Milena Kazakov, Coordinator of our Moldovan and Bulgarian Adoption programs.

Our first visit was to the Republican Children’s Home in the capital city of Chisinau. We drove down a street lined with mulberry trees and pulled into the grounds of the children’s home where we were welcomed by the staff who had been anticipating our visit for several months. Gathered inside were the grannies from both of our vibrant Granny Programs in Moldova. Our host, the Republican Children’s Home, is the site of our Granny Program that started just six months ago in April 2010. Also present were veteran grannies and staff from the Municipal Children’s Home (also in Chisinau), where a Granny Program was initiated five years ago.

This was the first time that all 20 Moldovan grannies gathered in one room to share ideas and exchange stories. It was exhilarating to see a room full of so many people devoted to the same idea—providing love and guidance to children who are deprived of parental care. It was heartwarming to see the familiar faces of grannies we met on previous visits; and to witness the enthusiasm and energy of women who are new to the program.

Everyone came together today in order to attend a training by Spence-Chapin’s child development expert Rita Taddonio.  As she has done previously in China, Colombia and Russia, Rita offered an overview of attachment theory which highlights the theoretical underpinnings of the design of the Granny Program. During the training Rita invited the grannies to share stories about their personal experiences with the kids.  The grannies expressed an appreciation for the practical nature of the training which gave them an in-depth understanding of their role and validated the importance of their day-to-day interactions with the children.

Ending the day on a perfect note, we were treated to a performance of songs and poetry by the children of the Republican Home’s Granny Program.   An adorable young boy of just 5 years old recited a poem written for the occasion:

My Granny is the best!

She shows me how to be.

How to live a good life and respect other people…

This and many other good things kindly my Granny keeps saying.

I know she wants me to grow up protected, happy and healthy.

It was a full day…we returned to the hotel filled with wonderful impressions, ideas and anticipation of what our second day in Moldova would bring.

Visiting the Tula Granny Program

Linda Wright, director of development, comments on the visit she made at the end of March to an orphanage in Tula, Russia, where Spence-Chapin has sponsored a Granny Program to help those children most at risk, through daily, individual attention from women in the community.

For many years, I’ve listened to our social workers describe their experiences in orphanages and looked at thousands of pictures of the children living in them.  Last month I found myself standing outside the orphanage in Tula, Russia, where Spence-Chapin had just started to sponsor a Granny Program – our newest and first in Russia.  The Children’s Home and grounds were visually pleasing.  In fact, in 2005 Spence-Chapin helped the staff at this orphanage replace dirt patches with grassy fields, install secure fencing, curbs and sidewalks, and purchase child-friendly playground equipment with a grant from The W. O’Neil Foundation.  What a joy to see the results of the project in person!

Entering the Children’s Home I was struck by its bright walls, open spaces and cleanliness.  Five years ago, the director and her staff oversaw the renovation of the entire facility.  It is a model, both in its physical appearance and its operation.  The director, who was previously with a pediatric unit in a local hospital, and her staff are totally committed to “doing what’s best for the children.”  She is determined to “maximize each child’s ability to go to a family.”  It was immediately clear to me this attitude is exactly what we wanted for the successful implementation of Spence-Chapin’s Granny Program in an institution where dedicated staff care for 70 children (infants to age 4), all with special needs of varying seriousness.

After an intensive two-day training with Rita Taddonio, director of Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Resource Center and early child development specialist, the eight grannies and staff members were eager to begin addressing the children’s cognitive and emotional development.  The director announced at the end of the training that she now felt everyone more fully appreciated the importance of the one-on-one relationship and that she would be matching each granny with two of the children most in need.

After this two day visit to the Children’s Home, we can wholeheartedly assure The W. O’Neil Foundation that their underwriting of this start up of the Tula Granny Program is a wise and compassionate investment that will touch the lives of many children in a very wonderful and lasting way.

Spence-Chapin also sponsors granny programs in Bulgaria, Moldova, China and Colombia.