Top 10 Special needs in South Africa Adoption

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 knew we had to reduce barriers to special needs adoption so we have eliminated our professional service fees. Families should consider fees for application, home study, USCIS, and country fees. Our rough estimate is that these adoption fees will total about $10,000. We know that by removing barriers to adoption we can find the families these children are waiting for!

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!

7 Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Child with HIV/AIDS

There are children in both the US and abroad with HIV or AIDs waiting to be adopted. The miracle of medications has made HIV a mostly manageable chronic disease, but not every family is cut out to raise a child with HIV. Are you? Answer these questions to find out.

  1. Are you willing and do you have the time to become informed about the realities of raising a child with HIV/AIDS? Education is a must and it takes time.
  2. Do you have medical resources near you that specialize in the treatment of HIV/AIDS?
  3. Are you organized and disciplined enough to make sure that your child takes her medication on time every day? It’s not a hard medication routine, but it does require consistency.
  4. Have you considered the time demands of parenting a child with a chronic illness? While HIV/AIDS is often well controlled with medication, it still requires regular visits to a doctor.
  5. Have you considered the negative stigma that continues to surround children with this virus? Are you willing to advocate for your child?
  6. Who will you tell about your child’s HIV status? By law, families are not required to disclose the HIV status of a child to schools or daycare centers; however, you may choose to tell people for any number of reasons. You need to spend the time before you adopt considering the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure.
  7. Are you able to push back your fear and open your heart to one of the thousands of kids with HIV currently waiting in the US and abroad for adoption?

This content was originally published by Creating a Family, the national adoption & infertility education nonprofit. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/7-questions-to-ask-before-adopting-a-child-with-hivaids/

Visiting our Partners in South Africa

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.

(1)SOUTH AFRICA-PRETORIA-JACARANDA-BLOSSOM

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.

Africa 2012 274 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”.

animal mosaicOver 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.

Africa 2012 015Ethembeni, 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.

kid and granny do puzzleWe 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.

By Ben Sommers, Associate Director of International Programs, Spence-Chapin

Reflections on Nelson Mandela

 

The staff and community of Spence-Chapin stand in solidarity with our partners in South Africa, the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, who are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. The Executive Director of Jo’burg Child Welfare, Lyn, shares her two experiences meeting Mr. Mandela.

The first occasion was his birthday after becoming President. Jo’burg Child Welfare was contacted and asked to organize a birthday party for street children from all over South Africa which was held in Johannesburg at Gold Reef City. Children were bused, came by train or flew to Jo-burg for the day.  I happened to be on holiday in KZN and my husband insisted that I should not miss being at the party, so he paid for me to fly back to Jo’burg for the day. I traveled to Durban very early in the morning and, coincidentally, I happened to be on a plane full of street children. Their excitement was so palpable, it could have lifted the plane off the runway.  At the luncheon, Madiba came around to talk to each guest, holding hands with each person throughout and thanking everyone for the contribution made to children’s services.

My next meeting was most unexpected. I had been given a scholarship to attend a course at Babson College in Boston and wanted to give the sponsors a memorable gift.  I bought the book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and asked a board member who was married to a cabinet minister whether she could have the book autographed by Madiba.  He had been out of the country and the board member managed to get around his gatekeeper.  Madiba indicated that the only time available was at 07:00 am on the day I was flying to the US.  I received a telephone call at 07:15 am to say that I should quickly get to his home, as he wished to meet me over coffee.  Needless to say, I was totally overawed.

Lyn explains that Nelson Mandela Lyn and Spence-Chapin staffhad a close connection with Jo’burg Child Welfare because his previous wife, Winnie, was a social worker at JCW in the 1960’s. Lyn writes, “Jo’burg Child Welfare was also blessed with Madiba’s generosity. Our Thembalethu Street Girls Project in the inner city was one of the three beneficiaries that received a donation from Madiba following his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.”

Lyn remembers that Madiba was humble and thanked her for her dedication and contribution made to children’s services. She was struck by “the selfless attitude shown by a man who gave his life to ensure freedom for all in South Africa. He strongly understood the importance of children being protected and raised with a family despite his incarceration that denied him the opportunity to be part of his own children’s upbringing.”

We mourn together with our partners and the people of South Africa at this difficult time, and we echo Lyn’s words: “It is important for us, however, to celebrate his life and emulate his values.”

 

Adopting a Child with HIV

Last year we were thrilled to announce the opening of our South Africa adoption program.  Since then, we have learned more about the process, the children and the needs of the South African child welfare community.  We have learned that in South Africa, the number of children in need of families continues to grow and that these children are AIDS orphans who need families that can care for them properly.  In all, there are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa: children who are no longer babies, children with special needs and children who are part of sibling groups often remain in orphanages for years, waiting for a loving family to change their lives.

Soon after opening this program we met Megan and Cameron.adoptive family Already experienced parents (2 sons adopted from Ethiopia and Uganda), Megan and Cameron felt their family was still not quite complete.  As the couple started to look into their options, one theme kept rising above the rest; in blogs and forums and from their own hearts came the idea of adopting a child with HIV.  As Megan put it, “We did not know much about HIV – I knew that Magic Johnson had HIV. That’s about it.”  But soon they learned more – a great deal more.  They learned that with the right medication, children can have happy lives with a normal life expectancy.  They even learned that, despite the stigma the disease still carries, the CDC (Center For Disease Control) has actually removed HIV from its list of communicable diseases. Knowing this, the couple approached Spence-Chapin to adopt a child from South Africa diagnosed with HIV.  They are now in the process of completing the paperwork and hope for a child match soon.

Megan and Cameron know that in the future, their choice to parent a child with HIV HIV Quotewill be questioned.  They know they have a journey ahead to educate their community and to line up the resources their child will need to live a full life.  When asked what it is about their family that led them to this choice, when so many others tend to overlook these children, the couple seemed surprised by the question.  Says Megan, “I don’t think our family is any different; I just think we have been given the proper education.  We have the information, so we do not fear the HIV stigma. This is something all families can learn!”

As with many of the other international programs in which we work, we see children who are waiting for a family longer than any child should have to.  Children born with the HIV virus have the opportunity to lead long, full and healthy lives, but only if the child welfare and medical communities join forces to provide the care and permanency that every child deserves.  As we grow our South Africa program, our commitment to these children is stronger than ever.  With education, advocacy and adoption, we hope to provide every child with what Megan and Cameron hope for their future child: “We want people to love our child as a person first.  We want them to see that our child is in no way diminished or stigmatized and with no asterisk beside his or her name.”

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Adoption from South Africa

Megan and Cameron now… 2 sons from Ethiopia and Uganda, and a daughter from South Africa.

 

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.