Reasons Roma Children Need Loving Families

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Roma people represent around 12 million of Europe’s overall population and Bulgaria is home to the third largest population of Roma in the world. We see this reflected in the large population of Roma children in need of families in Spence-Chapin’s Bulgaria adoption program. Though the Roma are an estimated 5% to 10% of the general population in Bulgaria, around 60% of the children in need of permanent families are of Roma descent. Why are such a large number of Roma children in need of adoptive families?

_49096443__49044278_europe_roma_popnTo begin scratching the surface of why many Roma children are waiting for families in Bulgaria, exploring the larger scope of Romani history is an important first step. The Roma make up the largest and most vulnerable ethnic group in Europe. After migrating from India over a thousand years ago, the Roma people have endured oppression and discrimination. Yet quite remarkably, they have been able to preserve Romani language and culture.  You may be more familiar with a commonly used term for Roma – “gypsy”. This term is an outdated and historically inaccurate word stemming from a time when Roma people were thought to have come from Egypt. As the term has negative and derogatory connotations, the most widely accepted term today is Roma.

article-2486333-1922058400000578-107_964x635Centuries of structural discrimination and social exclusion have led to the difficulties that Roma people are faced with today, leaving Roma children vulnerable and, at times, in need of loving homes outside of their birth families. The most prevalent issues faced by Roma families include discrimination, poverty, and limited access to education and medical care. While it can be difficult to picture the realities of what social exclusion may look like for a Roma child in Bulgaria, poverty is the most common reason Roma children are over-represented in child care facilities. The World Bank estimates that the poverty rate for families of Roma descent is 6.7 times greater than non-Roma in Bulgaria. Housing conditions illustrate a powerful snapshot of what living in poverty can look like for a Roma family. While sewage and water supply are available to 93% of the Bulgarian population, 50% of Roma families have no sewage and over 30% of families do not have access to a water supply system.

romanogrenci[1]Regular school attendance can be difficult for Roma children due to circumstances caused by poverty. Issues include a lack of transportation, caring for younger siblings and experiencing discrimination in the school system. Teenagers who experience unplanned pregnancy are also faced with difficulties not only in school attendance but also with their health due to a lack of medical care access. This culminates in only 13% of Roma people with high school diplomas compared to 87% of employed non-Roma Bulgarians.

gypsiesLower levels of education lead to higher levels of unemployment and combined with the discrimination faced when seeking work, the Roma experienced an unemployment rate of 59% in 2010 while the national average for unemployment in Bulgaria was 11.6%. Since joining the European Union in 2007, many Roma who have not been able to find employment in Bulgaria have migrated to other European countries for job opportunities. This can create a difficult decision for parents who may not be able to parent their children as they leave the country and then choose to make an adoption plan.

Another factor in the over-representation of Roma children who are adopted internationally highlights the discrimination the Roma people receive within Bulgaria. If a child cannot be raised with their birth family, it is the best choice for a child to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country. Due to a long history of falsely held beliefs and discrimination against the Roma population, Bulgarian families may choose to adopt ethnic Bulgarian children, leaving Roma children waiting longer to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country.

Hundreds of years of oppression have created an environment where Roma children are more vulnerable to factors that leave children in need of a family. While the reasons any Roma child in Bulgaria are in need of a family are complex, Spence-Chapin’s mission is simple – to find families for the most vulnerable children. We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition.  There are thousands of school-age children, sibling groups, and children with special needs languishing in orphanages and foster care in Bulgaria.  These children blossom when given the opportunity, support, and resources to live within the stability and safety of a permanent loving family.

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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..

 

Search & Reunion: Where to Begin

 

Pamela Slaton

Name: Pamela Slaton
Pamela Slaton is a Genealogist and Private Investigator in the State of New Jersey whose business mainly focuses on locating birth families. She is also a Spence-Chapin adoptee. Her area of expertise lies in having the ability to combine historical records with contemporary data.

 

 

 

Jessica

Name: Jessica Luciere

Jessica Luciere is an international adoptee who decided early in her life that she wanted to search for her birth family. She contacted a private investigator in Colombia when she was 23 years old after going through various avenues in New York, and he was able to find her birth mother with the information she had through her birth papers. Her family was found within a week. Jessica has visited her birth family many times in Colombia and maintains a very open relationship with them.

Mark Lacava

Name: Mark Lacava

Mark Lacava is the Director of Clinical Services in the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin. He works with all members of the adoption community and has experience working with individuals embarking on the search and reunion process. He received his Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Foundations of Family Therapy Certificate from the Post-Graduate Program at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. He has been a clinician working with children and families for over 20 years.

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

Tribute Giving: Maria

donation, tribute gift

Maria Gacovino, a Spence-Chapin adoptee of Colombian heritage, celebrated her Quinceanera this year. Along with her parents, Steve and Christine, Maria wanted to do something special to mark the occasion , and decided to use the celebration to raise funds and awareness about international adoption.

Maria, along with brother Michael, were adopted from Colombia, while their brother Luke was adopted domestically, each through Spence-Chapin. Maria’s goal was to ensure that more waiting children in Colombia had the opportunity to be matched with loving, permanent families.

The Gacovinos’ along with their family and friends, eventually raised over $10,000.00 in support of Spence-Chapin’s International Adoption programs and our humanitarian “Granny” program. This funding will go primarily to ensuring that older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs living in international child care centers in Colombia, Bulgaria, and South Africa are placed with waiting families. We are proud to be a part of Maria’s Quinceanera and to have the Gacovinos as a part of the Spence-Chapin Community.

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December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt – but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Meet the Mentors!

Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center Mentorship Program provides an opportunity for middle and high school youth to spend time with peers and adults who share the experience of adoption. These gatherings allow for deeper discussions about what adoption means. Our mentors – trained volunteers – are adoptees who know how to separate typical adolescent issues from adoption-related issues and are thrilled to be supporting young adoptees.

High School Mentors

Name: Catherine 
Adopted From: Wuhan, China
Lives in: Long Island

Catherine I was born in Wuhan, China and adopted into a loving Italian and Irish family at the age of four.  A few years later, my parents and I journeyed back to China and adopted my younger sister.  Growing up adopted and guiding Marielle, my adoptive younger sister, through life has been a rewarding experience. In 2012, I received a B.A. from SUNY Geneseo in Communication and Mass Media.  Shortly after, I attended New York Institute of Technology and graduated with an M.A. in Communication and Mass Media.  While I aspire to be a broadcast journalist, I also developed an interest in interpersonal communication between adoptees and adoptive families during my undergraduate studies.  I look forward to helping adoptive families experience life to the fullest from a positive perspective.

 

Name: Chelsea 
Adopted From: Columbus, Georgia
Lives in: Manhattan

Chelsea I am excited to begin my first year volunteering with the Modern Family Center as a mentor.  I was born in Columbus, GA and was adopted at the age of 1 1/2,  growing up in Decatur, GA.  I studied and received my Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology from Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.  I now live in New York City and am working as a certified Life Coach for young women in transition and part-time as a model.  I also volunteer for an organization called Stand Beside Them, which offers coaching and mentoring services for veterans of the US military who are newly transitioning to civilian life.  When I am not working or volunteering, I enjoy exercising, practicing yoga, cooking, writing, and hanging out with friends.  I am overjoyed to share my journey with others touched by adoption at the Modern Family Center.

 

Name: David 
Adopted From: Binghamton, NY
Lives in: Manhattan

David I was born in Buffalo, NY and adopted in Binghamton, NY at the age of 3 months, through the New York State Department of Children’s Services. I grew up near Binghamton with a younger sister who was also adopted. I have lived in Manhattan for over 20 years.  I am married, with a daughter who is a college freshman. I teach English language to adult immigrants. My students are almost all from China, and they have taught me how to speak a lot of Mandarin Chinese. Also, I can play a few musical instruments. I became a mentor because I would have liked something like this when I was in high school.

 

Name:  Doreen 
Adopted From: New York City
Lives in: Queens

DoreenI am in my second year volunteering for the Mentoring Program. I was born and raised in New York City and currently work in the insurance industry. In my spare time I enjoy crafting/decorating, reading, writing, socializing with friends or just curling up on the couch and watching a funny or romantic movie. I decided to volunteer at Spence-Chapin after reading a newsletter outlining the requirements necessary for the mentor position and feeling that it was a good fit for me. I have always encouraged the youth around me to strive for success no matter what their circumstances are. I believe that there is an entire world out there filled with opportunities and that we can all achieve our dreams if we believe in ourselves.

 

Name: Jessica  
Adopted From:  Bogota, Colombia
Lives in: Manhattan

JessicaI was born in Bogota, Colombia, and adopted when I was three months old. I was raised by my parents on Long Island as an only child.  I always knew about my adoption, my parents telling me from a young age that I was born in Colombia and had come here when I was a baby.  I had decided early in my life that I wanted to search for my birth family and my parents were always supportive of my desire to search. This is my 8th year as a mentor and I’m excited to be back!

 

Name: Andrew 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

AndrewI am a second year mentor and am very excited to be continuing with the Mentorship program.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and am currently employed as a Human Resources Manager for Hilton Hotels.  I have been actively looking to get more involved in volunteer opportunities, and the topic of adoption is something that I am very comfortable talking about and passionate about.  I look forward to actively participating with all of my fellow mentors and to be a resource providing support for the young adults who t are struggling with their adoption identities.

 

Name: Kimberly 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Brooklyn

KimberlyI was born in Seoul, South Korea and was placed with my adoptive family at 6 months through Spence-Chapin. I currently work in Manhattan as an analytics consultant and enjoy international travel, writing, trying out the latest fitness crazes, and going to the movies with my husband. This is my third year as a mentor and I enjoy being a positive role model for adoptees as well as just listening to what’s on the mentees’ minds. I remembered attending Spence-Chapin programs when I was young and they provided a positive outlook on adoption in my life.

 

Name: Sara 
Adopted From: South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

SaraI am a project engineer, designer, and leadership coach. I love live music, film, street art, and am more recently fascinated by co-housing as another way to create a greater sense of community. This will be my 6th year as a mentor. I have participated in the Middle School program and am now a mentor in the High School program. I was born in South Korea, and actually had the opportunity to travel there with my younger adoptive sister in 2008. It was an amazing experience to be connected with my birth place heritage through actual places and people and experiencing  tangible aspects of Korean culture. Ever since then, I have wanted to give back to Spence-Chapin and help create a safe space of relatedness and community for fellow adoptees. I look forward to seeing you in the Fall!

 

Name: Mee Jin 
Adopted From: Daegu, South Korea
Lives in: Queens

Mee JinI am entering my sixth year as a mentor. My first three years were with the middle school group and this is my third year with the teens. I was born in Daegu, South Korea and was adopted through Spence-Chapin when I was ten months old. I grew up in northern NJ with my parents and an older sister. Currently, I am adjusting to life as a new homeowner in Queens, where I live with my husband. I work for Fidelity Investments in public relations and in my free time I enjoy traveling and spending time with my family – especially my three nieces and nephew. I love being a mentor as I value the opportunity to be in a community with other adoptees, yet appreciate that everyone brings unique experiences and perspectives.

 

Middle School Mentors

Name: Lacey
Adopted From: Seoul, Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

LaceyI am looking forward to my second year as a mentor. I was born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted through Spence-Chapin at the age of three months. My parents say they knew I was meant to be theirs because my birthday falls on their wedding anniversary. From the moment I heard about this program, I knew I wanted to be a mentor because when I was a child growing up in a time and place where adoption was not commonplace, my parents started an organization called G.I.F.T. (Gathering International Families Together), and it meant a lot to me to meet other families who knew and understood how special it is to be adopted. I currently work as a Research Editor for All You magazine, a Time Inc. publication. I’m looking forward to the coming year, and can’t wait to meet everyone!

 

Name: Sarah 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

SarahI am about to serve in my 6th year as a mentor in the Spence-Chapin Mentorship Program. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted when I was 3 months old.  I am currently an attorney at an intellectual property law firm in NYC. I enjoy spending time with my cat and jogging around Central Park. I enjoy participating in the mentorship program because it provides everyone with the opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about adoption.

 

Name: Sophia 
Adopted From: La Ceiba, Honduras
Lives in: Queens

SophieI am about to participate in my second year of the Middle School Mentorship Program with Spence-Chapin! I was born in La Ceiba, Honduras and when I was just 10 months old I was adopted and brought to the United States. I grew up in the Midwest with a wonderful family and eventually moved to New York to attend college. I love to swim, read, dance, play my flute, sing, and eat good food! I’m excited to be a part of this program because growing up I never had a mentor of my own. I feel that it will be a very rewarding experience for me and the mentees!

 

Name: Daniel 
Adopted from: South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

DanI love life, and I love supporting others in how they love life. I’m an adoptee from South Korea who currently resides in Wayne, New Jersey, and I’m grateful for all the love and opportunities my mother and father have given me. I teach people from all over the world how to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling relationships, whether with friends, family, or even people they’ve just met. I’m also an AcroYoga enthusiast, a musician, and an overall fun-loving adventurous soul. Being an adoptee in my mid-twenties, it seems like I’m having some of my deepest realizations yet, so naturally, mentoring young people who share a similar experience feels like a new chapter in my life. I’m excited to connect with, support, and even learn from my mentees in whatever time we spend together.

 

Name: Jessi 
Adopted From: New York
Lives in: New Jersey

JessiThis is my first year at as a mentor at Spence-Chapin. I grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey and was adopted from New York. I want to be a mentor because I know first hand how hard it can be to grow up as an adopted child. I also know that talking with someone who is older than you and is also adopted can be very insightful and help you figure yourself out. After I went into reunion with my birth parents and biological siblings, I worked with a social worker who specialized in adoption. Through this I was able to find myself and become the person I am today. I plan to further my education in this area by attending graduate school for social work and specializing in adoption.

 

Please contact Dana Stallard at dstallard@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0213 if your child is interested in participating in our Mentorship program.

Bulgaria and Roma Adoption

Spence-Chapin’s Bulgaria adoption program has placed children with permanent, loving families since 1995. During this time, we’ve come to discover Bulgaria as one of Eastern Europe’s treasures; a country steeped in tradition, but with modern sensibilities.

BulgariaBulgaria’s history is vast and its culture rich. Bordered by Romania in the North, Serbia and Macedonia in the West, Greece and Turkey in the South and the Black Sea in the East, Bulgaria is centrally located on key land routes from Europe to the Middle East and Asia.The size of Tennessee, Bulgaria is the 14th largest nation in Europe and boasts wondrous landscapes ranging from lowlands and river valleys, to mountains of varying elevations.

The first Bulgarian state was formed in the late 7th century when The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with the local Slavic inhabitants. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled to assert its autonomy against the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Turks, eventually succumbing to the rule of both.

sofiaIn recent history, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People’s Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990 and a democratic constitution was instituted in 1997. Today, Bulgaria is a parliamentary democracy and is on the international stage as a member of the European Union, NATO, Council of Europe and a founding member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Bulgarians take great pride in their literature, arts, music, and architecture which is mainly of Thracian, Slavic, and Bulgar heritage, with Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Celtic influences.

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Visitors and citizens alike enjoy the wild, wooded mountain ranges dotted with villages, vibrant cities, and long sandy beaches hugging the Black Sea Coast. Bulgaria is home to over 200 museums and architectural wonders such as Byzantine Medieval fortresses, Thracian sanctuaries and tombs, and a multitude of churches, monasteries and mosques. The landscape features mineral springs, picturesque beaches, and the highest point of the Balkan peninsula, Musala (9,596 ft.), lending itself to spa retreats, water sports and hiking.

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Image courtesy of Ron Corso © 2014 Ron Corso

But underneath the rich sights and sounds, there is an imbalance. Bulgarians are the main ethnic group and comprise 84.8% of the population, with Turkish and Roma (Gypsy) minorities comprising 8.8 and 4.9 percent. Oftentimes discriminated against, the Romani are descended from low-caste Indian migrants who immigrated to Bulgaria during the Middle Ages. The Romani practice nomadic lifestyles based around selling their wares and skills, and as such, must combat an entrenched social stigma. The Romani experience a high rate of child abandonment due to poverty and limited resources such as health care, public transportation and sanitation. Unfortunately, Roma children in need of homes are usually on the losing side of stereotypes and discrimination and are typically not adopted domestically by Bulgarian families.

Image courtesy of Ron Corso © 2014 Ron Corso

Image courtesy of Ron Corso © 2014 Ron Corso

Spence-Chapin partners with ANIDO, a Bulgarian non-governmental organization licensed by the Ministry of Justice, Bulgarian’s central authority for adoption. The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice maintains a waiting child registry of over 1,800 children that are primarily Roma. Bulgaria prioritizes finding families for these vulnerable children. Those available for adoption are school-age, sibling groups, and children with medical issues.

Call us to learn more about adopting from Bulgaria – 212-400-8150 or
info@spence-chapin.org
.

You can read one parent’s story about her Bulgaria adoption experience.