South Africa Adoption: How to Determine Your Family’s Medical Openness

Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children in South Africa – children with a medical diagnosis who are in need of an international adoptive family. It takes a dedicated and resourceful parent to adopt a child with special medical needs. At Spence-Chapin, we guide families in how to make an informed decision about their family’s particular medical openness and offer support and resources before, during and after their adoption. Spence-Chapin is confident that in a loving home with the right family who is dedicated to learning about, or already has experience with special medical needs, these children can thrive!

But how does a family determine if adopting a child with special medical needs from South Africa is right for them? Here are 5 places to start:

  1. Learn about the most common medical needs in South Africa.

Check out this article on the Top 10 Medical Needs in South Africa! Currently, the two most common needs our partners Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) see in the children in their care are: a diagnosis of HIV and unknown or unpredictable developmental delays. We are actively looking for families who feel open and prepared to parent a child with one of these two needs. You can learn more by exploring these resources specific to adoption from South Africa.  

  1. Consider the medical and developmental care children receive in South Africa.

JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. Children receive medical treatment at JCW through a partnership with Thusanani Children’s Foundation. Thusanani provides safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical and developmental care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc.

Additionally, Spence-Chapin sponsors a Granny Program at JCW to help the children develop the important socio-emotional bonds that are so important to a child’s development. Through the Granny program, children are paired with surrogate “grannies” from their local community who spend special, one-on-one time with them every day. This humanitarian aid initiative gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. We see incredible progress made by children who are matched with a granny. In South Africa, the children call their grannies “gogo”! 

  1. Consult with an international pediatric specialist to make an informed decision.

It’s recommended that families considering adopting a child with medical needs consult with a pediatrician about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of specific conditions to consider if your family has the ability to provide the care a child will need. There are many experienced international adoption medical specialty clinics throughout the United States that are a resource for prospective adoptive families. Physicians with an international adoption specialty are familiar with common medical issues involved in intercountry adoption and many of the common needs seen in children eligible for international adoption.

Because South Africa is a signatory to The Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, adoptive families benefit from a transparent and ethical process for receiving a child’s information. At the time of referral from South Africa, Spence-Chapin will provide all known social and medical history provided by JCW so a family can make an informed decision. The family will review the medical history with a Medical Specialist and support from Spence-Chapin.

  1. Gather information about resources and eligibility for services in your state and community.

Each state offers a variety of services for children with special needs through state agencies and community organizations. Free services through Early Intervention and CPSE services are offered nationally and children 0-3 may qualify when they have a developmental delay in the areas of cognitive, physical, speech and adaptive development. It can be helpful to anticipate the programs offered in the local schools as well as the State laws and regulations for special needs education.

Additionally, when considering the adoption of a child with special needs, it can be helpful to consult with other parents of children with medical needs or international adoptive families. They can be a great source of information, support, and referrals. They may be able to share their suggestions, insights, and recommendations for ways that you can strengthen your ability to parent a child with a medical need. It may also be helpful to prepare for what to expect through help from the local home study agency, special needs support groups or even online through adoption websites such as AdoptionLearningPartners.com.

  1. Ask Yourself:
  • Are you willing, and do you have the time to become informed about the realities of raising a child with special needs?
  • Do you have access to medical resources in your community that specializes in the treatment of pediatric special needs?
  • Are you able to make sure that your child takes medication or attends therapies?
  • Does your schedule allow for the time it takes to parent a child with a medical need?
  • Are you comfortable with any attention it may bring to your family?
  • Are you willing to advocate for your child in your home, school, and community?
  • Are you prepared to accept unknowns for the future development of your child and to find solutions to any challenges that may emerge?

Following the adoption of a child from South Africa, Spence-Chapin welcomes adoptive families to engage in post-adoption services through our Modern Family Center. Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center offers counseling, parent coaching, post-adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips. These services can be provided to families in person, over the phone or via video conferencing in all 50 states. We also invite you to attend our annual family events so you and your child can meet other South Africa adoptive families!

Children with special medical needs are waiting for adoptive families in South Africa. If you feel you might be a good match for these children, let’s talk! To learn more, send us an email to info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

An Open Adoption Story

By Lucy Shaw, LMSW and Birth Parent Outreach worker for Spence-Chapin

Dax (third from left) with three of his biological siblings and adoptive Dad, Jochen

For National Adoption Month, I’m excited to share my personal story of open adoption with you all. As an adoptive mom in an open adoption and as a social worker focused on Birth Parent outreach at Spence-Chapin, I have a unique perspective on adoption that I think is important to share. Adoption is such an integral part of my life and something for which I am so grateful and proud.

My husband and I adopted our son Daxton (Dax) in 2014. He’s now four years old! When we decided to adopt, we began working with an adoption attorney, and within six months of completing our home study, we had connected with Erin, Dax’s birth mom when she was about two months pregnant.

From that moment on, we truly never looked back. It seemed like things were destined to be as soon as we started talking to Erin. We drove Pennsylvania from NYC to meet Erin for the first time in January 2014. She even invited us to meet her and go with her to get her first ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby! What do you know, the day we started driving was the day Snowstorm Hercules pummeled the east coast! We had to pull over on the side of the road several times due to heavy snowfall, but we kept trudging along because we were so insistent that we were going to make it to this appointment, no matter what. And I’m so glad we did! I still have the ultrasound photo today saved!

I’m so thankful for having this chance to visit Erin while she was pregnant because it set the stage for a genuine and trusting relationship going forward. Throughout this journey of getting to know each other, Erin has been an open book. We could see right away that she had the best intentions and was an incredibly brave, honest, strong and trusting woman. She shared her story of why she was considering adoption with us and we could see firsthand what a kind and loving mother she was to her four other children. We could also see how hard it was to be a single mom raising children, while trying to work full-time and complete her education so she could make a better life for her family.

As Erin’s due date began to approach, she kept us involved every step of the way. She included us in her birth plan and introduced us to her other children and her best friend. She also allowed us to be by her side in the hospital when she gave birth! She was amazing at the hospital – she let me cut the umbilical cord and let us hold Daxton for skin to skin contact while she also bonded with him and breastfed him throughout the time we were in the hospital. We just followed her lead.

Daxton was born on May 6, 2014 and that weekend we celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Erin, Dax’s birth siblings and Erin’s best friend in Pennsylvania – as we were hanging out, barbecuing and watching Daxton sleeping happily in his car seat, I continued to be in awe of Erin’s grace and generosity in sharing this event with us.

Since Dax’s birth, Erin continues to show her kindness, resilience and strength in so many ways. And I often see these qualities in Daxton too, like the way he interacts with everyone he meets in such a friendly and confident way. From the moment he could smile and wave, he’s been making friends with almost everyone he meets.

Lucy with Dax’s birth mom, Erin

We stay in touch with Erin in many ways – we keep each other updated on Facebook and Erin’s always one of the first to like any of the posts I have about Daxton or parenting. I know she’s always thinking of us and we’re always thinking of her as well. We also visit each other about once or twice a year. For Dax’s 4th birthday, she came to NYC with all the kids and baked three gorgeous cakes for our party. She always goes above and beyond our expectations during these visits.

Overall, I feel so lucky to have this relationship with Erin and am happy that Dax will grow up knowing his birth mother and his birth siblings and be able to answer all the questions he may have about his identity as he gets older.

Parenting may be one of the hardest jobs on earth, but for me being in an open adoption is one of the easiest things about being a parent. I know there are going to continue to be challenges, tough conversations, and ups and downs in the years to come, but I’m not worried about answering questions about adoption with Dax or anyone else. In that area, I know without a doubt, with Erin’s help, we have honesty, love and resiliency to guide us.

Parenting Tips: Strategies That Best Support Children with ADHD

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common disorder affecting children, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It affects approximately 10% of children worldwide, and about 2.5% of adults. ADHD is caused by both environmental and genetic factors, and it is believed that this is why the incidence of ADHD is higher in adopted individuals than the general population.

The environmental factors contributing to ADHD include prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, prenatal maternal smoking, low birth weight and lead poisoning. Approximately 40% of children with ADHD will have a parent with ADHD, generally the father; however, not all children born to parents with ADHD will have ADHD. For children adopted from group home settings such as an orphanage, there is a greater risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.

When symptoms resembling those of ADHD are observed, it is important to speak with a professional to rule out other medical problems that may be the cause, such as hearing problems.

Remember as well that all children daydream, are over active, and have emotional outbursts from time to time. It’s part of growing up. With a child who has ADHD, these symptoms occur more often and can be harder to deal with and last longer. That is why it is so important to implement effective discipline techniques and help your child build skills to manage their behavior.

Here are 5 Tips to best support your child:

1. Give Reminders to Manage Transitions

Transitions during the day can prove to be a struggle for all children, but those that have adoption as part of their history and those with symptoms of ADHD can have a particularly challenging time.  To help children better manage the transitions during the day, remember to give reminders of upcoming transitions.  For example, “In 15 minutes we are going to put pajamas on to start getting ready for bed!” Children with ADHD can benefit from having a consistent schedule.  Remember to give fair warning when the schedule will be different.

2. Use Eye Contact

When giving directives to your child, kneel to their level, get eye contact and talk to them. Check in to make sure they are clear about what is happening next.  This ensures you have their attention and they have heard what you said.  It also helps to avoid a situation where you need to yell or raise your voice to communicate your message.

3. Acknowledge and Label Feelings

Not knowing what to do when big feelings come on can be tough for kids who will be quick to act. As a parent, you can help by teaching feelings and labeling them when you see them. Acknowledge the feeling you see in your child first, then you can work with them to address the behavior.

4. Using Time Ins (Not Time Outs)

A Time Out is when a child is told to go somewhere alone (to face a wall or go to a different room) for a period of time to cool down. Traditionally, parents are told to withhold attention from their child during the duration of the Time Out. During a TimeIn, a caregiver kindly asks a child that is going through a stressful or difficult moment to sit with him/her in order to process feelings and cool down.

Both Time Ins and Outs are used to give a child a moment away from whatever troubling situation occurred to compose themselves, reflect and prepare to re-join.  The benefits of Time Ins are that they allow the caregiver to model and coach the child through calming down.  For children who join their family through adoption, this difference is important as it does not require them to be physically (and emotionally) separated from a caregiver or re-experience feelings of loss or rejection.  For children with ADHD time ins give them the support with emotional regulation- something they often are not able to do on their own. Remember time ins are a time for quiet and calming- discussions about the misbehavior can come later when everyone is calm.

5. Take Responsibility for Mistakes

Children have their mistakes pointed out all the time.  Model for them what it looks like to take responsibility for a mistake.  Think back to those times when you didn’t handle your big feelings the way you would have liked or when transitions (getting everyone out of the house on time in the morning) made you angry or frazzled.  Give yourself a chance to do it differently the next time and give your child the opportunity too.

Spence-Chapin provides a holistic and personalized ADHD treatment plan for your child by partnering with parents, educators, school psychologists, and school counselors.  We can help transform your child’s behavior and strengthen your entire family.   Call us at 646-539-2167 or e-mail info@modernfamilycenter.org to schedule a free consultation.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Gyulnara Barnett

Gyulnara Barnett has been connected to Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program for more than 10 years.  After a fantastic experience as a Mentee from 2007 to 2009, Gyulnara became a Mentor in 2017.  During a recent panel presentation at Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Fair, she shared her experience as an adoptee and a Mentor.   

What would you like to share about your background?

Although I was adopted from Russia, my entire birth family is Kazahk, so that’s my ethnic origin. I was raised in Nyack, NY and when I was 4 years old, my parents adopted a younger brother who is also from Kazakhstan. I reunited with my birth mother when I was in college. We had been writing letters back and forth to each other since I was 13, but during my junior year in college we both happened to be living in Turkey at the same time and were able to meet.

How did your family share your adoption story with you? 

My family was very open about adoption. There was never a time that I didn’t know I was adopted. Partially that was because my parents are white, and it was obvious that I didn’t look like them. We read lots of bedtime stories together about adoption when I was growing up. My parents came to do presentations to my class where I could get to talk about Russia. We also celebrated my Happy Adoption Day every year.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

There are a lot of myths about adoption, but luckily the conversation has changed a bit since I was growing up. People are now much more open to talking about adoption. One myth is that people think I should feel lucky to have been adopted. But I feel grateful that my parents are my parents just in the same way that a non-adoptive family would feel grateful to feel supported and loved. Adoption is a process that families go through, it’s not just my own process or my brother’s. Together we’re all grateful for each other.  It’s unique in a certain sense in that we’re a non-traditional family because we’re an adoptive family. But my parents are just my parents. My brother is just my brother. Sometimes people don’t understand that just because I’m adopted doesn’t mean I have any less of a connection to my parents and family.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?

When I was around 10 or 11, my parents heard about Spence’s Mentorship program through a family friend who was also an adoptive family and connected us to Spence. They thought the Program would be a terrific opportunity for me to meet and connect with other adoptees.

What did you gain from being in the Mentorship program as a young adoptee?

It was a chance for me to meet older adoptees in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.  When I was a young child, I knew some other adoptive families, but they were all adopted children. The conversation about adoption is often focused on children, but as an adopted child it was powerful to get to know and connect with older adoptees as well as younger adoptees from a broad range of experiences. The Mentors created a safe space where everyone could connect and learn from each other while participating in fun activities such as ice skating. I was able to share my experience with other adoptees my age and gained confidence sharing my adoption story with others.

What has been your experience as a Mentor? 

I became a Mentor because I was excited to pay it forward and support middle and high school adoptees explore their adoption identity with other adoptees who share similar experiences. This Program really helps everyone to build a strong adoption community and to enrich their lives through the support and openness at Spence-Chapin. I’m very proud to be adopted. I feel lucky to know a lot of adoptive families and to be part of a beautiful community of adoptees who come from all walks of life.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

It’s okay to feel like you want to search for your birth parent. It’s okay to feel like you don’t fully understand where you fit within your family. It’s okay to feel a little bit different sometimes. Just knowing that these feelings are okay and normal can be supportive. Often, people think of adoption as something that happens when you’re very young. You get adopted, you’re raised with a family and then you go off to be an adult. But adoption is a journey. When I was younger, I used to wonder why I wasn’t a normal kid just like anyone else. Why did people stare at me and my brother while we’re walking with our parents? I tell Mentees in the Program that adoption is a complex journey that changes throughout your entire life. Different ages come with different exciting adventures as well as challenges.

Hear Other Mentors Share Their Experience

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences.  To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact Katie Rogala at KRogala@spence-chapin.org or call 646-539-2167. 

Celebrating Citizenship Day in 2018

Every year, on September 17th, the United States celebrates “Constitution Day” or “Citizenship Day.” Today, Spence-Chapin celebrates all people who are United States Citizens or who are taking steps to become U.S. Citizens – and we reflect on the many children who have gained U.S. Citizenship through intercountry adoption by U.S. Citizen Parents!

As you celebrate the day your child joined your family and think about the unique rights your child has through their U.S. Citizenship, it can be interesting to reflect on the history that has allowed for citizenship to be granted to adopted children of U.S. citizens. The United States is a country created and strengthened by its many U.S. Citizens who were born around the world. In honor of today’s holiday, we encourage you to join us in thinking about, celebrating, and learning more about the rights and responsibilities of U.S. Citizens – while also remembering and celebrating your child’s distinct background, culture and country of origin. 

Intercountry Adoption at Spence-Chapin

Spence-Chapin currently works in three countries around the world to connect families and children through inter-country adoption. All three of the countries we work in: Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa, are signatory to, and have ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (The Hague Adoption Convention). The United States has also signed on to The Hague Adoption Convention and therefore all American parents adopting internationally will meet Hague requirements for the adoption process. The Hague Treaty is designed to ensure that international adoption is a transparent, ethical process with an established infrastructure to protect and support children and families.

Spence-Chapin’s work in Hague countries is intentional, in that the process for acquiring U.S. Citizenship for your adopted child is one that is based on full and final adoptions being completed in the convention country. When all the official adoption paperwork is complete, your child will travel back on an IR/IH-3 Visa and upon entry into the U.S., your child will be granted automatic U.S. Citizenship based on your family’s U.S. Citizenship.

Families adopting through Spence-Chapin’s international adoption programs typically receive automatic Certificates of Citizenship in the mail about 60 days after their arrival to the U.S. and can also secure U.S. Passports for their child immediately after arriving home with their adopted child.

If You Have Questions About Your Child’s Citizenship:

If you have questions about your child’s citizenship or about obtaining proof or documentation about your child’s citizenship, please contact our International Adoption Team at (212) 400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org

The United States Department of State oversees all intercountry adoption to the United States and we encourage families to visit their website to receive the most up-to-date information regarding intercountry adoption and citizenship status.

Colombian-American Adoptive Families: Instructions for Obtaining a Colombian Passport

Spence-Chapin recently expanded our Colombia Adoption Program to find permanent, loving families of Colombian heritage for children in Colombia ages 0-4. How do you know if you qualify as Colombian heritage according to the Colombian Central Authority’s guidelines? This includes a person who was born in Colombia or has a parent who was born in Colombia.

In order to move forward with a Colombian heritage adoption process, the adoptive parent needs to provide a Colombian birth certificate or Cedula to document this heritage. Adoptive parents often use a recent certified copy of the Registration of Birth Certificate (Registro Civil de Nacimiento) issued by a local Colombian Consulate OR a notarized copy of the Colombian Citizenship Card (Cédula de Ciudadanía). Per United States adoption guidelines, at least one adoptive parent needs to be an American citizen.

Obtaining a Cedula as a Colombian-American Born in the U.S. Or a Colombian-American Born in Colombia
If you do not have either of the Colombian documents, it is possible to obtain them at your local Colombian Consulate. It is advised that Colombian-Americans apply for the Registro Civil de Nacimento and/or Cedula at their local Colombian Consulate as soon as possible as it is not possible to move forward with a Colombian heritage adoption process without these documents.

Parents between 25-45 years old can request to adopt a child 0-4 years old. The estimated wait time to adopt a child 0-4 by Colombian-American families is 12-24 months after dossier submission.

Colombian Consulate in New York
http://nuevayork.consulado.gov.co/
10 East 46th Street New York, NY, 10017
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. a 1:45 p.m. – Saturday 9:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.
Phone: (212) 798 9000
Fax: (212) 972 1725

Colombian Embassy in Washington DC:
www.colombiaemb.org/Consular_Services_Colombians
1724 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 387-8338
Fax: (202) 232-8643

We welcome families living anywhere in the United States to call us at 212-400-8150 to speak with our international adoption staff. Or, visit our website to learn more about Colombia Adoption by clicking here.