Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are currently over-represented in the foster care system in the United States. These tweens and teens need unconditional love and permanent homes, just like all youth. Executive Director of Creating a Family, Dawn Davenport, spends some time with Mark Lacava, Spence-Chapin’s Executive Vice President, Director of Modern Family Center, discussing fostering, adopting, and raising children who identify as LGBTQ.
Listen to the expert advice and tips in the full podcast below.
Mark Lacava has over 20 years of experience as a therapist, and has worked extensively with LGBTQ families and individuals in his career. To learn more about Mark and the counseling and support provided by Spence-Chapin, visit our Modern Family Center.
Mary McCabe is a social worker at Spence-Chapin and a new mom through domestic adoption. With Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month on the brain, we asked her the question: What are you thankful for? “Having a child was always a dream of ours. After unsuccessful fertility treatments, we decided to adopt. My sister was adopted, and I was an adoption counselor, so it was a natural progression. I thought I knew all about adoption, but it was more than just paperwork, home studies, and clearances, it was an emotional experience. [We were] waiting for the phone call, the email, or any sign that our prayers were answered.
In September of 2017, a girl named Delia selected my husband and I to parent her unborn child. Delia asked to meet us and shared that she was due in November of 2017. The call was exciting, overwhelming and included a lot of butterflies!
We met with Delia and her mother on a beautiful sunny day at a small café. We were immediately taken back by Delia’s kindness, maturity and her way of making US feel at ease. Delia and I had an immediate connection, as if we had already known each other. My husband sat quietly, afraid to say anything ’wrong’. Delia asked him if he was ‘nervous about being a father’ and he answered, ’yes.’ Delia assured him that he would be a great father. She then turned to both of us and said: “I truly feel this child was never meant for me, and after I saw your profile I knew that the baby I am carrying was always meant for you”. We all cried and hugged each other.
Two weeks later, we found out Delia was having a boy. Her due date was November 22, 2017. Then, we waited. November 22nd passed and there was no word from anyone, the 23rd and 24th passed and still nothing. We were prepared for Delia to parent, and if she did, it would have been ok with us as she was a wonderful person.
On November 25, at 10:15pm, I received a text from Delia saying, ‘I’m in labor, headed to the hospital.’ I sat staring at the text in disbelief. Was it real? Is this really happening? Am I going to be a mom? Within minutes her next text read ‘Your son was just born!’ I ran upstairs to my sleeping husband saying, “our son is born!” In shock, he jumped out of bed and began packing. Delia then texted again to say that she would see us in the morning because it was late, and our drive would be long.
The next morning, with no sleep, we drove to meet our son. It felt like forever, but when we arrived, this perfect little boy was in a crib in Delia’s room. I asked Delia if I could hold him, she said, ‘of course… he is your son. I gently picked him up, telling him how perfect he was, as my husband sat quietly in a chair. I faced our son toward him and said, “this is your son” and he began to cry. I handed our son to him and we all began to cry.
We spent two days with Delia and her family. Delia asked what we would be naming him, and we told her Michael. She said she loved the name. We headed home with Michael on November 27, 2017. We keep in touch withDelia and we look forward to seeing her in a few months.
Michael is now almost 11 months old and he is the love of our lives. We love being parents and cherish everyday with him. The list is endless of the things we love about Michael; his eyes, his smile when he laughs…He loves to snuggle and hearing him say “mama” and “dada” melts our hearts. Our lives have changed forever. He makes us better people; kinder, patient and loving people.
So, what are we thankful for? Delia, for making our dream come true.”
To read more from Spence-Chapin families, friends and colleagues touched by adoption, search #ThankfulThursday on our Facebook and Instagram accounts every Thursday throughout National Adoption Month.
A birthland trip is a trip made to an adoptee’s country of birth. A birthland trip can be made at any time in an adoptee’s life, and can be done alone, with family, or in a group. Individuals and families go on these trips for many reasons, but primarily, they serve as a way to connect an adoptee to his/her birth culture, and in so doing, engage more deeply with a part of his/her identity and past.
We spoke with Beth Friedberg, a therapist at Spence-Chapin with over 20 years of experience working with children and families, to provide some more context and advice on birthland trips.
Thinking about a birthland trip?
If you are considering a birthland trip, we invite you to speak with one of our counselorsbeforehand, who can answer any questions or concerns you may have. If you would like to participate in one of our group birthland trips, you can find out more here. To read more about one family’s birthland trip experience, click here.
“People go on birthland trips for a lot of different reasons, at different ages and stages in their lives,” Beth explained. “The birthland trip is a different kind of connecting to the adoption story—it’s more tangible.”
How do you know it’s the right time for a birthland trip?
“Sometimes the birthland trip is initiated by the parents because they want very much for help their children make connections to their birth culture, foster families, or birth families,” Beth said. “Sometimes it’s propelled by the kids, who have a lot of curiosity and questions about their beginnings, and they’re asking. Usually, it’s somewhere in between.”
“In our coaching at Spence-Chapin, we try to help families realize that they will never be 100% confident with their decisions—that there will always be a certain amount of worry, fear, and concerns about how it may go. We work with families to help them decide how much concern they are willing to handle.”
In thinking about the right time, Beth advises it’s important to consider what other changes are occurring in the family system in that year. If the family has just moved, the kids have recently changed schools, or something else has happened that might make it more difficult to unpack some of the issues that can come up in a birthland trip, it might be best to wait until the next year.
Beth notes that while some children initiate the idea of a birthland trip through their curiosity and questions, others may not be interested in going at first, perhaps because of fear, or just indifference. In those cases, she suggests that parents find something that already excites their child and build on that in order to engage them in the in the prospect of a birthland trip.
“If your child loves music or pop culture, expose them to popular songs or soap operas from their birth culture. If they like cooking, or food, or history, you can share those aspects of their birth culture with them. Tap into what already has meaning for your child and build their interest and curiosity on that.”
How do you prepare for the emotional impact of a birthland trip?
“At Spence-Chapin, we provide coaching to prepare” Beth explained. “One of the main things we do in coaching for a birthland trip is to step back as a way to move into the future and explore identity. We help families go back and review the adoption process and history—to go through those photos, videos, and stories—and see how your child reacts, to gauge what he or she might be ready for.”
“It’s also important for the parents to spend time thinking about that it will be like for them to go back, and thinking through what their child might ask, and working through that with the coaching before the trip, so no one is caught off guard during the trip when it might be more challenging to handle surprises.”
“Where the real learning happens, where the family’s relationship becomes closer, is in the times that may be difficult, and working through that together. That is the way relationships grow stronger—when we show up for each other.”
This summer, Mary and Chris took their family on a birthland trip to Ethiopia. Their younger daughter, Etta, 5, was adopted through Spence-Chapin from South Africa, and their older daughter, Arri, 8, was adopted through a different adoption organization from Ethiopia. We caught up with Mary to ask her about the trip, how she and her family prepared for it, and what advice they have for other families considering a birthland trip.
Why did you decide to take your daughter on a birthland trip? The pivotal moment of deciding to do a birthland trip came in the most unexpected way—while watching the movie Lion. That movie really reinforced to us that our children need to know who they are and where they came from. We talked after the movie and decided, we have to go back and let our daughter see where she came from.
In what ways did you prepare Arri for the trip? Our family is very fortunate to have an Ethiopian Church in our community that offers monthly classes to children from Ethiopia, many of whom are adopted. We also attend a Family Camp in Virginia for first-generation Ethiopian American children. So, by the time we made the trip, Arri already had learned a lot about the culture, language, and history of Ethiopia—even enough so that on the trip, she was able to say hello, and speak words in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, to other Ethiopians.
How did you and your husband prepare? That’s a great question. As parents, we felt so vulnerable and…scared, would be an honest way of describing it. You realize you’re not really in control. We knew that we didn’t have to do this visit, we didn’t have to open this door—it could stay closed. But we felt like there could be healing if we all felt brave enough to walk through the door.
We found it helped to think about and work through the what ifs—and for us there were a million and one what ifs that came up for us. What if my child is upset by the experience? What if it isn’t a good experience? We went through them all.
But, in the end, it comes down to being brave and acknowledging that it’s scary to open a door that you could keep closed. But it’s worth it—the peace it gives to the child, to the birth family, to the parents. It’s indescribable.
What resources did you use for the practical preparations? We sought out both the broad and the specific resources out there. For example, an Ethiopian Homeland Travel online group discussed both practical questions about the travel (such as immunizations to get), as well as emotional questions. We also talked to other families about their experience. Before our trip we got together with another family that lives near us who also adopted their child from Ethiopia and had recently traveled there together.
You were also able to set up a meeting with Arri’s birth mother? Yes. We had reestablished contact with Arri’s birth mother when she was about two years old and have been writing back and forth and having phone conversations since, so we were able to set up a meeting with her in Ethiopia. Of course, up until the moment that it happened, we made sure to prepare Arri—and ourselves—for the very real possibility that it wouldn’t happen, as a result of logistics or something else. We didn’t want to promise Arri anything that we could not control the outcome of.
What was the meeting like? Her birthmother seemed very interested in what we are like as a family—what we like to do together, what we enjoy—to see how we are as parents, and to just spend time with us. She made it a point to let my husband and I know how grateful she was that we were raising Arri the way that we were. Arri was anxious at first, but once she was more comfortable, she seemed to just want to watch her birth mother—to get a sense of her. Overall, it felt good to have the affirmation that everyone is on the same page—it was affirming of everyone’s role in Arri’s life.
Would you still recommend the trip to parents even if a birth parent meeting isn’t possible? Yes, definitely. It’s still such a rich experience for the child and the family to just be in the culture, to hear the language, to eat the food, to visit the historical sites. We brought Arri back to the hospital where she born, and I believe it’s important, even if the birth family visit isn’t possible, to try and seek out other types of monumental pieces to visit to give the child something to hold onto about his/her story.
What were some unexpected outcomes of the trip? It turned out that the fact that Arri had learned about Ethiopian culture, and even knew some words in Amharic, was very affirming to the people that live in that country, which was something really unexpected for us. It seemed to help Ethiopians to see that US families that adopt Ethiopian children are trying to teach them who they are and are giving them a sense of their birth culture and history. This was evident even in just the ways people’s faces brightened when Arri said hello to them.
And how did the trip affect Arri? We were really taken aback by how much confidence and peace the trip gave to our daughter. The way in which Arri was welcomed and affirmed by the Ethiopian community, was truly transformative for her.
I think that Arri also really grew in her understanding of her adoption. The experience with her birth mother, seeing the country, the hospital where she was born, all enabled her to really see that her adoption was not about anything that she did wrong, but due to circumstances.
We’ve also noticed that she’s been introducing herself differently since we’ve gotten back. We kept Arri’s birth name—Arsema—but we have always called her Arri. Upon returning from Ethiopia, we noticed that she began introducing herself with her full name—that she was standing taller in who she is.
It’s clear that you and your husband decided early on to raise your children with openness around their adoption. What prompted that decision? Before adopting Arri, I attended an Adoptive Mom’s Retreat, which I now attend every year, and at those retreats, they talk so much about trying to instill the importance of being honest and raising your children to know who they are. At the retreat, adoptee young adults share their stories on how not knowing who they are, or their parents’ lack of openness around their adoption, led to a lot of grieving and pain for them.
I took from hearing those stories that the adoptee voice isn’t always lifted up as it should be, and it’s important to nurture children’s identity and be honest with them.
And I know that that’s easier said than done. Many families like ours commit to that idea of openness in the early stages, when you’re still going through the adoption process—and it’s one thing to say you’re going to do it and it’s another to really follow through, to discover how to do that, to equip yourself and your family to maintain that commitment and to face any fears about following through.
What are some resources that have helped you and your family to embrace openness in the ways you have? We found a lot of community and support by attending different camps. I’m not really that much of a social media user, so for me, the face-to-face gatherings are what I look for to engage.
It’s just nice to have a safe place to go where everyone is walking the same walk, so to speak. And even if the topics are broader, like about being a transracial family, as opposed to something more country or region specific, it’s still very helpful.
Everybody needs community—both the children and parents.
Any plans to take your younger daughter, Etta, to her birth country? We are absolutely planning to do a trip to South Africa for Etta once she’s old enough, but we are just beginning to discuss what that will look like, and are just starting to find ways to connect Etta to her story—mostly because South Africa is a very different country than Ethiopia, and up until now, a lot of our community connections are to Ethiopian culture. But Etta has really enjoyed learning about Ethiopian culture with her sister and has been warmly embraced by the local Ethiopian community. So, we expect it will be a harder road to navigate, but we are certainly up to the task!
Did you know Colombia celebrates its own Women’s Day? In honor of Día de la Mujer Colombiana, we spoke with Carmen Elena Támara García, Spence-Chapin’s Foreign Supervised Provider in Colombia. She is an incredible woman in her own right and we wanted to learn more about her role advocating for children in need of families in Colombia and what makes this holiday so relevant today.
Carmen Elena, what is your current role? How long have you been involved in this work? I am the Foreign Supervised Provider for Spence-Chapin in Colombia. That is, the person in charge of carrying out the administrative and legal functions on behalf of adoptive families working with Spence-Chapin’s Colombia Program. I serve as a bridge between Spence-Chapin and the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) which is the Central Authority on adoptions in Colombia, and as a liaison for the agency and adoptive families to private adoption homes here in Colombia.
I have been linked with Spence-Chapin since 2012. Before this role, I worked as the Head of Adoptions at the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) since 1993 and served as the Deputy Director of Protection from 1996 – 1999. In these positions, I directed the creation of programs aimed at the establishment of rights for children and adolescents, and the coordination and design of public policies to prevent and punish abuses against minors.
What is your typical workday like? Every day I wake up with the hope of finding a family for a child who needs one. This is the motivation that inspires my work.
From early in the morning, I am in communication with organizations to answer questions and provide updates about families who have an application for adoption in process. When I receive a child’s referral or a family’s paperwork, I read all the received documentation and order the translation of documents that are necessary. Frequently, I must attend information meetings at ICBF or the private adoption houses.
When an adoptive family from the United States arrives in Colombia to meet their child, I will take care of all the logistics for their stay in Colombia and coordinate all the appointments which the family must attend to complete the adoption process. This typically includes medical appointments for the child and appointments at the United States Embassy.
As a family lawyer, I am also in charge of submitting the family’s legal request for a court date and accompanying the prospective adoptive family when they are notified of the adoption decree. This is very exciting for me!
What is the most rewarding part of your job? When I see the happiness of a child and his adoptive parents on the day of the appointment for the “Encuentro meeting.” This is a mixture of feelings for me, it is a joy with crying! Later, when I receive the post-adoption reports and I read that the child has adapted well, and the adoption was successful for their parents, as well, it is very rewarding, especially if it involves the adoption of an older child. This is like saving a life!
Has there been a child or family that has made an impact on you in some way? I remember with special affection each of the adoptive families that I have had the opportunity to accompany in the process. I admire each of them for their capacity to give love, sometimes in the face of difficult situations.
The families that adopt siblings have left an indelible mark on me. I am shocked by the way they handle more than one child at the same time, with a smile for each one, without complaining, without showing fatigue, without glimpsing problems, feeling that with love everything is arranged.
I also remember a 13-year-old girl who, the day she met her adoptive parents, told them: “You are more beautiful in person than I had seen you on Skype. I hope to be the best daughter, the best person and the best professional. I want to take care of you in your old age, to repay you for what you are doing for me.” These words touched me deeply and I have not been able to forget them.
What does Colombian Women’s Day mean to you? Every November 14th since 1967, Colombian Women’s Day is celebrated. On this date, the heroic Policarpa “La pola” Salavarrieta is commemorated. It should be noted that Policarpa was an intelligent and brave woman who fought against the Spanish Crown at the beginning of the 19th century. She was executed by the Council of War during the Spanish Reconquista in 1817 for her role as a spy supporting the cause of independence for Colombia.
The date and original significance of the celebration are unknown by most Colombian citizens, but on this special date it is necessary to recognize all Colombian women for their spirit, hard work, perseverance, character, courage and the struggle that has characterized them.
In this important moment in which we find ourselves, I think active participation by women in political processes is essential. There are significant contributions women make in our post-conflict country that will enhance the integration of gender perspectives and the development of our democracy.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation? One of the most important challenges facing Colombia today is being able to design strategies that will open new opportunities for young people and reduce the deep disparity in living conditions that exist throughout the country.
I am convinced that one of the most effective ways to combat inequality is through education, science, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and culture. That implies that all young girls should have the possibility of making the transition from the educational sector towards decent and quality employment.
I want to see young girls in the next generation empowered with their rights, exercising their obligations with full awareness of their potential to contribute to their own society.
Is there a powerful woman you admire most? I admire all the women who have human quality. Human quality has nothing to do with intellect, knowledge, money or physical appearance, but with virtues such as kindness, simplicity, humility and solidarity. These women often go unnoticed, and in many cases, have had a life full of difficulties – but still they are grateful for life. It is a true privilege and I feel very fortunate when I meet this type of woman.
I admire coherent, honest women who fight to carry out their dreams and who spend time and effort totally unconditionally for the welfare of others.
2018 marks the third year that Spence-Chapin staff and community will participate in the NYC Pride March! We’re thrilled to be walking in the March alongside our LGBTQ adoptees and parents, their families, and their allies again on June 24th and we invite you to join us!
Meet us on the north side of Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground on Gansevoort Street (between Hudson Street and 13th Street in the West Village). The Pride March route has shifted this year and will begin at 7th Avenue and 14th Street; it no longer begins on 5th Avenue and 40th Street. Please plan accordingly.
Time: We will be meeting at 1:30 PM EST
Marching contingents are given a check-in time to gather in the formation area prior to stepping off for the march. We will wait in the formation area for about 2 hours before our group officially steps off. There are multiple exit points throughout the march. Come walk with us for a few blocks or the entire route!
If you join us, we encourage you to bring food, water, sunscreen, and other necessities. There are portable relief facilities and water filling stations at several points within the formation area and along the march route.
The march typically takes 60-90 minutes to travel from formation to dispersal area (5th Avenue and 29th Street).
We are going to have a fun and rewarding day in the sun! It’s amazing to interact with spectators along the route and witness all the love and support for adoptees in the LGBTQ community.
All are invited to join so bring your closest friends and family members.
Email email@example.com to learn more and sign up! To contact us on the day of the event call: 917-885-1477.