Bulgaria Adoption Story: Lee-Ann and William

Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome

Cotner-family-image

“Hi! We are the Cotner family! We are a big, fun, loud, loving, rocking family. We have six beautiful kiddos. Four were homegrown and two grew in our hearts via international adoption and they both just happen to be rocking an extra chromosome a.k.a. they have Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.

Our first son, Harvey, came home from Eastern Europe and completely stole our hearts. Soon after our first adoption, we knew that we wanted to adopt again, and specifically another kiddo with Down Syndrome. We knew financially that it might be easier for our family to wait a few years, but when I saw the profile of this waiting kiddo, my heart skipped a beat. I requested his file and I read it over and over. I was looking at it, yet again, when my youngest daughter Quinn said, “Oh, there he is… there’s my brother. I’ve been looking for him!” I knew he was our son and another adventure was beginning!

harrison-image

Harrison joined our family thanks to help from Spence-Chapin and our fabulous in-country team. In a beautiful coincidence, Harrison came home in October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Parenting a child with Down Syndrome is truly a blessing. Our sons who have Down Syndrome have overcome so many obstacles that most people take for granted. Seeing them overcome and succeed has given us a new insight on life and we truly appreciate all the little and big things. They are our shining lights. There are the hard days when the struggles of Down Syndrome and prior institutional trauma can hurt your mama heart, because we want to take all their pain and struggle away. But it just makes us love them more and remember that with love and patience we can all do hard things.

Our older four children are incredible with their little brothers. They are so loving and protective, and they are the boys’ biggest cheerleaders. They loved them before they even met them, and their admiration for their brothers only grows. I always say the greatest gift we’ve ever given them was each other.

My husband, William, is active duty Army and that can add some additional hiccups, but Spence-Chapin handled it with such grace and ease. Our process was smooth, and we truly fell in love with Harrison’s birth country. The Army is incredibly supportive of adoption and we are so grateful for this. They let my husband take a substantial leave and even reimbursed some of our adoption expenses.

Every child deserves a family…. every child has worth, and we are forever thankful to be a part of the lucky few that get to have some rocking kiddos with Down Syndrome in their family thanks to adoption and Spence-Chapin!”

To learn more about adoption from Bulgaria and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/bulgaria

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

(Part I)

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then. 

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
ALTHOUGH SHE’S STILL ROCKING THE SAME PINK SNEAKERS, WE’VE GONE UP TWO SHOES SIZES!

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm. 

I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

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.

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.

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.

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.