Highlights of the 2018 Gala: An Evening Celebrating Family

gala-roomSpence-Chapin’s 2018 Gala on Thursday, May 3rd was themed, “Every child deserves a family”—a guiding principle of the organization over its 110-year history. And while the event truly reflected this concept, it presented it through the lens of creating family, highlighting the many varied and beautiful ways in which we all build family.

Hosted at the lovely Current at Chelsea Piers in New York City, the event featured a silent auction, cocktail hour and dinner overlooking the Hudson River.  Returning for his second year to preside over the evening was NBC New York’s Storm Team 4 weatherman, David Price. Opening the program with some lively quips and wit, Price then introduced Spence-Chapin’s President & CEO, Adam Cotummacio, to set the tone of the evening.

Adam C and Dave PriceMr. Cotummacio spoke about the ways in which each family uniquely creates their own special environment—maybe through a set of household rules over chores or watching tv that may seem strange to the outsider, or through traditions that are set up and done every year without question—and in this way, begins to build family, that sense of belonging and safety.

Hardie Stevens then took the stage, an entrepreneur and adoptee through Spence-Chapin. Mr. Stevens spoke about the significance of adoption as a lifelong experience and the unique ways it has shaped his view of family.

Family filmSpence-Chapin then premiered its short film, “Family,” which chronicles how Spence-Chapin helps to form loving, nurturing and permanent families through its domestic, international and special needs adoption programs; its Granny and Interim Care Programs that provide ongoing care for infants and children; and its unbiased counseling for pregnant women and birth parents as they navigate different options available to them.

Featured prominently in the film is Spence-Chapin’s very own family member, Antoinette Cockerham—an employee with Spence-Chapin for 25 years and the recipient that evening of its Lifetime Achievement Award. Ms. Cockerham, or “Toni” as she is known among friends, served as Director of Domestic Programs at Spence and helped to create hundreds of families through adoption during her tenure

Toni-awardSpence-Chapin Board President, Ian Rowe, presented the award to Ms. Cockerham and said of few words about his and his wife’s own journey in an open adoption through Spence-Chapin, and the beautiful family that they have created. In her gracious acceptance remarks, Ms. Cockerham pointed to the many challenges that still lie ahead and the important work that Spence-Chapin must continue to do, and can accomplish, with support.

CK SwettThat support became palpable as Celebrity Auctioneer CK Swett took the stage and led a direct pledge moment that helped raise $80,000 for the organization’s programs in just a few minutes. It was a spectacular outpouring of support for the work that Spence-Chapin has done in its extended history and will do in the future.

Later that evening, Mr. Cotummacio reflected on the whole of the evening, and the integral role Spence-Chapin has been able to play in the lives of so many children and families:

“Spence-Chapin is truly a unique organization. This year’s Gala was dedicated to the work we have done serving as part of the connective tissue to thousands of families throughout our 110-year history. The event enabled us to celebrate family and open-adoption in all its intricate, loving, challenging and wonderful forms. I am forever grateful to our amazing staff and the impact they deliver each day the Spence-Chapin Way by helping to create strong families and by providing women in crisis with the support and counseling needed to make informed decisions about their options.”

Spence-Chapin is appreciative to its Gala Committee, Board of Directors, attendees and supporters for making this night successful and wonderful. Please make sure to view the photos of the event and the featured short film, “Family.”

Have You Been Called to Help Children on Orphan Sunday?

waiting children

On November 13, 2016 the world will join together to learn about the millions of orphans around the world who are waiting for a loving and permanent family. Spence-Chapin is joining the Orphan Sunday movement to bring awareness to the many children who are living in orphanages and waiting for their adoptive parents to find them. Spence-Chapin advocates for children in New York and around the world in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. In New York and around the world there are infants and children waiting for the love and stability of an adoptive family. All the children profiled on Spence-Chapin’s website are part of our Special Needs or International Adoption programs- Spence-Chapin has eliminated our Professional Services fee for these adoptions. The children are in immediate need of an adoptive family.

Please help us bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Join us for an event during National Adoption Month – Voices of the Triad Panel Discussion on November 10th, Adoption 101 webinar on November 15th, or New Jersey adoption fair November 18th. Orphan Sunday is an opportunity to raise awareness of the children here and around the world in need of adoptive families and to promote the need for post-adoption support for all members of the adoption constellation.

We Celebrate Clara Spence

“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy.”

In 2009, Martha Ulman, Clara Spence’s grand-daughter, wrote an article for the New York State Historical Association chronicling the history of her grandmother’s achievements as a pioneer in adoption in New York. We can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence. This is an excerpt from Martha Ulman’s article:

Clara_Spence resizedClara Spence achieved her work during the pivotal decades 1900-1920, when there were many people with socially progressive ideas. Some approached the problem of the discrepancy between the rich and the poor from the bottom up. They personally went into the slums and worked with the problem firsthand. Clara Spence chose to approach the problem from the top by preaching to the children of the richest New Yorkers the moral and ethical virtue of service so that they, in their adult life, would make a difference in improving the conditions of those less fortunate. Although many of her students went own to serve in their communities, the area for which they are best known is that of adoption and the creation of their nursery, which merged with that of Henry and Alice Chapin in 1943. Known today as Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, the organization continues to serve the needs of children of all creeds, colors, and nationalities.

Born in Albany, New York, in 1859, Clara Spence was a member of the middle class. She graduated from Boston University’s School of Oratory in 1879, after which she attended London University where she honed her acting skills. She came to New York City originally aspiring to be an actress but, upon the death of her mother in 1883, she shifted her talents to teaching at private schools for girls. In 1892, she founded her own school in a brownstone at 6 West Forty-Eighth Street. It was in this school that Clara Spence began a nursery for abandoned babies.

The treatment of orphans before the 1890’s followed a dreary route from institutional care to indentured service or, in the case of thousands of children in Charles Loring Brace’s orphan trains, relocation to families hundreds of miles from their homes. There, as Marilyn Holt notes in her book, “The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America”, they were often valued for their labor potential rather than accepted as members of the family. Clara Spence offered adoption as an alternative to institutionalization or relocation. Adoption, which we now take for granted, was an anomaly at a time when to adopt a non-relative was consider a brave and bizarre act, because of genetic uncertainty and social stigma. Clara Spence dedicated herself to the cause of abandoned infants and introduced her students to adoption as a new and fulfilling form of social work.

In January 1909, the White House Conference on Dependent Children adopted fourteen resolutions all aimed at replacing the institutional method of child care with home care. The next month Clara Spence personally adopted a one-year-old girl from the Children’s Aid Society. The judge had no objection to her application even though she was a single parent nearing the age of fifty. Six years later in 1915, Clara Spence adopted a little boy. Her partner, Charlotte Baker, adopted a girl in 1911 and a boy in 1914, completing what was one of the first single-sex adoption families.
Clara Spence - Central Park, February 1911

It was Ms. Spence’s personal involvement that inspired her students, who witnessed the transformation of babies who came from institutions and were “built up” for adoption on the top floor of her school. As a result, in 1915, the alumnae of the school opened the Spence Alumnae Society nursery through which several hundred babies were placed in adoptive homes. In 1921, Clara Spence brought thirteen children from Great Britain to the United States to be adopted into American families, anticipating what has today become a vast network of international adoption. By her willingness to defy public opinion and risk social ostracism, Clara Spence not only managed to make adoption an accepted practice, but one that became the method of choice for hundreds of families. It was largely because of her work and influence that New York became recognized as a leader in child welfare and adoption in particular.

Spence-Chapin has spent over 100 years finding innovative ways to fulfill Clara Spence’s legacy. Our expertise has consistently expanded the benefits of adoption to more children and the prospective parents who want to love them.

Just as Clara Spence responded to the need in her time, our work is focused on serving women and families who need help planning and building strong, loving families. We are driven by the simple and fundamental belief: every child deserves a family. Through our Modern Family Center, we provide counseling and community services that help these new families succeed. We can create more permanent, loving families just as we’ve always done.

Can we do this?

Can we do this blog post picture

How this question all parents face relates to parenting an older child

Inevitably there is a “can we do this?” moment for parents—all parents. It can occur before a child arrives. It can occur when that child is growing. It can occur if that child is a biological child. It can occur if that child is an adopted child. It can occur during easy, happy times. It can occur when there are storms to be weathered. It can occur once. Or it can occur every day. Inevitably—it will occur.

Questions we often hear prospective parents ask include:

  • Can we do this? Can we adopt? Can we raise a child who may not look like us?
  • Can we raise an older child? What about a child who was born in another country?
  • What if they have experienced trauma? Will that child be able to understand that we love him or her?

Will we be able to weather those storms?

We know that there are certain traumas that can accompany life in the child welfare system, either domestically or internationally. Sometimes the separation from biological family is itself the traumatic event and sometimes that trauma is only realized later. The knowledge of this as a possibility for their child can cause worry for parents. It can cause parents considering international or older child adoption to ask the same question other parents ask themselves every day: “Can we do this?”

At Spence-Chapin we provide families with the resources needed to make an informed decision and one that is right for each family. We support families in arriving at their answer to that inevitable question and provide continued support as that question is bound to come up again—and that’s okay.

Some helpful essential reads on older child adoption can be found here:

  • Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child by Trish Maskew
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck
  • Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together    Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen
  • The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier

For more information about our domestic, international and older child adoption programs, please contact the Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

To schedule a pre-adoption consultation or if you would like more information about our Adoption Support & Counseling Services, please contact Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center at 646-539-2167 or info@modernfamilycenter.org.

10 Back to School Tips for Adoptive Parents

Green apple on stack of red books.

  1. Help your child feel prepared: Discuss issues that may arise or questions they may receive from classmates and how to respond. Tour the school so they feel comfortable in a new environment. Have your child meet their teachers/ principal. Talk about the rules and expectations of your child’s school.
  2. Lunchtime: Bring your child to the grocery store to pick out foods that they like. If they buy their lunch, make sure lunch money is in a safe place.
  3. Transportation: Make sure your child knows their bus number. Discuss bus rules and talk with your child about only leaving school with a parent or designated adults. Have a safety plan in place.
  4. Iron out a schedule: Establish your routine before school starts. Consider using a large family calendar to keep track of everyone’s schedules.
  5. Resources: Talk to your child’s teachers about special needs accommodations, ESL, IEP, and/or tutoring programs. Join an adoptive parent support group or attend parent workshops (link to http://www.modernfamilycenter.org/adoption-support/).
  6. Social skills: Help your child practice appropriate social responses, conversations, and understanding appropriate physical boundaries. Set up short, structured play dates. Reach out to classmates before school starts.
  7. Social issues: Listen actively to your child and encourage positive attitudes. If bullying at school is involved, insist that it be appropriately addressed by the school.
  8. Open the adoption dialogue: If you want it known that your child is adopted, inform new teachers and provide them with any information about adoption you feel they should know. Bring a book to share about adoption with the class. Talk to your child about questions they might be asked and how they can answer them.
  9. Talk about educational goals: Empower your child to be a part of their own educational process. Support your child through highs, lows, and plateaus in learning. Be realistic with your expectations of both your child and their teacher.
  10. Don’t forget to breathe! Practice taking deep breaths with your child so that they know how to help themselves calm down if they get stressed.

Adopting a Sibling Group

SiblingsBlogPostOver 85% of families in the United States include at least one sibling. Siblings are the longest and most significant relationship most of us will have over the course of our lifetimes.  For many children, being adopted with their siblings provides continuity and mutual support during what can be an exciting and overwhelming time.

For children in need of adoptive families, being adopted with a sibling has immeasurable benefits. Not only is there is a positive impact on children’s initial adjustment period with a family, but children adopted with their siblings also experience lower anxiety and higher overall mental wellness. Siblings support and understand each other’s stories in a unique way, helping each other make sense of new life experiences. Children who have siblings often learn to build strong relationships and develop healthier attachments to others as well. Families can help maintain this powerful connection by adopting a sibling group.

We have seen many sibling groups in need of families in our Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa adoption programs. We share the belief with our partners that there is incredible value in keeping siblings together. Our in-country partners are committed to keeping siblings together whenever possible and have minimal additional fees for adopting sibling groups.

There are many joys and unique challenges that come with adopting a sibling group. Questions to consider include:

  • Do I want a large family?
  • For those currently parenting: How would your family dynamic change by adopting a sibling group?
  • Does my family have the ability to welcome two or three new members at the same time? Does my family have the capacity and resources to provide one on one time with each child in the sibling group?

As you explore if adopting a sibling group could be right for your family, contact us at info@spence-chapin.org or 212-400-8150. We can provide resources about adopting and help you consider your adoption options.

References:
Adopt US Kids. Ten Myths and Realities of Sibling Adoptions. Link: https://www.adoptuskids.org/_assets/files/NRCRRFAP/resources/ten-myths-and-realities-of-sibling-adoptions.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Sibling issues in foster care and adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Link: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/siblingissues.pdf

Creating A Family Radio. Adopting Siblings: Special Issues to Consider. Link:  http://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/adopting-siblings-special-issues-consider

 

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

Colombia’s Changing Adoption Landscape

Associate Director of International Programs Ben Sommers recently had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia to meet with our Colombian representatives and visit institutions. Here, he shares his perspective on the changing landscape of adoption in the country.  

To those individuals and entities working within child welfare, “changing landscape” is an oft-repeated refrain referring to a generalized way to understand the broad shifts that have taken place in the field over the last several decades. In more specific terms, one of the most significant developments is the ballooning number of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups who are living in institutionalized care. For Spence-Chapin, our own organizational shift is focused around taking a proactive approach to addressing the realities of this new landscape.

Colombia offers a compelling illustration of what the new landscape looks like. I recently had the privilege of traveling to Bogota to visit with our Colombian representatives and see firsthand how the rhetoric of changing landscape translated into reality. Bogota is Colombia’s most populous city, being home to approximately eight million people. Similar to any child welfare system in any nation on the spectrum of economic and social development, stories of children coming into the protection system due to poverty, violence, neglect, and substance abuse are commonplace.

The Colombian central authority on child welfare, Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF) has approximately eleven thousand children under its protection in the Bogota region. Of these eleven thousand children, approximately eight thousand have a legal status that allows for international adoption. The vast majority of this population of eight thousand children is made up of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups. While international and domestic policies prioritize domestic options, the children in protection institutes grow older, explaining the growing population number. Colombia’s domestic policies are admirable in their focus on family preservation and domestic options for these children but as these long processes unfold, or when they fail to yield legitimate options, the children get older.

Colombia San MauricioWhat I saw during my visits to four protection institutions clearly illustrated this reality: the former nurseries converted to dormitory-style housing, large outside play areas with soccer fields and basketball courts, varied facilities and extracurricular programming, and large staffs of child psychologists focused on the mental well-being of the growing number of children in each institution. It should be noted that the four institutions I visited are exceptional in terms of the resources available enabling them to turn into well-run, holistic facilities. Nonetheless, despite their summer camp-esque exteriors, the children in their care almost exclusively come from difficult backgrounds where abuse, transition, and disappointment have been present. Hence, the clinical focus on mental health and the socializing focus on creating structure, routine, and normalcy.

Again, the protection institutions I visited had the resources that allowed them to create these safe and structured environments. The institutions in rural, lower income areas that are home to thousands of children are not as fortunate. Also not as fortunate is the population of children with special needs who are living within the protection system. I heard numerous stories from child welfare professionals of misdiagnoses combined with bureaucratic indifference that has led to hundreds of children being placed in institutions that are inappropriate for their specific needs. Sadly, these children lack the advocates to help them find a more appropriate environment.

Ultimately, the children I saw are being productive. They take art classes, sing Disney songs, and idolize Lionel Messi. But for them, the notions of “permanent family” and a life free of foreseeable transition are still painted in somewhat vague colors. Many of the children are able to express the agency they feel over their futures by vocalizing either directly or indirectly their desire to be a part of a permanent family. There are challenges that exist for our adoptive families who hope to adopt these children, and these children will face challenges as they navigate the most significant transition of their lives. The limited snapshot of the Colombian child welfare system I was able to glimpse shows that the “changing landscape” rhetoric is grounded in the reality of individual anecdotes and that while the specific institutions I visited have constructed environments where children are able to progress, the key element of permanency is still missing.

Waiting Children in Bulgaria

re-sized bulgaria photo
The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice maintains a waiting child registry that lists over 1,800 older children, siblings, and children with special needs who are eligible for international adoption but have not yet found families. Bulgaria prioritizes finding families for the most vulnerable children and updates the waiting child registry monthly.

During our recent visit to Bulgaria we were struck by how many healthy sibling groups are waiting for families. Children are primarily Roma, an ethnic minority within the country, and are typically cared for in institutional settings although foster care is increasingly more common. Families open to adopting siblings recognize that sibling groups have diverse histories and ages, with the oldest child being at least 8 years old. It is our hope to find homes for many of these children with loving American families. In addition to siblings, there are many children with significant special needs who are waiting for families. In Bulgaria, some of the most common special needs include hydrocephaly, moderate or severe cognitive delays, down syndrome, and spina bifida.

Due to the priority of the Ministry of Justice to place the most vulnerable children with adoptive families, we expect families to experience a quick match time – between 6-12 months. Families open to adopting siblings may be matched within a few months of submitting their paperwork to Bulgaria. Once a child has been identified, the inter-country adoption intermediary, ANIDO, has the opportunity to visit the child to gain more information and to take photos and videos. When a family’s paperwork has been submitted to Bulgaria, their application is prioritized and the legal process of finalizing the adoption comes into effect.

Families interested in learning more about the history and trends in Bulgarian adoptions can see up-to-date statistics from the US Embassy in Sophia or the Department of State. The Bulgarian adoption program has seen an increase in placements in the past few years, showing the country’s commitment to de-institutionalization and finding permanency for the children in their care.

Spence-Chapin is committed to finding permanent families for the world’s most vulnerable children. We are reducing financial barriers for adoptive families who open their lives and hearts to a school-age child/sibling group with special needs.

Learn more about Spence-Chapin and our Bulgaria program.

 

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

flicka 3Spence-Chapin offers its heartfelt remembrance of the life and spirit of Flicka Van Praagh.  Flicka had served as the agency’s Director of the International Adoption Department from 1992-2004, having first joined the organization in 1958.

With an early interest in adoption, Flicka chose to come to Spence-Chapin for her student placement, a requisite for her MSW from Columbia University, and was offered a position after graduation. She started as a case worker in foster care in 1958 and was department head from 1961 to 1964 when she left to become Director of Social Services at Woman’s Hospital, a division of St. Luke’s Hospital Center. There she met her husband and they became the parents of a daughter and two sons. She returned to the agency in the early 1970’s on a part-time basis doing intakes and home studies that could be completed while her children were in school. She eventually came back full-time working in the international department.

Flicka made the first of many trips around the world in 1975, traveling to Seoul, Korea to implement the founding of Spence-Chapin’s first international program. She traveled extensively in Latin America in the 1980’s, working to establish programs in Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala.

In 1992, Flicka became the director of the international department. She said, “In joining Spence-Chapin, I was able to see the world and visit so many wonderful places. I went to twelve countries trying to set up new programs; opening Russia, China, Moldova and Bulgaria. I found it thrilling to help waiting children from all around the world find their forever families.”

Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, Flicka had the vision to establish Spence-Chapin’s first Granny Program in Bulgaria in 1998. This program’s success saw its replication in China, Moldova, Colombia and South Africa.

Flicka was loved by the many families that she helped bring together. In the New York Times online Guestbook Marth Volcker wrote, “Flicka was a wonderful person, and I am forever grateful to her for the important role she played in the adoption of our daughter. We adopted our daughter from China in 1999, and Flicka was a wonderful guide through the complete adoption process. We saw Flicka about a year and a half ago at a Spence-Chapin function, and her ability to remember and her interest in all the children she had placed in forever families was amazing.”

“We, the parents of two of the ‘in excess of 500 children’ Flicka helped place in adoption while at Spence-Chapin, would like to express our condolences to her family as well as our thanks, once again, to Flicka for guiding us through the 14 months that led up to the arrival of our then six-month and now 32 year old twin daughters, Jessie and Corey. Her spirit lives on in all of us,” wrote Jon Silbert and Bonnie McHale.

The Meo family added, “We are forever grateful and blessed to be parents because of Flicka. We were part of her last group to China. She was an amazing woman. May she rest in peace knowing the love and joy she brought to so many.”

At her retirement party in 2004, Flicka said. “In all the years that I worked with Spence-Chapin, I always carried a case load in addition to my other responsibilities because of the great pleasure and joy in working with clients and seeing them turn into families.”

For Ann Hassan, our current Director of Adoption, Flicka was more than a humanitarian. Flicka“To me, Flicka was a mentor, advisor and friend. As a young worker I idolized her, and she in turn invested in me, encouraged me and molded me into the social worker I am today. She combined grace and confidence in a way that made her a superb leader and a truly unique and special woman. She had true affection and commitment for the hundreds of families she worked with over the years, stemming I think from the immense love and pride she had for her own family and a core belief that everyone deserves to experience that kind of love. Flicka guides me in my work, and in life, and will forever live on through me and my many colleagues who learned from her for so many years.”

As parents and child welfare professionals, many of us are inspired by her work and her legacy.  As we reflect on her achievements, we struggle to find the balance of a tribute and a call to action – not to just mourn Flicka, but to learn from Flicka and continue her work. In doing so, we could elevate our focus of our common goal – that every child deserves a family.

If you would like to make a donation to continue Flicka’s work, we would welcome a tribute gift in her honor or call Mary Connolly, 212-360-0204.

 

You can read our remembrance to Flicka online at the NY Times.

 

A Sister’s Gift

There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family:

Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.

In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith’s daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.

maya lender and famFinally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it’s hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I’ve ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother’s adoption had on her.

It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.

 

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

Family Profile: Scott and Tari

Scott and Tari knew shortly after they were married that they wanted to build their family through adoption. After giving birth to two girls, they began the process of adding to their family. They are now the parents to 12 amazing children; 4 biological and 8 through adoption!

Some of their children have learning challenges and require extra help, but for the most part, they had never thought of parenting a child with special needs. However, in the summer of 2012, they learned about a baby that was to be born with severe disabilities. They knew in their hearts that he was meant to join their family. A day after their family was selected by the birth/first mother, they were told that their baby boy had been born.

Their sweet baby boy would only live 3 months before he passed away. During his short life, he endured many surgeries and medical procedures. Caring for this baby instilled in Scott and Tari’s hearts a desire to adopt another child that may have special needs. As their broken hearts began to mend, they once again began the process of adoption.

Tari came across Spence-Chapin’s website and saw our program for special needs adoption. On the waiting child page was Olivia, a baby girl with severe medical disabilities that was in need of a family who could care for her properly. After discussing it with Scott, they started the application process, and this past winter they brought Olivia home. Today, Olivia is thriving in her new home surrounded by her loving parents and brothers and sisters.

“Working with Spence-Chapin has been the best experience,” Tari says. “We have worked with many different agencies and the staff at Spence-Chapin have been the most compassionate and caring that we have ever worked with. We could tell they truly love what they do…helping children!”

Spence-Chapin presents child welfare training to ICBF and Colombian child advocates.

In order to ensure the successful placement of older children and sibling groups it is critical that all professionals involved in the adoption process are informed by the best current research and are all working out of the same paradigm to maximize success.  Spence-Chapin licensed social workers traveled to Bogota, Colombia at the end of September to present trainings to Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar/Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF)  staff and Colombian child welfare advocates who are key in facilitating domestic or international adoption of older children and sibling groups. The training focused on maximizing potential success of placement for older children and sibling adoption. adoption training

School-age children, those who are 8 years old and older at time of placement, are the most overly represented population in orphanages worldwide. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of older children discourage many prospective parents from exploring this option. Currently, close to 8,000 children in Colombia, ages 10 and older, are waiting for a family.

The professionals involved in the adoption process have an important role in preparing the child and the people involved with the child before the child is adopted. The extent to which the child is prepared for adoption has significant impact on easing the transition and maximizing successful incorporation into the family. Using available resources and strategies based on the child’s developmental levels, and current psychological understanding regarding attachment, have been found to be successful in alleviating the child’s anxieties, minimizing the stress associated with change and maximizing incorporation into a new family.

The Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar/Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), established in 1968, provides care services for children, adolescents and families, especially those under threat, insolvency or violation of their rights, and is Colombia’s central authority for adoptions.

Championing the Waiting Child

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does.

Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

Today is Giving Tuesday!

Giving TuesdayResearchers have shown that people who commit random acts of kindness are significantly happier than those who don’t, and spending money on others makes you happier than spending money on yourself. They also have discovered happier people help others more – a positive mood makes you nicer!  This makes a circle: giving makes you happy, and when you’re happy you give more, which makes you happier, which makes you give more.

Neuroscientists know that charitable giving releases dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter” that makes you feel good. The point is that charitable donations aren’t purely rational calculations. Instead, our decisions are deeply influenced by the quirky social machinery of the brain, which is influenced by variables like empathy (how close do we feel to the beneficiaries of the good cause?) and the ability to detect agency (does the charity make us think of other people?).

We bring this up this selfless circle of happiness now because today is #GivingTuesday, a national day of giving. How can you make the world a better place in some way, and live #GivingTuesday every day of the year?  You should take a moment to feel joy at the difference you make and if you want a place to increase your flow of dopamine today, we recommend our Granny program. Our Grannies in China, South Africa, Colombia and Moldova give their time every day…they’re getting their daily dose of dopamine!

 

Interim Care Provider Kim Sava in Real Simple Magazine

Kim Sava lives by an uncommon philosophy: Keep only what you use, make peace with imperfection, and (seriously) help those in need. Her beautiful home is a snapshot of her spirit.
By Marjorie Ingall

Loving and Letting Go

With a newborn in one arm, Kim talks about the volunteer work that she has been engaged in for the last four years. “I think I’m officially called an ‘interim care provider,’ ” she says, spreading a blanket on the floor to change the diaper of her current charge. The adoption agency that she is involved with, Spence-Chapin, brings newborns to Kim for anywhere from a week to three months, to give birth mothers time to make an informed decision. “I went through the same background checks and training as an adoptive parent would,” she says. Kim has had more than two dozen babies stay with the family, sometimes two at a time. Is it hard to give them back? Kim answers right away: “It’s the deal,” she says, lifting the baby. “And I knew the deal.”

Opening Her Heart—and Her Home

Kim’s twin sons, Declan and Wesley, age 13, are sweet to the babies but only as interested as any busy, social seventh-grade boys would be. Some of the little girls in the neighborhood, however, flock to the house. “I live a block from the school, so between the boys’ friends and the girls coming to hold the babies, my place is always swarming with kids,” says Kim. Are the newborns disruptive to family life? “There’s not a whole lot of screaming going on,” she says. “They really just want to be held.”

Read the entire article here.

Orphan Nutrition

 

Tasty or not, proper nutrition is essential to every child’s healthy development. Without it, the body won’t function normally: the immune system struggles to fight infection, bone growth is stunted, and cognitive development lags behind.

Children who don’t have a permanent parental figure in their lives are more at risk for under-nutrition, priming them for other devastating delays in their childhood development. Children living in institutions are still at risk for malnutrition from the type of foods they are fed. Porridge, a staple of many orphanage kitchens, is inexpensive and easy to cook for large groups. Oats and honey may sustain hunger, but a solid diet of porridge (or any one item) doesn’t provide the complete nutrition for any growing child.

OrphanNutrition.org is a collection of nutrition resources created to increase advocacy and awareness on this global problem among orphaned children. The website is an initiative of A Child’s Best Start, a Mead-Johnson organization committed to improving nutrition conditions for children. It shares, information on nutrition best practices, food safety practices, and individual country data on nutrition. Orphan Nutrition has also started humanitarian initiatives to provide specially designed bottles for babies born with cleft palettes.

Be sure to visit the site to read all the valuable information on orphan malnutrition, and find out ways you can help stop this preventable problem from growing.

Dyadic Development Psychotherapy Class for Therapists and Social Workers

Spence-Chapin is hosting a four-day training, geared for therapists and social workers,  in the treatment of children with trauma-attachment problems.

Early deprivation, neglect, abuse, significant early health problems and hospitalizations, repeated moves, or more than one year in an orphanage can create attachment problems that require specialized treatment. This workshop, led by Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman, will provide therapists and other professionals with an opportunity to learn and practice effective treatment methods for trauma-attachment disordered children.

Attendees will earn a Certificate of Attendance for 34 CEUs. Learn more at www.spence-chapin.org/dyadicdevelopment .

Spence-Chapin’s FACES Program Honored with Grant

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) recently announced the awardees for the 2011-12 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Prevention and Post Adoption grants. Spence-Chapin’s FACESFoster-Adoption Counseling, Education and Support– program was one of the honorees.

The FACES program supports families who have adopted from foster care, or are at any stage in the process of adopting from foster care. The program provides FREE counseling in both English and Spanish.

FACES also offers FREE on-site trainings for child welfare professionals.

For more information FACES contact Jana Leonard at FACES@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0267 .

South Africa Granny Program

This spring Spence-Chapin proudly started our first Granny Program in Africa with the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years. Othandweni is operated by Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), one of the oldest, largest and most respected organizations of its kind in the country.   In September JCW and Othandweni held a dedication event to introduce the program to the local Soweto community, which was attended by many community members and local media.

South Africa Granny Program

Every week, Monday through Friday, 20 children spend quality one-on-one time with their grannies.  JCW staff reports that they immediately began to see changes in the participating children, who now look for their grannies every day!

The introduction of a granny to a young child is literally life-changing; it gives that child the opportunity to live a healthy, confident and well-adjusted life. Orphanages are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of the children in their care and are asking for programs like this one to help them improve the lives of these little ones.

Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.