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.

5 Simple Ways to Show Grandparents You Care

Grandparents play a special role in the lives of their grandchildren. Whether they live near or far, it’s important to show them how much you care.

Here are 5 ways your child can show how much they love their grandparents:

  1. Send a card or letter: A handmade card or handwritten letter is a special treasure for grandparents. It’s a great way to let them know how much you love them.
  1. Ask them questions: Taking an interest in their stories and experiences is another way to show how much you care.
  1. Lend a helping hand: Whether it is working in the garden, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or dusting the furniture, it’s a simple and extremely helpful way to care for their needs.
  1. If your grandparents don’t live nearby, set up a scheduled phone-date or Skype call. It’s a great way to keep in touch and allows grandparents to see how their grandchildren are growing up!
  1. Play together: If you live near your grandparents, take time to play together. This Grandparents Day, bring your grandparents to Bagels & Blox! Enjoy a delicious brunch, meet other adoptive families, and express your love through play!

Adoption Lifestages

Not all kids develop their adoption understanding at the same time, but there are some commonalities that can help parents understand how to support their child.

AdoptionLifestagesWe offer programs, as well as short-term parent coaching to help you get the ball rolling on these important but sometimes difficult conversations.

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

 

My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.

Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

Photo Jun 05, 6 38 54 AM

The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

The Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask about Older Child Adoption

older child adoption

Spence-Chapin’s mission is to find families for the most vulnerable children, including older children, sibling groups, and children with special medical needs.

As you begin to think about growing your family through adoption, one of the first steps is deciding the age of the child you will be parenting. Spence-Chapin can help you explore the reasons an older child could be a great fit for your family. We know there are some questions about older child adoption that people are often too afraid to ask, so we’ve started a list here.

Questions:

  • What is the age range of a child who is considered “older”?
  • What are some of the differences between adopting an older child from foster care and adopting an older child internationally?
  • Can we adopt an older child if we have younger children we are currently parenting?
  • Can a single parent/older parent adopt an older child?
  • As a single parent, can I adopt an older child who is not the same gender as me?
  • Do older children have behavioral and emotional issues?
  • Would we be able to have a bar or bat mitzvah for our child if we adopt an older child?
  • How much will I know about my older child’s history?
  • Have all older children been living in an institutional setting since birth?
  • How much input does an older child have into his adoption plan?
  • How can I be fully prepared to adopt an older child?
  • What language will my child speak? Will my child speak or understand English?

Are these the questions that you were thinking of too? Our team can provide the answers to all these and more. Give Kara, Heather and Jamie a call – 212-400-8150.

Spence-Chapin is able to share the profiles of international children who are considered to be the most in need of a loving family, and who are ready to be matched immediately.  The Waiting Child profiles often consist of children who are older or part of a sibling group. In order to respect the privacy of these children, the Waiting Child page has been password protected.

If you would like to hear more about our adoption programs or request the password to the Waiting Child page, contact us at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.