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.

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.”

Home Study Spotlight: Meet Lauren Russo!

This month we talked to Lauren Russo, Coordinator of Permanency Services, about her work.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
I started working at Spence-Chapin in January of 2016.

How did you become interested in adoption?
My interest in the field of adoption occurred rather organically. I always enjoyed working with children and their families within the context of my degree in psychology. Field experience allowed me to see the influence that families have in a child’s development. From there, I easily became passionate about being a part of a journey that helps to create, maintain and support families of all different types.

What is a typical workday like?
A typical work day involves a good deal of communication via phone or email with families currently in the home study process. When I’m not communicating directly with a family, I’m typically working behind the scenes, continuing the planning of their case and tracking of their documentation. Collaboration with another Spence Chapin team in order to meet the continued needs of our clients is also a typical part of my day to day work. Each day looks a little different from the one before as we continue to work with a diverse population of families and other adoption providers.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Adoption is riddled with paperwork and my role is to assist in the tracking, supporting and processing of a family’s documentation. The home study paperwork often feels overwhelming and at times frustrating for families. Part of the complexity is that collecting documentation requires the coordination of not just a family and our agency but perhaps a third party such as a consulate, medical professionals, or reference providers. My challenge lies in helping families to understand the purpose of the required documentation, essentially how each document serves the greater purpose of helping them to complete a child-centric home study that meets all requirements and is completed to the highest of standards. Documentation is a part of the home study process that can feel difficult to tackle, but our team is here to support families throughout the process.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to work with a family in the home study stage and again in the post-placement stage. After working with a family and helping them navigate the home study process, seeing one of their first family photos is amazing.

Do you have any interesting/funny stories about something that’s happened on the job?
It is always interesting and great to hear about our families connect. Whether through a Spence-Chapin event or by coincidence. I love to hear about a planned play date or how one adoptive parent was able to support another as they both encountered similar feelings, questions or experiences.

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
Each family has such a unique adoption process and some are thrown a curveball or face bumps along the road of their adoption journey. In working with these families as they overcome obstacles I am reminded each day of the commitment and devotion all of my clients have to grow their families and becoming parents.

To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

Home Study Spotlight: Meet Sophia!

This month we talked to Sophia Gardner, LMSW, Coordinator of Permanency Services, about her work.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
I started working with Spence-Chapin in October 2016.

How did you become interested in adoption?
I am the eldest and only biological child in a transracial family of eleven kids, so adoption is something that has been intricately woven into my life for a long time. Learning about and understanding the experiences of my siblings’ early lives left me with a strong desire to work in child protection. When I first began thinking about my career, I was drawn to building systems for family-based-care in countries that are continuing to utilize institutional care. And in general, I was attracted to family preservation and strengthening. I transitioned to New York City after spending time in India while completing my MSW and was thinking about how I could apply my skill sets to domestic work. Transitioning into adoption work felt very natural and sometimes I look back and wonder, how did it take me so long to get here?

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, the most rewarding part of my job is the direct work that I do with families. So much of the home study experience is education and families come to adoption with a wide range of knowledge and understanding. It’s inspiring to educate families on themes like openness, identity development and being a transracial family. In particular, the arc I witness with families or individuals from when they come into home study, with an often-rudimentary understanding of these themes, to when they begin to connect the dots, to understand that everything we’re doing is child-centered, is incredibly meaningful.

What does your typical workday look like?
Something that I love about this work is the variety of what any day could look like. Primarily, I’m meeting adoptive families during their home study process, either in our office or in their home. Because the home study requires a home visit, I do a lot of traveling around New York and New Jersey. When I’m not supporting a family directly – either through home study, post placement, training or resource distribution – I’m typically writing, in a meeting, or working with my team members to brainstorm how to approach a particular scenario.

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
I really love working with our international adoption kinship families. Often, in a kinship adoption, families are coming to us after experiencing a loss in the family. They need to adopt a child whom they are already related to in some way because the child is now in need of love and protection. These families are often in a place of grief, and because they are relatives of the child, may feel the home study process is particularly cumbersome. I feel a great responsibility to those families to work with them so that they can understand that adoption themes will still be present in their home, even with the familial relationships. To see families understand each theme you’re discussing and have them walk away feeling empowered, and not encumbered, is very special.

Has S-C changed you in any way? Prior to joining Spence, all my experience in adoption was in international adoption. Working across all our programs, it has been so wonderful to be exposed to the domestic side of the work that we do. I have so much respect for the work our social workers do with our birth parents and have loved being able to educate our families about open adoption.

To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

Home Study Spotlight: Meet Kristina!

This month we talked to Kristina Daley, LMSW, Coordinator of Permanency Services, about her work.

Describe your job in three words.
Creating Forever Families.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
I started working at Spence-Chapin in January of 2016.

How did you become interested in adoption?
I’ve always been fascinated with adoption. As a former foster child who was raised by one family, adoption was never presented as an option. When the law changed to ensure a child does not languish in foster care like I did, I celebrated it, as there were many children who were being raised by a family that they saw as their own – but adoption was not an option until the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) made it one.

Why did you want to work at Spence-Chapin?
I enjoy working with families and children. Spence-Chapin enabled me to do both.

What’s a typical workday?
Meeting with families to conduct home study interviews, checking in with families who have adopted to assist with transitions and adjustments to parenting, and writing reports!

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Often, families come to adoption with specific expectations. For example, an older child may come with connections to birth family, possibly to another country, and to a past which did not include their adoptive family. I think this can sometimes be challenging for families to think about. Our team is here to support families throughout the process.

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
We ask our parents to be open and sharing of their child’s adoption story and to maintain connections with birth families. They know that for the best interest of their child they must be open to connecting with and maintaining connections with birth parents. I enjoy my part in helping them figure out how to do this and lessen fears related to open adoption.

Has working at Spence-Chapin changed you in any way?
It has solidified my commitment to creating families whose foundation is built on empathy, being genuine and respectful.

To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

Meet Lauren Jiang!

This month we talked to Lauren Jiang, LMSW, Associate Director of Permanency Services, about her work.

When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
February 10, 2014, after completing my Graduate Social Work Internship with Spence-Chapin’s post-adoption department.

Why did you want to work at Spence-Chapin?
I wanted (and still do!) to work at Spence-Chapin for its ethical approach to adoption. I could only ever see myself at an agency that welcomes all families regardless of age, race/ethnicity, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

How did you become interested in adoption?
To me there is nothing more fundamentally influential to human development than the family you are raised in. In this field, we have the opportunity to help support healthy foundations for children, whether it’s helping to empower individuals to raise the children who are born to them, or preparing families to raise the children entrusted to them through adoption.

What’s your favorite part about being a home study social worker?
Carrying families from home study into post-placement is rewarding. It’s great to see a person’s dream to parent become a reality. I also love seeing that through the relationships we build with families that trust is established; through that trust, when the realities of parenting are hard, or if a parent is struggling with bonding with their new child, the parent feels safe coming to us with that so we can support them and help work through the challenge.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s our job to dive deep with prospective adoptive parents and understand their life history in order to then talk through how that history may impact their future parenting. I think for those of us who are social workers, we came to the field with the belief that through challenges we can find strengths, and so we really work with families to build insight into how their own histories could support them as future parents.

Describe your job in three words.
Preparing & supporting families

Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
I think they all do. There isn’t a person in our office whose desk isn’t decorated with photos from the families we’ve help create.


To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin, email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.