February: Black History Month

Spence-Chapin has been a leader in African-American and Black infant adoption and recruiting African-American adoptive parents. In honor of Black History Month, we revisit the efforts made by those who have fought to break barriers, making African-American and Black children from all parts of the world a focus and a priority.

Adoption at Spence-Chapin

In the 1940’s, Gladys Randolph, former director of Social Work at Harlem Hospital, brought the issue of boarder babies languishing in her community without families to the attention of Spence-Chapin. Challenging the then-popular notion that African-American families were not interested in adoption, Spence-Chapin started a program in 1946 to respond to the crisis. Working hard to tackle this misconception, in 1953, the agency elected Mrs. Jackie Robinson, wife of the famous baseball player Jackie Robinson, to serve on the Board of Directors. She played a crucial role in recruiting African-American families and as the movement gained momentum, more illustrious Americans, including Ruth Harris (wife of political scientist and Noble Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche), Marian Anderson (celebrated American singer), and Willetta S. Mickey (wife of Civil Rights pioneer Hubert Delaney) helped Spence-Chapin recruit African-American adoptive families.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the featured speaker for a Spence-Chapin conference in 1954. Mrs. Roosevelt was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “No matter what the color of their skin, all our children must be looked at as the future rich heritage of the country.”

In 1991, adoptive parents of African-American children formed the Spence-Chapin African-American Parents Advisory Committee, known as AAPAC. The group, which welcomes all families parenting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adopted children, brings families together for social networking and support. One of the positive outcomes has been the close ties formed by members and their children, and the sense of community which has evolved among families.

Today, Spence-Chapin continues our mission of finding adoptive families for all children in the New York tri-state area and abroad as well as recruiting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adoptive parents.  

 

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.

Meet Elizabeth!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are?

This month we talked to Dr. Elizabeth Studwell, Psy.D., Manager of Mental Health Services, about her work.

ElizabethStudwellWhy did you want to work at the Modern Family Center?

I specifically wanted to work at the Modern Family Center because I believe very strongly in the freedom and acceptance to have and be a part of a “Modern Family.” I want to provide support to individuals and families that find themselves feeling different than the norm. I feel very passionately about adoption and feel that it often takes extra strength to be a part of a unique family structure, whatever that might be. All children deserve a family and all families deserve to be happy and healthy.

 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is the consultation work that I do for foster care agencies. I help to support children whose parents have not been able to fully care for their needs.

Describe your job in 3 words.
Dynamic, rewarding, humbling

Describe your experience in mental health counseling.

I completed my doctorate in clinical psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and have been engaged in providing mental health services in a variety of settings for almost ten years. I have volunteered and worked at a residential institution in Colombia preparing children for adoption. I have provided coaching, counseling, and consulting as well as psychological assessment in variety of settings including inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, behavioral day schools, and foster care agencies. I am clinically trained primarily in attachment based psychotherapy, relational therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and trauma focused psychotherapy.

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

snowflakeHolidays are a time for connecting with loved ones and provide the opportunity for time travel – we visit our past, experience the present, and set intentions for the future.

It’s easy to think about the family members we see and touch base with regularly. But what about those who were part of your child’s life before they were part of your family? It could be birth or foster families, orphanage caregivers, or early childhood friends. Even if your child was too young to remember these relationships, they are an important part of your child’s history and who they are today. Finding ways to bring their birth family, birth culture, and past into the present is important for deepening your relationship with your child.

Be imaginative about honoring those connections. The rituals and traditions you create with your child can be tangible and concrete, like putting together a Lifebook that has pictures of those important people, sending letters and cards, or setting up a visit. If you don’t have direct contact, the rituals can be symbolic. Go for a walk in the park where you first decided to adopt; eat the favorite food of that important person every Thanksgiving; collect stones from important places in your child’s life. The smallest detail can have a huge impact on your child now and in the future. Remember, be creative and make it a special tradition that is unique to your family. Your child might not like or understand the meaning of the rituals now, but it is important that you’re doing all that you can do to document and celebrate your child’s past so they can cherish it in the future. When you honor those who are connected to your child, you are honoring your children, their story, and your family’s roots.

SC Recognizes Douglas & Christen Driscoll for Receiving an “Angels in Adoption Award”

SC_FavIcon-2015SPENCE-CHAPIN SERVICES TO FAMILIES & CHILDREN RECOGNIZES DOUGLAS AND CHRISTEN DRISCOLL FOR RECEIVING AN ‘ANGELS IN ADOPTION AWARD’

Douglas and Christen Driscoll, were recently honored with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s 2015 Angels in Adoption award in Washington, D.C. The Driscoll’s were nominated for the award by Spence-Chapin and selected for the award by Sen. Charles Schumer.

Sen. Charles Schumer selected Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Douglas and Christen Driscoll for their outstanding advocacy in adoption. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), which orchestrates the Angels in Adoptionprogram, honored the Driscoll family at an awards ceremony on October 6th and gala on October 7th in Washington, DC. Angels in Adoption™ program highlights ordinary

Spence-Chapin adoptive parents, Douglas and Christen Driscoll, are a remarkable couple and devoted parents to their children. After having five biological children, Douglas and Christen started working with Spence-Chapin by opening their home to provide interim care for children with special needs. Through this work, their desire to expand their family through adoption blossomed. They have since adopted five beautiful sons. The two youngest Driscoll children were adopted through Spence-Chapin’s – special needs program. Linda Alexandre, Spence-Chapin’s Associate Director of Special Needs, remarked “Christen and Doug are dedicated advocates and loving parents for their children. We are thrilled that they have been honored as Angels in Adoption.” Doug and Christen love being parents and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be chosen as their children’s parents.

On Tuesday, October 6th, the Driscoll family met with Sen. Charles Schumer and received their Angels in Adoption award. Sen. Charles Schumer acknowledged their dedication to adoption and advocacy for children with special needs.

The Angels in Adoptionprogram is CCAI’s signature public awareness campaign and provides an opportunity for all members of the U.S. Congress to honor the good work of their constituents who have enriched the lives of foster children and orphans in the United States and abroad. Each year, more than 140 Angels are honored through the Angels in Adoptionprogram. “The Angels in Adoptionprogram is unlike any other program in the Nation’s Capital. Because of it, almost 2,000 ‘Angels’ have come to share with Washington their adoption experience and left with a renewed excitement of all that adoption makes possible,” said Kathleen Strottman.

The Angels in Adoptionprogram was established in 1999 as a Congressional press conference to honor outstanding individuals. Since then, the program has developed into a yearlong public awareness campaign culminating in an extraordinary awards gala and celebration in Washington, DC.


 

About Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children
Spence-Chapin is an adoption and family service agency bringing over 100 years of experience in finding families for children. Spence-Chapin’s fundamental belief is that Every Child Deserves A Family. To underscore this commitment, Spence-Chapin has eliminated many financial barriers for families who consider embarking on the adoption journey. Through their Modern Family Center, Spence-Chapin has broadened their impact and provides support, workshops, and counseling services for: birth parents, adoptive parents, families formed through adoption, teens, children with special needs, and adoptees at every life stage.

 

For further information, please contact: Molly Supinski, 212-360-0245, msupinski@spence-chapin.org

 

Post-Adoption Books

 

Stack-of-Parenting-BooksTalking about adoption with your family can be difficult. Where do you even begin the conversation? Sometimes reading about other people’s experiences can make it easier to talk about your own. These books explore adoption, race identity, foster care, and the feelings from love to loneliness to everything in-between. They’re perfect to read as your family begins to talk about their own story.

Children Ages 0 – 5

  • We Belong Together, Todd Parr
  • A Mother for Choco, Keiko Kasza
  • Welcome Home Little Baby, Lisa Harper
  • Brown Like Me, Noelle Lamperti

Children Ages 6 – 11

  • Pancakes with Chocolate Syrup, Rebekah Barlow Rounce
  • Heaven, Angela Johnson
  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech

Children Ages 12 – 18

  • Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Returnable Girl, Pamela Lowell
  • Pieces of Me, Edited by Bert Ballard

Photo Album or Early Lifebook

  • Create a small photo album
  • Don’t use original photos or irreplaceable items (if making a scrapbook)
  • Start the book with the start of the child’s life, not the start of their life with you
  • Leave blank pages as space holders where you have no information
  • Expand the book or create new books as child hits important life milestones
  • Join us for our upcoming Lifebook workshop on September 27th at 1pm.