Family Story: Chris and Mary

Davila family

Photo by Jess Rotenberg Photography – www.jessrotenberg.com

Chris and Mary share their story of adopting their daughter from South Africa.

The Davila family knew they wanted to grow their family through adoption after a mission trip to Liberia brought them face to face with the children who were in need of family. They wasted little time after their realization that adoption was right for them. Two years later were able to adopt their daughter Arri from Ethiopia. Another two years flew by, and they knew they were ready to adopt again.

After years of searching for the right program, Chris and Mary finally decided that the South Africa program at Spence-Chapin was a perfect fit for their family. According to Mary, they came to this conclusion because they were encouraged by the answers that they got about the South Africa program. They liked that the children placed internationally tend to fall into a more vulnerable category of having special needs, being older, or being part of a sibling group. And also “we were encouraged by Spence-Chapin’s enthusiasm about the program and their honesty about the adoption process.”

One of Chris and Mary’s most memorable moments in the adoption process was when they received “the call”. They had been matched with a 20 month old little girl! A few months later they travelled to South Africa with their four year old daughter on what they describe as a transformative trip for their family.

“We are so grateful that our whole family was able to be in South Africa together. We were welcomed with open arms and made so many friends there. We met our daughter, Etta, on our first full day in country and it was love at first sight. Etta took to our older daughter, Arri, in a heartbeat, and one of our most cherished memories is the sight of Arri taking Etta by the hand, walking her out of her care center for the last time, and into the arms of our forever family.”

The Davila family was struck by the commitment of the staff to the children in their care at Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa. Mary says that their social worker was “a saint who advocates tirelessly for the children and also manages to be 100% on top of all of the paperwork involved in an adoption.” They took comfort in knowing that their social worker would be by their side in every meeting in South Africa and that she knew their daughter: her personality, likes, and dislikes. She was available to answer questions at any hour of the day and clearly loved the children.

Chris and Mary have been home with Etta for about eight months. They describe Etta as “playful, hilariously funny, and sweet, sweet, sweet. “ According to Mary, their family transition has been very smooth.

“We are so grateful to Spence Chapin for helping us grow our family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa, please visit our South Africa program page or contact us at info@spence-chapin.org.

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

 

Spence-Chapin Partners with The Family Equality Council as an “Ally for Adoption”

Spence-Chapin is excited to partner with the Family Equality Council in their “Allies for Adoption” campaign, agreeing that every child in America deserves the chance to find a forever family. As an Ally for Adoption, we support the Family Equality Council’s efforts to eliminate barriers to adoption faced by LGBT people in every state.

We are also partnering with Parents, Family, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Family Equality Council by joining their Every Child Deserves a Family Coalition to support a bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate that eliminates any state laws, practices, or procedures that exclude LGBT foster and adoptive families.

Spence-Chapin also received the Human Rights Campaign’s “All Children-All Families” Seal of Recognition in October and we continue to be fully committed to equality in adoption as we build families with partnered same-sex and LGBT singles.

allies for adoption  ECDF

Nia Vardalos, Not So ‘Instant’ Mom

The thing about Nia Vardalos’s book, “Instant Mom,” is that I want to push it onto people. Lots of people. People who have looked at my family and said, “Oh, we’ve thought about adoption.” People who I kind of suspect might, for one reason or another, be thinking about adoption. People who I, in my status as she-who-knows-best-about everything, think should maybe be thinking about adoption. (I would never really do that.)

Ms. Vardalos is, of course, an actor and screenwriter, and now, the mother of one daughter through adoption. She is also a veteran of fertility treatments — lots of fertility treatments. Every fertility treatment I’ve ever heard of and some I hadn’t. She went back again and again, to a self-punishing degree, and emerged grievingadoption and without a baby — an experience she does not gloss over. She may tell you that her daughter is her destiny, but she will not tell you that she enjoyed getting there.

Even after Ms. Vardalos and her husband closed the chapter on infertility treatments, she came slowly to adoption, and even more slowly to the foster adoption program. She had misconceptions about who the children were and how the process worked, she told me, which made her reluctant. “For one thing, I thought in foster adoption, the children came to live with you for a while, then went back home, or might go back home,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of all the children who are already legally emancipated from their families.”

She also thought all, or at least most, of the children in a foster adoption program would have unmanageable problems. “But you know, some children have issues, some don’t — just like any children, biological, or adopted from anywhere,” she said. “That’s just life. “

“But I’m an average person who reads the news and listens to the stories, and of course, fear sells,” Ms. Vardalos said. “Even though I’m surrounded by happy adoptive families, I had only absorbed the negative ones. I’m a middle child Canadian, and I wasn’t looking for trouble. I’m not proud of it, but I want to be honest about it. I had fears.”

Those fears, and what happened after she put them aside, are the subject of Ms. Vardalos’s book, and of her new role as an advocate for foster adoption. Hers is the rare honest look at the adoption of a slightly older child — a child with a history; a child with memories; a child with reason to be angry about her life up until now, but without the ability to understand or put words to that anger. Her daughter, Ilaria, was almost 3 years old when she went to live with her new family — old enough to be confused and to grieve, and to take some of that grief out on her unprepared new mother and father.

Because I, too, am the adoptive parent of a slightly older child (my younger daughter was almost 4 when she came to us), every word of “Instant Mom” rang true for me, as Ms. Vardalos and her husband get through the difficult first days and weeks and find a way into their daughter’s heart. I asked her to describe the first few days after they took Ilaria home, and she laughed — a big, friendly laugh at how she used to be — and then got serious.

“We were suddenly and overwhelmingly in over our heads,” she said. “We were not equipped to help this poor, scared child with anything other than words we weren’t sure she understood, and caresses and kisses that she wouldn’t allow — and she was mad. She was really mad, and I understood. We would say it. ‘This must make you really mad. This must be really confusing.’ ”

Ms. Vardalos describes how they slowly helped Ilaria find enough confidence to relax, enough belief in them to sleep, and enough trust in her new family to speak and eventually to love. Of her choice to begin her life as a parent with a child who was past infancy and babyhood, she said: “I realized I didn’t necessarily see us with a baby. There are benefits to adopting a toddler. They can tell you what’s wrong. And — everything we did with our daughter was a first. Her first tooth fairy. Santa. If you adopt a 16-year-old, you teach them to drive for the first time. If you’re looking for firsts, there are always firsts.”

“Instant Mom” is the book I wish I’d had as we traveled that same road with our youngest daughter. If you have ever considered bringing a child who isn’t an infant into your family, it’s the book you’ll want to read. And if you just enjoy a good, honest memoir, whether it’s an experience you’ll ever share or not (hello, “Eat Pray Love”), it’s the book for you, too.
By KJ DELL’ANTONIA

Credit: NYTimes.com

Just Holding on Through the Curves

This article was written by Cris Beam and posted on NYTimes.com on August 29, 2013. Cris Beam, who lives in New York, is the author of “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.” Continue reading

How do I talk to my child about adoption

adoption, counseling, When you adopt a child, you are giving him/her the wonderful gift of a home.  However, with all of the love that you have to offer also comes the responsibility of being willing to discuss his birth parents at some point in his life. For many parents, this can be a challenging task; it can be even harder for the child.

Most adoptive parents understand that their child not only needs and deserves knowledge of how their family was created through adoption, but also that this knowledge must be provided in a way that will give the child the pride and self-respect every person needs as a foundation in life.

Years ago, parents thought that they should wait until the child was old enough to talk about the adoption. We now know that this way can do more harm than good as many adopted children are finding out about their adoption from other people and feeling betrayed.

Adopted children often have many questions about their heritage and they should be answered by their adoptive parents when they are asked. I have worked with foster and adopted children and families for more 15 years, and every child I have counseled has had questions about their biological family starting at a young age. Some younger children are often unsure whether they should bring up their birth parents to their adoptive parents, in fear that it will hurt their feelings or that it will cause anger and they will be abandoned once again. In some cases their fears are real, while in others they are not.

Prior to adolescence, children are extremely curious about their adoption stories. Although they question the circumstances that led to their adoption, most of them seem to accept the answers calmly – See more at:
Some of the questions adopted children ask are, “Did my mom and dad love me? Did my mom and dad love each other? Why did they put me up for adoption?” These are all valid questions which need to be answered to ensure that the child feels secure.

Adoptive parents have said to me, “I know that I have to talk to my daughter or son about the adoption, but where do I begin?” I think it is best to begin when the child is very young and is able to cognitively understand language — usually at around 1 ½ to 2 years of age. You want to be able to tell your child about the adoption often. Also, if you are married or in a relationship, you want to make sure that both parents agree on the same story. This will make the experience less complicated and stressful for your child. I always encourage parents to practice what they are going to say to the child before talking. It builds parents’ confidence and prepares them for questions. And be prepared — they will have lots of questions!

Here are a few more tips for talking to a child about their adoption.

1. Always be willing to talk about the adoption with your children. The more open you are about it, the more comfortable the child will be.

2. Keep the conversation age-appropriate. When a child is younger, use a story telling technique (Fisher, 2000) and keep the language simple. As the child ages and becomes more mature, more sophisticated language can be used.

3. Be honest but don’t scare the child. If you don’t know something, then say, “I don’t know.” If the child was a product of rape for instance, “You don’t want to start out by saying your mommy and daddy loved each other very much,” says Lois Melina, author of Making Sense of Adoption and Raising Adopted Children. “You can say something that would imply that their parents didn’t know each other very well.”

4. Help your child learn how to express their emotions about being adopted. This can be done not only through talking but through drawing or making a life book.

Addressing the adopted child’s past is the key to helping them move towards a bright future.

– By Dr. Sue, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Temple University and an expert in parenting, foster care and child abuse. This article was originally posted on montgomerynews.com