Adopting LGBTQ Youth

Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are currently over-represented in the foster care system in the United States. These tweens and teens need unconditional love and permanent homes, just like all youth. Executive Director of Creating a Family, Dawn Davenport, spends some time with Mark Lacava, Spence-Chapin’s Executive Vice President, Director of Modern Family Center, discussing fostering, adopting, and raising children who identify as LGBTQ.

Listen to the expert advice and tips in the full podcast below.

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Mark Lacava has over 20 years of experience as a therapist, and has worked extensively with LGBTQ families and individuals in his career. To learn more about Mark and the counseling and support provided by Spence-Chapin, visit our Modern Family Center.

Want to hear more? Listen to Spence-Chapin’s Beth Friedberg discuss sleep issues for adopted children and many more podcasts from Creating a Family – The National Infertility & Adoption Education & Support Nonprofit.

Orphan Sunday: Join Us to Support Vulnerable Children

Orphan Sunday is about raising awareness of the many children here and around the world who are in need of a loving and nurturing adoptive family. On November 11, 2018 Spence-Chapin will once again join the Orphan Sunday movement to help bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and single women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Whether living in a children’s home or with a foster family, today we stand alongside every child who has been disconnected from the possibility of a permanent family.

Spence-Chapin advocates for children in the New York Metro area and around the world through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. We also offer lifelong support for children and their families through our counseling, parent coaching and post-adoption support services.

Building and strengthening families is our top priority.  We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition, and we focus on finding families for the most vulnerable children: the thousands of pre-school and school-age children, sibling groups, and children with medical needs living in orphanages and foster care around the world. 

Join us at an event during National Adoption Month to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference in the life of a child:

To learn more about domestic and international adoption at Spence-Chapin, or to view profiles of Waiting Children ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.  

To learn about post-adoption supportservices and community programs, contact us at 646-539-2167 or  info@modernfamilycenter.org.

My Family’s Birthland Trip to Ethiopia

This summer, Mary and Chris took their family on a birthland trip to Ethiopia. Their younger daughter, Etta, 5, was adopted through Spence-Chapin from South Africa, and their older daughter, Arri, 8, was adopted through a different adoption organization from Ethiopia. We caught up with Mary to ask her about the trip, how she and her family prepared for it, and what advice they have for other families considering a birthland trip.

Why did you decide to take your daughter on a birthland trip?
The pivotal moment of deciding to do a birthland trip came in the most unexpected way—while watching the movie Lion. That movie really reinforced to us that our children need to know who they are and where they came from. We talked after the movie and decided, we have to go back and let our daughter see where she came from.

In what ways did you prepare Arri for the trip?
Our family is very fortunate to have an Ethiopian Church in our community that offers monthly classes to children from Ethiopia, many of whom are adopted. We also attend a Family Camp in Virginia for first-generation Ethiopian American children. So, by the time we made the trip, Arri already had learned a lot about the culture, language, and history of Ethiopia—even enough so that on the trip, she was able to say hello, and speak words in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, to other Ethiopians.

How did you and your husband prepare?
That’s a great question. As parents, we felt so vulnerable and…scared, would be an honest way of describing it. You realize you’re not really in control. We knew that we didn’t have to do this visit, we didn’t have to open this door—it could stay closed. But we felt like there could be healing if we all felt brave enough to walk through the door.

We found it helped to think about and work through the what ifs—and for us there were a million and one what ifs that came up for us. What if my child is upset by the experience? What if it isn’t a good experience? We went through them all.

But, in the end, it comes down to being brave and acknowledging that it’s scary to open a door that you could keep closed. But it’s worth it—the peace it gives to the child, to the birth family, to the parents. It’s indescribable.

What resources did you use for the practical preparations?
We sought out both the broad and the specific resources out there. For example, an Ethiopian Homeland Travel online group discussed both practical questions about the travel (such as immunizations to get), as well as emotional questions. We also talked to other families about their experience. Before our trip we got together with another family that lives near us who also adopted their child from Ethiopia and had recently traveled there together.

You were also able to set up a meeting with Arri’s birth mother?
Yes. We had reestablished contact with Arri’s birth mother when she was about two years old and have been writing back and forth and having phone conversations since, so we were able to set up a meeting with her in Ethiopia. Of course, up until the moment that it happened, we made sure to prepare Arri—and ourselves—for the very real possibility that it wouldn’t happen, as a result of logistics or something else. We didn’t want to promise Arri anything that we could not control the outcome of.

What was the meeting like?
Her birthmother seemed very interested in what we are like as a family—what we like to do together, what we enjoy—to see how we are as parents, and to just spend time with us. She made it a point to let my husband and I know how grateful she was that we were raising Arri the way that we were. Arri was anxious at first, but once she was more comfortable, she seemed to just want to watch her birth mother—to get a sense of her. Overall, it felt good to have the affirmation that everyone is on the same page—it was affirming of everyone’s role in Arri’s life.

Would you still recommend the trip to parents even if a birth parent meeting isn’t possible?
Yes, definitely. It’s still such a rich experience for the child and the family to just be in the culture, to hear the language, to eat the food, to visit the historical sites. We brought Arri back to the hospital where she born, and I believe it’s important, even if the birth family visit isn’t possible, to try and seek out other types of monumental pieces to visit to give the child something to hold onto about his/her story.

What were some unexpected outcomes of the trip?
It turned out that the fact that Arri had learned about Ethiopian culture, and even knew some words in Amharic, was very affirming to the people that live in that country, which was something really unexpected for us. It seemed to help Ethiopians to see that US families that adopt Ethiopian children are trying to teach them who they are and are giving them a sense of their birth culture and history. This was evident even in just the ways people’s faces brightened when Arri said hello to them.

And how did the trip affect Arri?
We were really taken aback by how much confidence and peace the trip gave to our daughter. The way in which Arri was welcomed and affirmed by the Ethiopian community, was truly transformative for her.

I think that Arri also really grew in her understanding of her adoption. The experience with her birth mother, seeing the country, the hospital where she was born, all enabled her to really see that her adoption was not about anything that she did wrong, but due to circumstances.

We’ve also noticed that she’s been introducing herself differently since we’ve gotten back. We kept Arri’s birth name—Arsema—but we have always called her Arri. Upon returning from Ethiopia, we noticed that she began introducing herself with her full name—that she was standing taller in who she is.

It’s clear that you and your husband decided early on to raise your children with openness around their adoption. What prompted that decision?
Before adopting Arri, I attended an Adoptive Mom’s Retreat, which I now attend every year, and at those retreats, they talk so much about trying to instill the importance of being honest and raising your children to know who they are. At the retreat, adoptee young adults share their stories on how not knowing who they are, or their parents’ lack of openness around their adoption, led to a lot of grieving and pain for them.

I took from hearing those stories that the adoptee voice isn’t always lifted up as it should be, and it’s important to nurture children’s identity and be honest with them.

And I know that that’s easier said than done. Many families like ours commit to that idea of openness in the early stages, when you’re still going through the adoption process—and it’s one thing to say you’re going to do it and it’s another to really follow through, to discover how to do that, to equip yourself and your family to maintain that commitment and to face any fears about following through.

What are some resources that have helped you and your family to embrace openness in the ways you have?
We found a lot of community and support by attending different camps. I’m not really that much of a social media user, so for me, the face-to-face gatherings are what I look for to engage.

It’s just nice to have a safe place to go where everyone is walking the same walk, so to speak. And even if the topics are broader, like about being a transracial family, as opposed to something more country or region specific, it’s still very helpful.

Everybody needs community—both the children and parents.

Any plans to take your younger daughter, Etta, to her birth country?
We are absolutely planning to do a trip to South Africa for Etta once she’s old enough, but we are just beginning to discuss what that will look like, and are just starting to find ways to connect Etta to her story—mostly because South Africa is a very different country than Ethiopia, and up until now, a lot of our community connections are to Ethiopian culture. But Etta has really enjoyed learning about Ethiopian culture with her sister and has been warmly embraced by the local Ethiopian community. So, we expect it will be a harder road to navigate, but we are certainly up to the task!

Read our latest blog about birthland trips here. To learn more about birthland trips offered at Spence-Chapin, visit www.modernfamilycenter.org/birthlandtrips

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

(Part I)

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then. 

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
ALTHOUGH SHE’S STILL ROCKING THE SAME PINK SNEAKERS, WE’VE GONE UP TWO SHOES SIZES!

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm. 

I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

South Africa Adoption: How to Determine Your Family’s Medical Openness

Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children in South Africa – children with a medical diagnosis who are in need of an international adoptive family. It takes a dedicated and resourceful parent to adopt a child with special medical needs. At Spence-Chapin, we guide families in how to make an informed decision about their family’s particular medical openness and offer support and resources before, during and after their adoption. Spence-Chapin is confident that in a loving home with the right family who is dedicated to learning about, or already has experience with special medical needs, these children can thrive!

But how does a family determine if adopting a child with special medical needs from South Africa is right for them? Here are 5 places to start:

  1. Learn about the most common medical needs in South Africa.

Check out this article on the Top 10 Medical Needs in South Africa! Currently, the two most common needs our partners Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) see in the children in their care are: a diagnosis of HIV and unknown or unpredictable developmental delays. We are actively looking for families who feel open and prepared to parent a child with one of these two needs. You can learn more by exploring these resources specific to adoption from South Africa.  

  1. Consider the medical and developmental care children receive in South Africa.

JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. Children receive medical treatment at JCW through a partnership with Thusanani Children’s Foundation. Thusanani provides safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical and developmental care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc.

Additionally, Spence-Chapin sponsors a Granny Program at JCW to help the children develop the important socio-emotional bonds that are so important to a child’s development. Through the Granny program, children are paired with surrogate “grannies” from their local community who spend special, one-on-one time with them every day. This humanitarian aid initiative gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. We see incredible progress made by children who are matched with a granny. In South Africa, the children call their grannies “gogo”! 

  1. Consult with an international pediatric specialist to make an informed decision.

It’s recommended that families considering adopting a child with medical needs consult with a pediatrician about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of specific conditions to consider if your family has the ability to provide the care a child will need. There are many experienced international adoption medical specialty clinics throughout the United States that are a resource for prospective adoptive families. Physicians with an international adoption specialty are familiar with common medical issues involved in intercountry adoption and many of the common needs seen in children eligible for international adoption.

Because South Africa is a signatory to The Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, adoptive families benefit from a transparent and ethical process for receiving a child’s information. At the time of referral from South Africa, Spence-Chapin will provide all known social and medical history provided by JCW so a family can make an informed decision. The family will review the medical history with a Medical Specialist and support from Spence-Chapin.

  1. Gather information about resources and eligibility for services in your state and community.

Each state offers a variety of services for children with special needs through state agencies and community organizations. Free services through Early Intervention and CPSE services are offered nationally and children 0-3 may qualify when they have a developmental delay in the areas of cognitive, physical, speech and adaptive development. It can be helpful to anticipate the programs offered in the local schools as well as the State laws and regulations for special needs education.

Additionally, when considering the adoption of a child with special needs, it can be helpful to consult with other parents of children with medical needs or international adoptive families. They can be a great source of information, support, and referrals. They may be able to share their suggestions, insights, and recommendations for ways that you can strengthen your ability to parent a child with a medical need. It may also be helpful to prepare for what to expect through help from the local home study agency, special needs support groups or even online through adoption websites such as AdoptionLearningPartners.com.

  1. Ask Yourself:
  • Are you willing, and do you have the time to become informed about the realities of raising a child with special needs?
  • Do you have access to medical resources in your community that specializes in the treatment of pediatric special needs?
  • Are you able to make sure that your child takes medication or attends therapies?
  • Does your schedule allow for the time it takes to parent a child with a medical need?
  • Are you comfortable with any attention it may bring to your family?
  • Are you willing to advocate for your child in your home, school, and community?
  • Are you prepared to accept unknowns for the future development of your child and to find solutions to any challenges that may emerge?

Following the adoption of a child from South Africa, Spence-Chapin welcomes adoptive families to engage in post-adoption services through our Modern Family Center. Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center offers counseling, parent coaching, post-adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips. These services can be provided to families in person, over the phone or via video conferencing in all 50 states. We also invite you to attend our annual family events so you and your child can meet other South Africa adoptive families!

Children with special medical needs are waiting for adoptive families in South Africa. If you feel you might be a good match for these children, let’s talk! To learn more, send us an email to info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

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.