Visiting our Partners in South Africa

Arriving in South Africa one is immediately struck by an intense color contrast never seen walking the streets of New York City.  Bursts of purple are framed against the blue sky, the green landscape, and the white exteriors of buildings.

(1)SOUTH AFRICA-PRETORIA-JACARANDA-BLOSSOM

We are told by our hosts that we have fortuitously scheduled our visit during the brief window of time that the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom.  We have come to Johannesburg to learn from our South African counterpart, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW).  JCW is a vast child welfare agency providing services within Johannesburg and its surrounding areas.  The work they do spans from child abuse treatment to family integration.   It is a privilege to see the broad range of their work and to hear from the adoption team about the realities that inform our shared effort to find homes for children where no domestic adoptions exist.  For one week, against the colorful backdrop the Jacarandas have provided, we will make visits to the various institutions and shared group homes where many of the children JCW advocates for reside.

Our first stop is Othandweni, a JCW-run institution located in the township of Soweto.  Othandweni has the capacity for about ninety children, thirty children live in the nursery and sixty older school age children  live in five cottages that are segmented by age.  There are close to fifteen full time staff.   The environment at Othandweni is lively, bright, and loud.

Africa 2012 274 Part of the reason why this welcoming and safe atmosphere exists is the presence of the Grannies.  Othandweni is the site of our Granny Program, which we first established in 2011.  Fifteen women from the local community dedicate their time to visit with the thirty children who live in Othandweni’s nursery.  They come Monday through Friday for at least 4 hours a day, dividing their time between caring for two children.  The children they are working with are between birth and 6 years of age and have a range of significant special needs, from HIV to cerebral palsy.  The dedication, consistency, and passion of the Grannies bring to life a specially-designed curriculum that helps these children meet their developmental milestones.  The visible impact this program has had on the children who have benefitted from a relationship with a granny makes it easy for everyone involved to wholeheartedly buy into this program.  It is a model that JCW hopes to implement in other institutions as its benefits have proven to extend beyond its original goals, the “gogos” speak of the sense of enfranchisement this program has brought them – as one gogo puts it, the program “has given me a new lease on life”.

animal mosaicOver the next two days we visit three other institutions.  Princess Alice is a JCW-run home for infants and is located in a particularly affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg.  The focus at Princess Alice is on providing a nursery and pediatric services to infants who have been abandoned or orphaned.  Many of the children at Princess Alice have special needs and are on medication regimes that need to be strictly monitored.  There are between twenty and thirty infants residing at Princess Alice and a combination of full time staff and community volunteers who are a constant presence.  We next stop at Cotlands, which is an institution caring for infant and toddler age children.  Cotlands had recently reduced their capacity at the time of our visit and was focused on expanding its community-based family services while still providing care for around fifteen to twenty infants and toddlers.  Like any other institution in Johannesburg there are many special needs infants.  Learning about the particular profiles in the care of these institutions continually reinforces why Spence-Chapin is doing the kind of focused work it is doing in South Africa.  The population of special needs infants and toddlers is significant in size and growing domestic options for these children is a work in progress for JCW.

Africa 2012 015Ethembeni, a Salvation Army-run institution within Johannesburg, is our last stop.  Ethembeni has the capacity for close to fifty or sixty infants and toddlers.  There is a nursery and separate living areas for the toddlers.  Ethembeni is a longtime presence in the child welfare landscape in South Africa and has done a lot of important work on behalf of vulnerable children in Johannesburg.  Continuing the theme of the trip, we met many toddlers with significant special needs including children with a combination of cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities.  There is a sizeable population of children with minor to severe cerebral palsy and also Down syndrome.  Part of the normative mindset of caregivers and administrators at these institutions is that finding homes for these children is a near impossibility, an idea that we have seen be  defied time and time again by families who possess the expertise and resources to responsibly provide homes for children with these specialized needs.  Sharing our optimism with them will hopefully encourage them to continue their active advocacy on behalf of these children.

kid and granny do puzzleWe return to Othandweni on our final day in Johannesburg to meet some of the older children who live in the cottages.  We are greeted with a performance of music, dance, and poetry.  As the older children at Othandweni come from a variety of tribal backgrounds their presentations are cultural fusions of their different backgrounds, combining the features of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other cultural traditions.  We met many children whose legal statuses were not settled and/or they still maintained connections with their birth family through visits and other forms of communication.  However, there certainly are children who desire to be part of a permanent family and Spence-Chapin hopes to be able to work on their behalf.

It was a poignant time to visit Johannesburg as the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing was approaching.  His work on behalf of the marginalized is an evident influence to the incredible work that JCW does on behalf of children who are vulnerable.  Spence-Chapin is privileged to be working with such an ethical and altruistic organization.  I returned feeling energized about the focused kind of work we are doing and with a deeper sense of accountability to the children who we met.

By Ben Sommers, Associate Director of International Programs, Spence-Chapin

South Africa Adoption Program: Our Partner Jo’hburg Child Welfare

Our momentous trip to South Africa this summer was inspirational in a number of ways.  Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) is a highly respected, 100+ year old NGO that does amazing work on behalf of the vulnerable children in Johannesburg.  Spence-Chapin is honored to partner with this historic agency whose mission is aligned with ours.

Jo’burg Child Welfare provides services to over 4,000 children and families annually and adoption (domestic and international) is only a small part of their work. They have four centers that house and provide for children of all ages, from infancy through the teenage years.  One of their centers also provides short-term housing to pregnant women. In addition, they recruit and train foster families, plan and prepare for children to be reunited with their birth families and provide intensive treatment to survivors of sexual abuse.

South Africa is home to more that two million orphans and JCW’s work makes a difference in the lives of some.  All of this and more make JCW an agency that is highly respected among its peers in the field as well as with the governing bodies of South Africa.  When the South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority (the governing body that oversees adoption) was looking to expand their international adoptions, they received an overwhelming number of applications from agencies across the country.  Jo’burg Child Welfare was one of only two agencies approved for adoption to the United States.  During Spence-Chapin’s meetings with the Ministry, it was clear why they chose JCW.

The passion of the employees, from the Executive Director to the receptionist who greets you, was always apparent.  While visiting their sites, it was clear how each employee felt about their commitment to the well being of the children and how seriously they took the mission and purpose of their work. The vulnerable children of Johannesburg have a champion in Jo’burg Child Welfare and now Spence-Chapin.

Visit our Flickr set to see pictures from this trip.

South Africa Adoption Program

Spence-Chapin is excited to announce our newest international adoption program in South Africa.

We’re able to offer this wonderful program in partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), an organization that has been at the forefront of providing direct services to children and families since 1909.

South Africa is one of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. In addition to the country’s indigenous black majority, colonialism and immigration have led to the largest communities of Asian, European, and racially mixed ancestry on the African continent. South Africa is home to 11 official languages, with English and Afrikaans being the most widely used. Families and children face a host of social and economic challenges in South Africa, a nation with a long history of poverty and inequality, and while access to anti-retroviral treatment has increased in recent years, HIV/AIDs remains a prominent health concern in the country.

Children in Need of Homes

Both boys and girls are available for adoption in this program, as well as sibling groups, with the youngest children being 18 months to 2 years old at the time of referral.  There are many preschoolers and school-aged children waiting for families as well.

Requirements

Every country that participates in international adoption creates their own eligibility criteria for families, and Spence-Chapin upholds all requirements as outlined by the South African authorities. Married heterosexual couples and single women must submit their dossier to South Africa prior to their 48th birthday. Couples must be married at least three years. Medical, legal, and mental health issues must be assessed prior to beginning the adoption process. South Africa is particularly interested in matching children with black families and those interested in adopting children who have historically been harder to place, such as sibling groups, school-aged children, and children who have the HIV virus.

Timing and Travel

It is expected that families will wait up to 1.5 years for a referral of a child after their application is submitted. Following acceptance of referral from the South African Central Authority, families will be eligible to travel to South Africa to complete their adoption after filing appropriate paperwork with U.S. immigration.

Families will spend 2 weeks fully escorted in South Africa, where they will have ongoing contact with social work staff from JCW, and will have access to cultural excursions. Families will stay at a comfortable and family friendly hotel for the duration of their trip.

Adoption will be considered full and final under South African law and children will be granted full U.S. citizenship upon arrival and after homecoming, families will complete post-placement evaluations

Families Outside of the NY/NJ metro area

We will gladly work with families outside the NY/NJ area through our networking partners.

Cost Guidelines

There are several categories of fees and expenses that adoptive families should anticipate when considering an international adoption. For an explanation of these, please refer to the Understanding Fees and Expenses page. Included in these fees is a separate country program fee which varies. For South Africa it is $4,800. The program fee includes the professional services provided by Johannesburg Child Welfare  as well as a donation to support ongoing services to birth parents and children.

Humanitarian Aid

The connection between Spence-Chapin and JCW was forged in 2003 and has deepened in the years since, thanks to a strong shared commitment to permanency for children.  In April 2011, Spence-Chapin was delighted to open our first Granny Program in Africa at JCW’s Othandweni Family Care Center in Soweto.  Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.

If you are interested in more information about adoption from South Africa, please visit us online, email us at info@spence-chapin.org, or call us at 212-400-8150.


Nelson Mandela Day: 67 Minutes of Change

Nelson Mandela: Civil Servant, Activist, Political Prisoner, President. Mandela’s living legacy is an inspiring and unique story, one of devotion to positive social change and justice for others. Many of us recognize Nelson Mandela as the man who became president of South Africa after spending 27 years in prison, but his incarceration has little to do with his impact on the world. In 1993 Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his key role in ending the apartheid regime peacefully and safely.

He was relentless in his mission to end apartheid in South Africa, and even after that goal was accomplished, he remained dedicated to helping others in need. As president he enacted a number of progressive social reforms, including the introduction free healthcare to children, and the launch of the successful Reconstruction and Development Programme that built over 1 million houses for those living in poverty-stricken slums, called townships.

After his political retirement, Mandela has continued to act as a voice for inspired change and the common good. His commitment to changing the world for the better has lasted almost 7 decades, 67 years! In commemoration of his achievements and dedication, the United Nations has endorsed “Nelson Mandela International Day” on July 18th, his birthday.

Today, people around the world are asked to use at least 67 minutes of their own time, in honor of Mandela’s 67 years of activism, in service of their communities.

Here at Spence-Chapin, we’re deeply inspired by Nelson Mandela’s leadership and legacy, because we’re always striving to do the best work possible to help those in need. Currently, our International Adoption Staff is in South Africa learning from our partner at Johannesburg Child Welfare, visiting our Grannies, and sharing information to create a new adoption program in the country that will help many of the 1.5 million orphans in South Africa.

We know that if everyone tries, we can make this world a stronger, better, and happier place. What will you do with your 67 minutes?