A Week in Provincetown: Celebrating Families at Family Equality Council’s 20th Family Week

This year, the Modern Family Center was proud to sponsor Family Equality Council’s “Family Week” – a joyous celebration of LGBTQ parents, their children, and their allies. Throughout the week, parents attended educational workshops, kids participated in camp activities, and our Director, Stella Cook, got to know the staff, volunteers, and families that make Family Week such an incredible community-building event.

I arrived in Provincetown with suitcases, cameras, checklists, brochures, flyers, and a wracking anxiety that I, a white, Jewish, heterosexual, middle aged social worker with nearly 2 decades of experience working with children and families, may not be welcomed by the 1,000 parents in attendance as the expert in raising children in a gay parent home.

However, within the first 24 hours of meeting the Family Equality Council staff, and after delivering my presentation “How to Talk About Our Families, to our Children & others” to a packed room, I learned two things: 1. Gay parents are actively seeking support and education to help ease the path for their children and themselves within their extended families, peers, schools, and communities, and 2. Spending a week with this group of parents and their incredible kids was going to be AWESOME.

And it was. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the first family event – a beach bonfire on a gorgeous, warm afternoon, with a diverse group of parents and their children frolicking in the water, making s’mores, and everyone simply enjoying the exhilarating freedom of being themselves. There was even a surprise proposal (he said yes!) and anyone there could literally feel the love and joy in the air.

But, for LGBTQ parents and their children, it’s not always awesome. Throughout the week, mingled in with the fun, parents shared their stories with me; extended family members who “forget” not to use derogatory language, children who are teased, bullied, or simply have no friends, schools that are far from affirming, and communities that simply don’t understand, accept, or include LGBTQ parents and their children. Additional challenges include how to help their children understand their conception stories, how to respond to questions about birth parents, surrogates, and donors, and how to find the balance of preparing children for a world that is not always welcoming of their family while not scaring their kids and exposing them to ugliness they may not yet understand.

The Modern Family Center programming during Family Week helped to bring these conversations to light. Together, we talked, laughed, cried, and laughed some more as we explored the emotional and practical nuances of raising children today. The parents I spoke to and the adorable kids I met helped assure me: the Modern Family Center exists because Spence-Chapin saw a need to support LGBTQ parents, Family Week exists because LGBTQ family advocates saw a need to normalize, celebrate, and advocate for all families, and together, we were and are making a genuine and needed difference.

I am honored to have participated, humbled by what I have learned, and even more motivated to deliver quality, affirming, emotional care, inclusive family events, and LGBTQ parent education to the incredible moms and dads that I had the pleasure to spend time with. Thank you to those who attended my workshop, stopped me on the street to talk, welcomed my family into your community, and confirmed my suspicion that attending Family Week was going to be a life changing event.

For those of you in the NYC/NJ Tristate area, we’re going to keep the fun going at our upcoming LGTBQ Family Sundae Funday, so please join us. Otherwise, see you next year in PTown!

Mentorship Celebration

DSC_0156With summer approaching, our Mentorship Program is winding down a successful eighth year! However, before school breaks for the summer, our mentors, mentees, and their families participated in our first ever year-end Mentorship Celebration. Over a delicious lunch, we enjoyed photos and videos from the years’ events, honored our four graduating seniors (Emily, Lillia, Elena, and Pooja, who have collectively been with the program for over 10 years!) and acknowledged the incredible efforts and commitment of our volunteer adult mentors!

At the end of the year, we like to look back and reflect on what we’ve accomplished. When we asked our teens “What is the best part of the mentorship program?” the themes we heard most often are:
• “Learning there are others like me and feeling connected, sharing stories and finding kindred spirits”
• “Meeting other adopted teens who don’t know me from school so I could talk about whatever I wanted”
• “Getting to meet other people who are adopted and being able to have fun and discuss adoption”
• “Meeting other people who know how it feels to be adopted”

One of our graduating seniors is Lilia, born in Bulgaria and adopted at the age of 2. She is preparing to head off to Johnson and Wales University in the fall to study Sports Management, and has been a dynamic, energetic, and positive addition to the program. Before she heads off on her next adventure, Lillia wanted to share her feelings about being in the Mentorship Program:

DSC_0163“I really loved being part of the mentorship group. It was great meeting so many kids and adults and sharing our adoption stories. It was important for me to make friends with other adoptees. We did a lot of fun activities-Chelsea Piers Sports Complex, a scavenger hunt, ice skating, and games in Central Park… I am also hoping to plan a trip to Bulgaria sometime in the future!”

When we hear these words and sentiments, we know we are providing a necessary and important program for the adoption community. Mentorship is a key support to many adoptees in forming healthy identity, having a safe and inclusive place to explore genuinely difficult feelings, and bringing all members of the adoption constellation together in support of our young people. This program continues to grow, and to be an inspiration to our staff, our mentors, and of course the young people themselves.

Interested in having your child join the 2015-2016 Mentorship Program? This program is open to adoptees who will be enrolled in middle school and high school this fall. Contact Dana Stallard, LMSW, Adoptee Services Coordinator at 212-360-0213 or dstallard@spence-chapin.org to learn more!

No fees for Personal Adoption Histories

older adopteesThe Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin is excited to announce that we will no longer charge fees for personal adoption histories or support for first/birth and adoptive families in open adoptions wanting to re-connect.

This recent change aligns with our belief that all members of the adoption community should have the right to obtain their information and history with as few barriers as possible.

Of course, this is one small piece in a larger issue of providing access to birth records and identifying birth family information for adoptees who would like to search.  Spence-Chapin continues to advocate for a change in adoption laws to allow adoptees to have access to identifying information including their original birth certificates and identities of their birthparents.

I just want to thank you, actually I don’t think a million thank you’s would be enough. I will never forget your kindness, your compassion and your willingness and patience during the times we have spoken and for what I am and have been going through as an adoptee.  The wonderful people at Spence-Chapin will change me forever and again I can’t thank you enough for that. Thank you.    – Adoptee

Last January we joined the New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s Unsealed Initiative in the hearing on on Bill of Adoptee Rights. You can read about that experience on our blog post: Spence-Chapin supports the Bill of Adoptee Rights  and watch our testimony on our Youtube page.

You can learn more about how you can get involved and help advocate on behalf of NYS adoptees by visiting the  New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s site

The Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin provides personal adoption histories (non-identifying information) for agencies whose records we hold: Spence-Chapin, Louise Wise, and Talbot Perkins. We also provide search and reunion guidance, support, and counseling for all members of the adoption community. Give us a call to learn more – 646-539-2167.

Check out our upcoming events for the adoption community and register today.

The Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask about Older Child Adoption

older child adoption

Spence-Chapin’s mission is to find families for the most vulnerable children, including older children, sibling groups, and children with special medical needs.

As you begin to think about growing your family through adoption, one of the first steps is deciding the age of the child you will be parenting. Spence-Chapin can help you explore the reasons an older child could be a great fit for your family. We know there are some questions about older child adoption that people are often too afraid to ask, so we’ve started a list here.

Questions:

  • What is the age range of a child who is considered “older”?
  • What are some of the differences between adopting an older child from foster care and adopting an older child internationally?
  • Can we adopt an older child if we have younger children we are currently parenting?
  • Can a single parent/older parent adopt an older child?
  • As a single parent, can I adopt an older child who is not the same gender as me?
  • Do older children have behavioral and emotional issues?
  • Would we be able to have a bar or bat mitzvah for our child if we adopt an older child?
  • How much will I know about my older child’s history?
  • Have all older children been living in an institutional setting since birth?
  • How much input does an older child have into his adoption plan?
  • How can I be fully prepared to adopt an older child?
  • What language will my child speak? Will my child speak or understand English?

Are these the questions that you were thinking of too? Our team can provide the answers to all these and more. Give Kara, Heather and Jamie a call – 212-400-8150.

Spence-Chapin is able to share the profiles of international children who are considered to be the most in need of a loving family, and who are ready to be matched immediately.  The Waiting Child profiles often consist of children who are older or part of a sibling group. In order to respect the privacy of these children, the Waiting Child page has been password protected.

If you would like to hear more about our adoption programs or request the password to the Waiting Child page, contact us at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

 

Modern Family Center Grand Opening

Didn’t get a chance to make it to our Modern Family Center’s Grand Opening event? Stella Gilgur-Cook, Director of the Modern Family Center, shared these welcoming remarks with guests to outline our vision and services offered to the community. 

The Modern Family Center is here to serve the changing landscape of today’s families. We are on the frontier of how family is defined in the American experience. Adoptive families, birth/first families, multi-racial families, donor-conceived families, single parents, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents are no longer on the sidelines, but right here working with us. We are participating in a nationwide conversation of what it means to be a family, what values and traditions we uphold, and how to best raise our children.

Adoption is our expertise, and after 100 years of adoption service, we know better than anyone that it can be a double-edged sword; there is no disputing that every child deserves a family, but there’s also no disputing that adoption can create heartache. That’s why we will always have a commitment to life-long post-adoption services for every family, at every life stage.

But, adoption is not all we do. At the root of it, we know about families – families who stand out, families who are hard to define, and families who are proud to exist, but wish things could be just a little easier. Today, half of all remarriages form blended families. In the United States, nearly 6 million children have same-sex parents, while a full quarter of the children living in this country are being raised by a single parent. That’s a lot of people trying to work out having a new kind of family.

Being a modern family certainly doesn’t define who you are, but it does shape who you are. It informs where you choose to live, where you send your kids to school, who you make new friends with, and it should inform where you find the best emotional care for your family. When it comes to issues of identity, belonging, culture, or the melding of two families into one and the separation of one family into two, you want the person helping you to see past the obvious and appreciate the bigger picture. In our counseling services, groups, and kids programming, we offer a relational approach that accepts, celebrates, and most of all, understands how to help complex families grow, heal, and build the lives they want.

You want a community where there’s no need to explain or defend your family. You want competent clinicians who understand the unique aspects of your family, free of judgment. You want to know how to explain complicated stuff to your kids by saying the right thing at the right time. We’re offering all of that, and more.

Perhaps I should say what a special time this is in our society, that today’s modern families are all so special. Well, I’m not going to. Maybe somewhere else your family is special or different, but when you’re at the Modern Family Center, you are simply one of us.

I hope you’ll join us for one of our many upcoming events, like us on Facebook, or call us to find out more about what we’re doing and how we can help you family!