Waiting Children in Bulgaria

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The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice maintains a waiting child registry that lists over 1,800 older children, siblings, and children with special needs who are eligible for international adoption but have not yet found families. Bulgaria prioritizes finding families for the most vulnerable children and updates the waiting child registry monthly.

During our recent visit to Bulgaria we were struck by how many healthy sibling groups are waiting for families. Children are primarily Roma, an ethnic minority within the country, and are typically cared for in institutional settings although foster care is increasingly more common. Families open to adopting siblings recognize that sibling groups have diverse histories and ages, with the oldest child being at least 8 years old. It is our hope to find homes for many of these children with loving American families. In addition to siblings, there are many children with significant special needs who are waiting for families. In Bulgaria, some of the most common special needs include hydrocephaly, moderate or severe cognitive delays, down syndrome, and spina bifida.

Due to the priority of the Ministry of Justice to place the most vulnerable children with adoptive families, we expect families to experience a quick match time – between 6-12 months. Families open to adopting siblings may be matched within a few months of submitting their paperwork to Bulgaria. Once a child has been identified, the inter-country adoption intermediary, ANIDO, has the opportunity to visit the child to gain more information and to take photos and videos. When a family’s paperwork has been submitted to Bulgaria, their application is prioritized and the legal process of finalizing the adoption comes into effect.

Families interested in learning more about the history and trends in Bulgarian adoptions can see up-to-date statistics from the US Embassy in Sophia or the Department of State. The Bulgarian adoption program has seen an increase in placements in the past few years, showing the country’s commitment to de-institutionalization and finding permanency for the children in their care.

Spence-Chapin is committed to finding permanent families for the world’s most vulnerable children. We are reducing financial barriers for adoptive families who open their lives and hearts to a school-age child/sibling group with special needs.

Learn more about Spence-Chapin and our Bulgaria program.

 

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

flicka 3Spence-Chapin offers its heartfelt remembrance of the life and spirit of Flicka Van Praagh.  Flicka had served as the agency’s Director of the International Adoption Department from 1992-2004, having first joined the organization in 1958.

With an early interest in adoption, Flicka chose to come to Spence-Chapin for her student placement, a requisite for her MSW from Columbia University, and was offered a position after graduation. She started as a case worker in foster care in 1958 and was department head from 1961 to 1964 when she left to become Director of Social Services at Woman’s Hospital, a division of St. Luke’s Hospital Center. There she met her husband and they became the parents of a daughter and two sons. She returned to the agency in the early 1970’s on a part-time basis doing intakes and home studies that could be completed while her children were in school. She eventually came back full-time working in the international department.

Flicka made the first of many trips around the world in 1975, traveling to Seoul, Korea to implement the founding of Spence-Chapin’s first international program. She traveled extensively in Latin America in the 1980’s, working to establish programs in Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala.

In 1992, Flicka became the director of the international department. She said, “In joining Spence-Chapin, I was able to see the world and visit so many wonderful places. I went to twelve countries trying to set up new programs; opening Russia, China, Moldova and Bulgaria. I found it thrilling to help waiting children from all around the world find their forever families.”

Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, Flicka had the vision to establish Spence-Chapin’s first Granny Program in Bulgaria in 1998. This program’s success saw its replication in China, Moldova, Colombia and South Africa.

Flicka was loved by the many families that she helped bring together. In the New York Times online Guestbook Marth Volcker wrote, “Flicka was a wonderful person, and I am forever grateful to her for the important role she played in the adoption of our daughter. We adopted our daughter from China in 1999, and Flicka was a wonderful guide through the complete adoption process. We saw Flicka about a year and a half ago at a Spence-Chapin function, and her ability to remember and her interest in all the children she had placed in forever families was amazing.”

“We, the parents of two of the ‘in excess of 500 children’ Flicka helped place in adoption while at Spence-Chapin, would like to express our condolences to her family as well as our thanks, once again, to Flicka for guiding us through the 14 months that led up to the arrival of our then six-month and now 32 year old twin daughters, Jessie and Corey. Her spirit lives on in all of us,” wrote Jon Silbert and Bonnie McHale.

The Meo family added, “We are forever grateful and blessed to be parents because of Flicka. We were part of her last group to China. She was an amazing woman. May she rest in peace knowing the love and joy she brought to so many.”

At her retirement party in 2004, Flicka said. “In all the years that I worked with Spence-Chapin, I always carried a case load in addition to my other responsibilities because of the great pleasure and joy in working with clients and seeing them turn into families.”

For Ann Hassan, our current Director of Adoption, Flicka was more than a humanitarian. Flicka“To me, Flicka was a mentor, advisor and friend. As a young worker I idolized her, and she in turn invested in me, encouraged me and molded me into the social worker I am today. She combined grace and confidence in a way that made her a superb leader and a truly unique and special woman. She had true affection and commitment for the hundreds of families she worked with over the years, stemming I think from the immense love and pride she had for her own family and a core belief that everyone deserves to experience that kind of love. Flicka guides me in my work, and in life, and will forever live on through me and my many colleagues who learned from her for so many years.”

As parents and child welfare professionals, many of us are inspired by her work and her legacy.  As we reflect on her achievements, we struggle to find the balance of a tribute and a call to action – not to just mourn Flicka, but to learn from Flicka and continue her work. In doing so, we could elevate our focus of our common goal – that every child deserves a family.

If you would like to make a donation to continue Flicka’s work, we would welcome a tribute gift in her honor or call Mary Connolly, 212-360-0204.

 

You can read our remembrance to Flicka online at the NY Times.

 

NPR Podcast: Love is a Battlefield

The NPR podcast This American Life is known for delving deep into personal lives to share stories which allow us to better understand our community and our national culture.

In 2006, NPR Mental Health Correspondent Alix Spiegel shared a story about adoption and resilience. On Love is a Battlefield Heidi Solomon and her son Daniel describe Daniel’s transition from a Romanian orphanage into a loving adoptive family in the Midwest. Attachment and love are at the center of the podcast as it details the struggles of the Solomon family as they seek out appropriate therapy, support, and education for their son and themselves at the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio.

The true beauty of the story is shown, both in the parents’ patient understanding of how to bond with their son, and in their firm belief that their son had the ability to move beyond his history of profound neglect.

Listen to Love is a Battlefield online.

Reflections on Nelson Mandela

 

The staff and community of Spence-Chapin stand in solidarity with our partners in South Africa, the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, who are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. The Executive Director of Jo’burg Child Welfare, Lyn, shares her two experiences meeting Mr. Mandela.

The first occasion was his birthday after becoming President. Jo’burg Child Welfare was contacted and asked to organize a birthday party for street children from all over South Africa which was held in Johannesburg at Gold Reef City. Children were bused, came by train or flew to Jo-burg for the day.  I happened to be on holiday in KZN and my husband insisted that I should not miss being at the party, so he paid for me to fly back to Jo’burg for the day. I traveled to Durban very early in the morning and, coincidentally, I happened to be on a plane full of street children. Their excitement was so palpable, it could have lifted the plane off the runway.  At the luncheon, Madiba came around to talk to each guest, holding hands with each person throughout and thanking everyone for the contribution made to children’s services.

My next meeting was most unexpected. I had been given a scholarship to attend a course at Babson College in Boston and wanted to give the sponsors a memorable gift.  I bought the book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and asked a board member who was married to a cabinet minister whether she could have the book autographed by Madiba.  He had been out of the country and the board member managed to get around his gatekeeper.  Madiba indicated that the only time available was at 07:00 am on the day I was flying to the US.  I received a telephone call at 07:15 am to say that I should quickly get to his home, as he wished to meet me over coffee.  Needless to say, I was totally overawed.

Lyn explains that Nelson Mandela Lyn and Spence-Chapin staffhad a close connection with Jo’burg Child Welfare because his previous wife, Winnie, was a social worker at JCW in the 1960’s. Lyn writes, “Jo’burg Child Welfare was also blessed with Madiba’s generosity. Our Thembalethu Street Girls Project in the inner city was one of the three beneficiaries that received a donation from Madiba following his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.”

Lyn remembers that Madiba was humble and thanked her for her dedication and contribution made to children’s services. She was struck by “the selfless attitude shown by a man who gave his life to ensure freedom for all in South Africa. He strongly understood the importance of children being protected and raised with a family despite his incarceration that denied him the opportunity to be part of his own children’s upbringing.”

We mourn together with our partners and the people of South Africa at this difficult time, and we echo Lyn’s words: “It is important for us, however, to celebrate his life and emulate his values.”

 

A Sister’s Gift

There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family:

Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.

In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith’s daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.

maya lender and famFinally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it’s hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I’ve ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother’s adoption had on her.

It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.

 

December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt – but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Farewell to Linda Wright

After 18 years at Spence-Chapin, Director of Development Linda Wright, retires. In a touching letter, she reflects on her time spent in the organization and gives thanks to those that were fundamental in the success of the development department.

646_LindaWrightWeeding through my piles and files these past few weeks has been a trek down memory lane!

Time and time again many of you have demonstrated your commitment to Spence-Chapin. You have supported the agency financially and phoned other families to enlist their support of our Annual Fund. You have served on committees – African-American Parents Advisory (AAPAC), International Parents Advisory (IPAC), and Long Island Families Together (LIFT); May’s Birth Parent Gathering; Annual Theatre and Adoptionship Benefits; 55th Anniversary of African-American Adoptions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, KOREA35 and CHINA20. You have shared ideas, time, energy and connections as we developed outreach strategies and planned program celebrations, family get-togethers, and fundraisers. And, so the list goes on and on and on.

Of course, as a Development professional, I usually measure achievements with numbers, and particularly those preceded with dollar-signs. Over the last 18 years we – you the star performers; me simply stage manager — have kept Spence-Chapin fiscally strong and ready to respond to new opportunities and changing needs with creativity and kindness. The total contributed during this period exceeds $35 million, a sum derived from several initiatives.

The Spirit of Spence-Chapin Annual Fund, launched in the fall of 1996, has raised nearly $10 million for general operating support. Events to fund Adoptionships for prospective families needing assistance with adoption costs produced almost $600,000. The annual Theatre Benefit, which began in the 1950s, continued to draw together new and old friends who contributed $2.2 million to enable more children to come home. Support for our Granny Program and other relief efforts overseas has reached $1.3 million and now 234 children in orphanages in Colombia, China, Moldova, and South Africa get daily one-on-one attention from 82 loving Grannies who were recruited from local communities. And, our historic Campaign for the Second Century garnered $14.5 million to secure Spence-Chapin’s work for another 100 years.

I am grateful to all of you for your generosity and conviction that Spence-Chapin deserves LJW_Retirement (SKasowitz-Director)your support. I believe we have given Mary Connolly, my successor, a solid foundation for advancing Spence-Chapin’s development program. The thread that binds the Spence-Chapin community together is the belief that every child deserves the unconditional love and nurturing that comes from a permanent family. It is a community willing to extend itself to ensure that Spence-Chapin is here to find and prepare the families eager to welcome a child into their homes and hearts.

This magic happened for 3,022 children during the past 18 years. The children traveled from China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia; from Russia, Bulgaria and Moldova; from Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Guatemala; from South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to become part of a family in the USA. Our local babies didn’t journey thousands of miles to reach their new homes but, as their birth parents struggled to plan for their futures, they received tender care from our interim volunteer families – another special group in our community.

Today at least 132 million children worldwide are homeless or live in institutions, many of them orphaned or abandoned. In the USA, nearly a half a million children are in foster care, and over a quarter of them are eligible for adoption. Spence-Chapin is their hope for a family, for a future that will allow them to thrive in a loving, safe home. Our challenge individually and as a community is to find the wherewithal for that to happen. During and before my arrival at Spence-Chapin, more than 20,000 have been touched by many of you – some very directly and very immediately. I have enjoyed watching your children grow up, and I have personally benefited from your generosity and friendship. I take a bit of each of you with me and for that – and so much more – I Thank You!

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A Tribute to Fatima Kelly and Her Family

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Our family (Velda, Joel, Mom and Camille).

When Fatima Kelly passed away last winter, her children wanted to do something special to honor their mother’s memory. “It was a no-brainer. When all was said and done, our mom was a wonderful mother, first and always. I went online to try to contact Louise Wise [who placed me with my parents], and was surprised to learn that they had dissolved a few years ago. Which is how I found Spence-Chapin,” says son Joel. “We asked friends and family to consider making a donation in lieu of flowers. We were thrilled with the response.”

Joel shares a snapshot of their family life:

“My mom and dad (adoptive parents) are African American. They were raised in North Carolina and moved to New York City right before WWII. Mom and dad married in 1946. After moving to New York, dad worked for the NYC subway and later the NYC Department of Corrections. Mom was an assembly worker at a camera factory in Queens until I was 6 years old or so, then became a full-time stay-at-home mother. Our dad had the build and coloring of Dr. Martin Luther King; mom was about 5’2” and fair skinned and, if I must say so myself, a real ‘looker’ in her day.

“I was born in Brooklyn in 1954. As I understand from information I received from Louise Wise Services, my birth mother was Jewish and blonde; my birth father was African American. I have never met them, and I’m not sure he ever knew she was pregnant as they were not married. I was adopted by mom and dad in 1956 or so. I have two sisters, Velda and Camille, also adopted, who are multi-racial like me. Louise Wise was involved in Camille’s placement: first as a foster child, then years later when she was adopted. Louise Wise also placed four other foster kids with the family – two brothers, and later a brother and sister. They each stayed with us for a few years before moving back with their families.

“Velda and I grew up in Queens, then later on Long Island. Our parents consistently stressed the importance of education, and battled with local school boards in the 60’s to ensure that we had quality teachers and the opportunity to attend the best schools. Despite her petite stature, mom’s energy was boundless and she spent weeks during many

summers camping alone in the woods with us (and often with many of our friends, too), just to keep us active and out of trouble. Our family moved to Uniondale, NY in 1964. Mom and dad continued to be very active in everything we did at school: they attended our plays, concerts and basketball games and (unfortunately) every PTA conference, too. Dad was typically busy with work, working shifts around the clock. Mom helped us with homework and, once she couldn’t, found tutors for us. She worked at our schools from time to time until Velda and I graduated from high school. They moved back to North Carolina in 1973 after dad retired.

Our parents’ focus on education paid off, I guess. Velda is a concert violinist with the Detroit Symphony. Camille has been a manager at Bank of America for many years. I received my law degree from Georgetown and now am a partner at Jackson Lewis, one of the premier employment law firms in the country. My wife and I live in Studio City outside Los Angeles.

Our dad passed in 1980. Mom was active well into her 80s and took great pride in later years in all of our accomplishments and successes. Mom passed on February 5 at age 89. She is buried in NYC.”

Orphan Nutrition

 

Tasty or not, proper nutrition is essential to every child’s healthy development. Without it, the body won’t function normally: the immune system struggles to fight infection, bone growth is stunted, and cognitive development lags behind.

Children who don’t have a permanent parental figure in their lives are more at risk for under-nutrition, priming them for other devastating delays in their childhood development. Children living in institutions are still at risk for malnutrition from the type of foods they are fed. Porridge, a staple of many orphanage kitchens, is inexpensive and easy to cook for large groups. Oats and honey may sustain hunger, but a solid diet of porridge (or any one item) doesn’t provide the complete nutrition for any growing child.

OrphanNutrition.org is a collection of nutrition resources created to increase advocacy and awareness on this global problem among orphaned children. The website is an initiative of A Child’s Best Start, a Mead-Johnson organization committed to improving nutrition conditions for children. It shares, information on nutrition best practices, food safety practices, and individual country data on nutrition. Orphan Nutrition has also started humanitarian initiatives to provide specially designed bottles for babies born with cleft palettes.

Be sure to visit the site to read all the valuable information on orphan malnutrition, and find out ways you can help stop this preventable problem from growing.

Non-Profits Online: The Web, Social Media and Blogs

During Internet Week New York (June 7-14), I have been thinking about the role that the internet, and particularly social media, has come to play in the life of Spence-Chapin and other non-profits.  Over the past year, we have watched our online involvement grow from a simple hand-coded webpage to a dynamic site, ripe with content, multiple Facebook groups and causes, a Facebook page with over 600 fans, and an adoption blog.

While social media can bring individuals together, it can also unite communities around a common cause.  Not-for-profit organizations have had success in garnering support and donations for their causes through social media that reaches just as many, if not more, people than traditional media.  The great discovery for the not-for-profit world has been that, when empowered to do so, supporters can carry their message to the masses.  Spence-Chapin has had a rich history of supporters over the past 100 years.  The difference now is that we are able to reach more people with greater efficiency and speed.  The passion for helping children has always existed but social media has provided a new way to organize, empower and mobilize it.

With our venture into the public arena, Spence-Chapin needed to make the changes necessary to maintain an online presence.  Like any social relationship, social media requires frequent updating with fresh content.  However, as we integrate online communications into our everyday work pattern, this just becomes a natural part of life in the 21st century.

Spence-Chapin also had to be aware that part of the trade-off for the community building advantages of social media is the vulnerability of exposing our organization to everyone on the web.  At some point, we will get negative comments, but in order for any social media strategy to succeed, a certain amount of control must be relinquished.  As frightening as this might be initially, the positive outcomes will far outnumber the negative.

Spence-Chapin continues to grow and evolve in their social media strategy and it is only through the support of readers like you that we are able to do so.  Our mission to help find loving adoptive homes for children is furthered every time you engage with us via social media.  So share this blog, fan us on Facebook, and keep the message moving.

Brittany Chozinski
Spence-Chapin Multimedia Associate