Adoption FAQ Fridays

Each Friday during National Adoption Month we are promoting a Frequently Asked Question about options counseling and adoption The Spence-Chapin Way to help everyone better understand how options counseling, including interim care, and the adoption process works at Spence-Chapin.  Read all of the questions and answers below!

Question: What is Open Adoption?

Answer: Answer: Open Adoption is having some form of communication and contact between the adoptive family and the birth family over time. Today, the majority of adoptions are done with some degree of openness, with the extent and frequency of contact varying from family to family. Open adoptions have been shown through various studies to benefit all members of the adoption triad—adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. At Spence-Chapin, the open adoption process is led by birth parents, who can decide what kind of communication–if any–that they want to have in the future, which can include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Spence-Chapin helps adoptive families and birth families craft an open adoption agreement, and our social workers provide counseling and guidance during the planning process, and at any time in their lifelong journeys.

Question: What is the Adoption Triad?

Answer: Adoption triad is a term used to the three groups that make up adoption: the adoptee, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. The adoptee is the child who is being adopted. The birth parents are the biological parents of the child. The adoptive parents are the individual or couple who adopts the child. Spence-Chapin supports all members of the adoption triad through our community programming, counseling, and support groups. We believe it is important to provide a space where all members in the adoption triad can come at any point in their lives to receive guidance, advice, counseling, and community.

Question: What is Options Counseling?

Answer: Options counseling is a free service that Spence-Chapin provides to pregnant women and women who have recently given birth who are unsure about parenting. Our social workers review all options available in a safe space where women can talk about their questions and concerns and not face judgement or bias. Spence-Chapin works with local organizations to help women access resources and assistance based on their choice. Spence-Chapin will travel to meet with women seeking counseling anywhere in New Jersey and the New York City metro area (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Westchester).

Question: What is Interim Care?

Answer: We understand that women and their partners need appropriate time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth. Placing their newborn in Interim Care allows biological parents to continue counseling to fully explore their options while knowing their baby is being cared for by a nurturing caregiver in a loving home. Birth parents retain their legal rights while the baby is in care and are encouraged to visit their baby. Our services are free for biological parents while they take the days or even a few weeks to make a decision.

Question: Why consider Adoption?

Answer:This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have made an adoption plan for their child. Many say it’s because they aren’t ready or able to fully parent a child at this time but want to stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find a family who can. Others choose to make a private open adoption plan instead of involvement with the public child welfare system.

Question: Who are the Adoptive Families? How are adoptive families selected?

Answer: Spence-Chapin works hard to recruit diverse families that are hoping to adopt a child. Our waiting families vary in age, background, family structure, religion, etc. After submitting an application, each family must attend several webinars and trainings to ensure that they are ready to begin the adoption process. Spence-Chapin then conducts a home study to get to know the family and their home environment more. When a birth parent is making an adoption plan, she is presented with information and descriptions of all of our waiting families and can select a family of her choice to set up a meeting with. If all goes well at the meeting, our social workers help the birth parents and adoptive family to create an open or closed adoption plan, depending on the birth parents’ preference. Spence-Chapin works closely with the birth parents and adoptive family every step of the way to placement and continues to provide lifelong guidance and support through counseling, community programming, and support groups.

Spence-Chapin has all types of waiting families! They vary in age, background, family, structure, religion, etc. They are all eager to adopt and provide a loving family to a child. You will be able to meet and connect with the people you select. Adoptive parents registered with Spence-Chapin have been screened by our social workers and prepared for open adoption. You can also brown through profiles on our website: www.spence-chapin.org/waiting-families

7 Myths About Open Adoption

For prospective adoptive parents, the term “open adoption” may sound intimidating or confusing. What does an open adoption look like? How does it work? Is it really in the best interest of the child? To make open adoption more understood, we’ve compiled this list of Myths and Facts to help guide you through your adoption journey!

1.Myth: Not many people have an open adoption

Fact: Today, the vast majority of adoptions are open. In a study conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, only 5 percent of respondents in a survey said that they had a closed adoption. Of course, the type of openness in adoption varies among families, can be infrequent or ongoing, and can take the form of letters, phone calls, in-person meetings—and a lot in between.

2. Myth: The relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents deteriorate in time.

Fact: The relationships between adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees changes over time, and tend to ebb and flow. As long as all parties remain committed to communication and are flexible, the relationships formed are life-long and rewarding.

3. Myth: Open adoption is a form of co-parenting.

Fact: In open adoption, the adoptive parents are the sole custodians and are the ones in control of their child’s welfare. The birth parents may play an active role in the child’s life, but the legal rights remain in the hands of the adoptive parents.

4. Myth: Open adoption is confusing to children.

Fact: Children are not confused by having contact with their birth family. Even at an early age, children can understand different roles and responsibilities. Further, while all members in an open adoption are shown to benefit from the relationship, it is adoptees that benefit the most over time. Some of the benefits to adoptees include coming to terms early on with the reasons for their adoption, access to information that aids in identity formation, knowledge about their own medical histories, and a better understanding of the meaning of adoption.

5. Myth: Having contact with the birth family will be an intrusion on my family.

Fact: Surveys show that families who choose to remain in contact with the birth family report higher levels of satisfaction with their adoptions. According to the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, adoptive parents in open adoptions report a stronger sense of permanence in the relationship with their child as projected into the future, and more empathy toward the birthparents and child than those in closed adoptions.

6. Myth: Being able to communicate with and see the child will be too painful for the birth parents.

Fact: Birth parents in open adoptions with ongoing contact report less grief, regret, and worry, as well as more peace of mind, than those who do not have contact, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

7. Myth: There will be no boundaries. The birth parents will drop in whenever they want to see the child.

Fact: Through open communication, both parties should have a mutual understanding as to where those boundaries are. The way the open adoption looks is determined before placement, between the adoptive parents and birth parents (and the adoptee depending on his/her age), and is based on what is comfortable and practical for all involved. Birth parents and adoptive parents should both receive proper training and counseling on open adoption before making an open adoption agreement, to ensure that all parties have thought clearly and reflexively about what they want the relationship to look like. It is also important to work with a counselor or social worker to help craft the open adoption contract or agreement, and to have access to post-adoption services to work through any challenges or issues that may arise over time in that relationship.

Spence-Chapin encourages open adoption, which is why we are happy to answer any further questions you may have. Spence-Chapin offers individual and family counseling, open adoption support and guidance, and facilitates reunion meetings. Call us and let us know how we can support you and your family – 646-539-2167. We encourage to read this beautiful personal open adoption story.

An Open Adoption Story

By Lucy Shaw, LMSW and Birth Parent Outreach worker for Spence-Chapin

Dax (third from left) with three of his biological siblings and adoptive Dad, Jochen

For National Adoption Month, I’m excited to share my personal story of open adoption with you all. As an adoptive mom in an open adoption and as a social worker focused on Birth Parent outreach at Spence-Chapin, I have a unique perspective on adoption that I think is important to share. Adoption is such an integral part of my life and something for which I am so grateful and proud.

My husband and I adopted our son Daxton (Dax) in 2014. He’s now four years old! When we decided to adopt, we began working with an adoption attorney, and within six months of completing our home study, we had connected with Erin, Dax’s birth mom when she was about two months pregnant.

From that moment on, we truly never looked back. It seemed like things were destined to be as soon as we started talking to Erin. We drove Pennsylvania from NYC to meet Erin for the first time in January 2014. She even invited us to meet her and go with her to get her first ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby! What do you know, the day we started driving was the day Snowstorm Hercules pummeled the east coast! We had to pull over on the side of the road several times due to heavy snowfall, but we kept trudging along because we were so insistent that we were going to make it to this appointment, no matter what. And I’m so glad we did! I still have the ultrasound photo today saved!

I’m so thankful for having this chance to visit Erin while she was pregnant because it set the stage for a genuine and trusting relationship going forward. Throughout this journey of getting to know each other, Erin has been an open book. We could see right away that she had the best intentions and was an incredibly brave, honest, strong and trusting woman. She shared her story of why she was considering adoption with us and we could see firsthand what a kind and loving mother she was to her four other children. We could also see how hard it was to be a single mom raising children, while trying to work full-time and complete her education so she could make a better life for her family.

As Erin’s due date began to approach, she kept us involved every step of the way. She included us in her birth plan and introduced us to her other children and her best friend. She also allowed us to be by her side in the hospital when she gave birth! She was amazing at the hospital – she let me cut the umbilical cord and let us hold Daxton for skin to skin contact while she also bonded with him and breastfed him throughout the time we were in the hospital. We just followed her lead.

Daxton was born on May 6, 2014 and that weekend we celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Erin, Dax’s birth siblings and Erin’s best friend in Pennsylvania – as we were hanging out, barbecuing and watching Daxton sleeping happily in his car seat, I continued to be in awe of Erin’s grace and generosity in sharing this event with us.

Since Dax’s birth, Erin continues to show her kindness, resilience and strength in so many ways. And I often see these qualities in Daxton too, like the way he interacts with everyone he meets in such a friendly and confident way. From the moment he could smile and wave, he’s been making friends with almost everyone he meets.

Lucy with Dax’s birth mom, Erin

We stay in touch with Erin in many ways – we keep each other updated on Facebook and Erin’s always one of the first to like any of the posts I have about Daxton or parenting. I know she’s always thinking of us and we’re always thinking of her as well. We also visit each other about once or twice a year. For Dax’s 4th birthday, she came to NYC with all the kids and baked three gorgeous cakes for our party. She always goes above and beyond our expectations during these visits.

Overall, I feel so lucky to have this relationship with Erin and am happy that Dax will grow up knowing his birth mother and his birth siblings and be able to answer all the questions he may have about his identity as he gets older.

Parenting may be one of the hardest jobs on earth, but for me being in an open adoption is one of the easiest things about being a parent. I know there are going to continue to be challenges, tough conversations, and ups and downs in the years to come, but I’m not worried about answering questions about adoption with Dax or anyone else. In that area, I know without a doubt, with Erin’s help, we have honesty, love and resiliency to guide us.

Highlights of the 2018 Gala: An Evening Celebrating Family

gala-roomSpence-Chapin’s 2018 Gala on Thursday, May 3rd was themed, “Every child deserves a family”—a guiding principle of the organization over its 110-year history. And while the event truly reflected this concept, it presented it through the lens of creating family, highlighting the many varied and beautiful ways in which we all build family.

Hosted at the lovely Current at Chelsea Piers in New York City, the event featured a silent auction, cocktail hour and dinner overlooking the Hudson River.  Returning for his second year to preside over the evening was NBC New York’s Storm Team 4 weatherman, David Price. Opening the program with some lively quips and wit, Price then introduced Spence-Chapin’s President & CEO, Adam Cotummacio, to set the tone of the evening.

Adam C and Dave PriceMr. Cotummacio spoke about the ways in which each family uniquely creates their own special environment—maybe through a set of household rules over chores or watching tv that may seem strange to the outsider, or through traditions that are set up and done every year without question—and in this way, begins to build family, that sense of belonging and safety.

Hardie Stevens then took the stage, an entrepreneur and adoptee through Spence-Chapin. Mr. Stevens spoke about the significance of adoption as a lifelong experience and the unique ways it has shaped his view of family.

Family filmSpence-Chapin then premiered its short film, “Family,” which chronicles how Spence-Chapin helps to form loving, nurturing and permanent families through its domestic, international and special needs adoption programs; its Granny and Interim Care Programs that provide ongoing care for infants and children; and its unbiased counseling for pregnant women and birth parents as they navigate different options available to them.

Featured prominently in the film is Spence-Chapin’s very own family member, Antoinette Cockerham—an employee with Spence-Chapin for 25 years and the recipient that evening of its Lifetime Achievement Award. Ms. Cockerham, or “Toni” as she is known among friends, served as Director of Domestic Programs at Spence and helped to create hundreds of families through adoption during her tenure

Toni-awardSpence-Chapin Board President, Ian Rowe, presented the award to Ms. Cockerham and said of few words about his and his wife’s own journey in an open adoption through Spence-Chapin, and the beautiful family that they have created. In her gracious acceptance remarks, Ms. Cockerham pointed to the many challenges that still lie ahead and the important work that Spence-Chapin must continue to do, and can accomplish, with support.

CK SwettThat support became palpable as Celebrity Auctioneer CK Swett took the stage and led a direct pledge moment that helped raise $80,000 for the organization’s programs in just a few minutes. It was a spectacular outpouring of support for the work that Spence-Chapin has done in its extended history and will do in the future.

Later that evening, Mr. Cotummacio reflected on the whole of the evening, and the integral role Spence-Chapin has been able to play in the lives of so many children and families:

“Spence-Chapin is truly a unique organization. This year’s Gala was dedicated to the work we have done serving as part of the connective tissue to thousands of families throughout our 110-year history. The event enabled us to celebrate family and open-adoption in all its intricate, loving, challenging and wonderful forms. I am forever grateful to our amazing staff and the impact they deliver each day the Spence-Chapin Way by helping to create strong families and by providing women in crisis with the support and counseling needed to make informed decisions about their options.”

Spence-Chapin is appreciative to its Gala Committee, Board of Directors, attendees and supporters for making this night successful and wonderful. Please make sure to view the photos of the event and the featured short film, “Family.”

February: Black History Month

Spence-Chapin has been a leader in African-American and Black infant adoption and recruiting African-American adoptive parents. In honor of Black History Month, we revisit the efforts made by those who have fought to break barriers, making African-American and Black children from all parts of the world a focus and a priority.

Adoption at Spence-Chapin

In the 1940’s, Gladys Randolph, former director of Social Work at Harlem Hospital, brought the issue of boarder babies languishing in her community without families to the attention of Spence-Chapin. Challenging the then-popular notion that African-American families were not interested in adoption, Spence-Chapin started a program in 1946 to respond to the crisis. Working hard to tackle this misconception, in 1953, the agency elected Mrs. Jackie Robinson, wife of the famous baseball player Jackie Robinson, to serve on the Board of Directors. She played a crucial role in recruiting African-American families and as the movement gained momentum, more illustrious Americans, including Ruth Harris (wife of political scientist and Noble Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche), Marian Anderson (celebrated American singer), and Willetta S. Mickey (wife of Civil Rights pioneer Hubert Delaney) helped Spence-Chapin recruit African-American adoptive families.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the featured speaker for a Spence-Chapin conference in 1954. Mrs. Roosevelt was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “No matter what the color of their skin, all our children must be looked at as the future rich heritage of the country.”

In 1991, adoptive parents of African-American children formed the Spence-Chapin African-American Parents Advisory Committee, known as AAPAC. The group, which welcomes all families parenting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adopted children, brings families together for social networking and support. One of the positive outcomes has been the close ties formed by members and their children, and the sense of community which has evolved among families.

Today, Spence-Chapin continues our mission of finding adoptive families for all children in the New York tri-state area and abroad as well as recruiting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adoptive parents.  

 

Domestic Adoption Home Studies at Spence-Chapin

Spence-Chapin supports adoptive parents pursuing a domestic independent or attorney adoption. We offer Home Study, pre-adoption training, consultations, and more. We provide adoptive families with expertise, professionalism, and the support of an entire adoption team. With over 100 years of experience in adoption, we know how to support adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees! If requested, Spence-Chapin can provide recommendations for reputable adoption attorneys in the NYC area. Overall, Spence-Chapin recommends working with an experienced adoption attorney, preferably a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Home Study Services

A home study is a document required for all adoptive parents and is the first step to any adoption process. Spence-Chapin has provided home studies for thousands of families adopting domestically. We have the expertise to work with you and your adoption attorney or out-of-state agency. Families can begin the home study process while they are identifying their agency or attorney. If you’re ready to get started on the adoption process, please visit our website to download our free home study application online: www.spence-chapin.org/homestudy.

Pre-Adoption Support

Throughout the adoption process, Spence-Chapin social workers and staff are available for support and information. Families can schedule one-on-one meetings to talk about their questions or concerns, such as how to manage the wait to be matched with a child, how to speak with a birth parent once connected, what to do if spouses aren’t on the same page about the adoption, navigating open adoption, and much more!

Post-Adopt Support

Regardless of how you choose to build your family, our ongoing family support is available! We offer robust post-adoption support through consultations, counseling, parent coaching, and events for parents and kids. Our post-adoption services are available to all families after your child joins your family! We offer a monthly playgroup for adoptive families with kids 0-5, an annual Halloween party, Global Family Day Picnic in Central Park, and ongoing workshops for kids and parents. We invite you to join us for these community events!

Get started with a domestic adoption today by starting the home study process! Visit our website to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s home study services or contact us at (212) 400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.  

Domestic Adoption FAQs

Families often have many questions as they are beginning an adoption process. These FAQs will help you decide if adopting through Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program is the right path for you to grow your family.

1.  Who are the children in need of adoption?
The children in need of adoption through our Domestic Adoption Program are newborns to approximately 8 weeks old. The babies reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the NYC Metro Area; most children are of Black or Latino backgrounds. Families adopting through this program need to be open to parenting a child of either gender.

2.  Who can adopt through this program?
We are often asked who can adopt. We are happy to share that all types of parents adopt: married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQIA+ parents, single women and single men can adopt. Families who are already parenting adopt, as do families who are transitioning out of fertility treatments.  Families of all ages, income levels, ethnicities, and religions adopt. Truly, the one thing that all adoptive families have in common is that they want to be parents – and from there they are as diverse as the kids themselves.

3.  What is open adoption?
What if I want a closed adoption? How is open adoption negotiated? Open adoption is when adoptive and birth families meet and are able to have ongoing contact with each other at their own discretion. Frequency and type of communication can range from the exchange of letters and emails, phone calls, shared pictures, and visits. Open adoption is not co-parenting. It is an opportunity for birth and adoptive families to develop a relationship that will benefit the adopted child. Research shows that open adoption is beneficial to all members of the adoption triad: the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adopted person. Having access to their birth parent can help an adopted person develop a better sense of self with access to information about his or her background. Families who are the best candidates for Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program are open to periodic exchange of emails, photos, and visits with the birth family. Adoptive parents and birth parents each have their own social worker at Spence-Chapin. Your social worker will help you establish an open adoption plan that is comfortable to both you and your child’s birth parent(s). Both adoptive families and birth parents will get support from their social worker throughout this process.

4.  What are the common medical risks?
Many infants in need of adoption have some risks or unknowns in their medical backgrounds.Some of the infants come from backgrounds where they may have been exposed to cigarette smoke, recreational drugs, and/or social drinking during pregnancy. Good candidates for the Domestic Adoption Program are open to some risks and unknowns in the child’s medical history. This is something you will discuss with your social worker throughout your adoption process.

5.  Who are the birth parents?
Any woman of childbearing age could find herself in the position of an unplanned pregnancy. All birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby. They want to make a plan to give the baby a stable life that they are unable to provide at time of birth. Spence-Chapin’s experienced social workers provide intensive unbiased options counseling to biological parents in the NYC metro area to help them make the decision that is right for them and for their baby.

6.  What is the matching process and how does it work?
Birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social worker. Once they have narrowed their choice down to one family, a match meeting is held between the birth family and the adoptive family. Both the adoptive family’s social worker and the birth parent’s social worker are present for this meeting to provide guidance and support. Adoptive families wait an average of 1-2 years to be matched after completing their home study.

7.  What is interim care?
We understand that women and their partners need time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth of a child. Spence-Chapin’s Interim Care Program allows babies to be cared for in a loving home by a nurturing caregiver so that biological parents have additional time to plan for their child. Biological parents retain parental rights while their baby is in Interim Care and are free to visit their child. Our interim care givers are families who are trained and screened to care for the newborns on a temporary basis. Interim care allows the birth parents to feel confident in their plan before making the decision to place the infant for adoption.

8.  What are the next steps if I want to apply?
Join the next Domestic Adoption webinar!
Register at: www.spence-chapin.org/events.

Still have questions? Schedule a pre-adoption consultation or phone call with one of our adoption experts! Call: 212-400-8150 or Email: info@spence-chapin.org

NEWS from Our Outreach Team!

family-icon

Dear reader,
We just created a new FAQ for biological parents. Read it here first!

Why should I consider adoption?

This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have considered making an adoption plan for their child. Many say it’s because they aren’t ready or able to fully parent a child at this time, but want to choose a loving family and stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find them a family who can. Others feel they will lose their parental rights, and would rather choose an adoptive family and maintain contact with their child.

What are the benefits of open adoption?

Open adoption is an ongoing relationship between the adoptive family and the birth family. You can decide what this relationship looks like – it may include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Birth parents who have chosen open adoption say they couldn’t imagine it any other way. They say that being able to choose and meet the adoptive family and maintain contact is the main reason they chose adoption. They say that being able to see their child grow up in a happy, loving family is what gives them peace of mind. In addition, they say they are happy their child will understand and know their birth parents and their birth story.

How can Spence-Chapin help me with this decision?

You have the right to confidential counseling before making your decision. Every woman or couple we work with is offered FREE options counseling and is assigned their own social worker who is an experienced professional. They will advocate for you in making the decision that feels most right to you. The social worker will answer all your questions and connect you to resources, including health insurance, prenatal care, etc. We can help you fully consider all of your options and advise you on all aspects of making an adoption plan, including open adoption and your legal rights. We respect your decisions and you will never be pressured by us to make an adoption plan.

Why should I trust Spence-Chapin?

At Spence-Chapin, we take a lot of care in supporting and advocating for you. We are a non-profit organization with over 100 years of experience finding loving families for children who need them and we are here to support you throughout your journey. We believe in free, unbiased and confidential support for women and couples making this decision, which is why we have separate and robust processes for working with biological parents and adoptive parents. Our social workers are available for free, unbiased, confidential options counseling in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Those we work with say they appreciate our support and did not feel pressured. In fact, the majority of expectant and biological parents who meet with Spence-Chapin find the resources and support to parent.

What if I want to keep my decision confidential?

Spence-Chapin will respect your right to confidentiality in making this decision. We take your privacy and safety very seriously. If you choose closed adoption and do not want contact after an adoption, Spence-Chapin will respect your rights as well.

What types of people are looking to adopt?

Spence-Chapin has all types of prospective adoptive parents waiting to adopt. They vary in age, background, family structure, religion, race, etc. Some are big families, some are small. Some live in the city, some live in the suburbs. They all are eager to adopt and provide a loving family to a child. You will be able to meet and connect with the people you select. Adoptive parents registered with Spence-Chapin have been screened by our social workers and prepared for open adoption.

Can I hear from other people you’ve worked with?

Yes, hear biological parent perspectives on our youtube page.

Speak to an options counselor
Call 24/7: 1-800-321-LOVE
Text: 646-306-2586
Email: helpline@spence-chapin.org

Email the writer: lshaw@spence-chapin.org
blog post authorBiological Parent
 

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

snowflakeHolidays are a time for connecting with loved ones and provide the opportunity for time travel – we visit our past, experience the present, and set intentions for the future.

It’s easy to think about the family members we see and touch base with regularly. But what about those who were part of your child’s life before they were part of your family? It could be birth or foster families, orphanage caregivers, or early childhood friends. Even if your child was too young to remember these relationships, they are an important part of your child’s history and who they are today. Finding ways to bring their birth family, birth culture, and past into the present is important for deepening your relationship with your child.

Be imaginative about honoring those connections. The rituals and traditions you create with your child can be tangible and concrete, like putting together a Lifebook that has pictures of those important people, sending letters and cards, or setting up a visit. If you don’t have direct contact, the rituals can be symbolic. Go for a walk in the park where you first decided to adopt; eat the favorite food of that important person every Thanksgiving; collect stones from important places in your child’s life. The smallest detail can have a huge impact on your child now and in the future. Remember, be creative and make it a special tradition that is unique to your family. Your child might not like or understand the meaning of the rituals now, but it is important that you’re doing all that you can do to document and celebrate your child’s past so they can cherish it in the future. When you honor those who are connected to your child, you are honoring your children, their story, and your family’s roots.

10 Back to School Tips for Adoptive Parents

Green apple on stack of red books.

  1. Help your child feel prepared: Discuss issues that may arise or questions they may receive from classmates and how to respond. Tour the school so they feel comfortable in a new environment. Have your child meet their teachers/ principal. Talk about the rules and expectations of your child’s school.
  2. Lunchtime: Bring your child to the grocery store to pick out foods that they like. If they buy their lunch, make sure lunch money is in a safe place.
  3. Transportation: Make sure your child knows their bus number. Discuss bus rules and talk with your child about only leaving school with a parent or designated adults. Have a safety plan in place.
  4. Iron out a schedule: Establish your routine before school starts. Consider using a large family calendar to keep track of everyone’s schedules.
  5. Resources: Talk to your child’s teachers about special needs accommodations, ESL, IEP, and/or tutoring programs. Join an adoptive parent support group or attend parent workshops (link to http://www.modernfamilycenter.org/adoption-support/).
  6. Social skills: Help your child practice appropriate social responses, conversations, and understanding appropriate physical boundaries. Set up short, structured play dates. Reach out to classmates before school starts.
  7. Social issues: Listen actively to your child and encourage positive attitudes. If bullying at school is involved, insist that it be appropriately addressed by the school.
  8. Open the adoption dialogue: If you want it known that your child is adopted, inform new teachers and provide them with any information about adoption you feel they should know. Bring a book to share about adoption with the class. Talk to your child about questions they might be asked and how they can answer them.
  9. Talk about educational goals: Empower your child to be a part of their own educational process. Support your child through highs, lows, and plateaus in learning. Be realistic with your expectations of both your child and their teacher.
  10. Don’t forget to breathe! Practice taking deep breaths with your child so that they know how to help themselves calm down if they get stressed.

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.

Let Me Know My True Name

UnknownMy name is Allie Herskovitz. I am a junior at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, NY.  I am a varsity cheerleader, study dance, serve as a volunteer with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua, and am working on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I was adopted domestically at birth and since fourth grade I have participated in several Spence-Chapin groups.

This winter, as an English assignment, I was asked to write an editorial on any topic important to me. Just a month before I had traveled out West and met members of my birth family for the first time. I was fortunate because my mom had kept all the documents from my adoption. I was able to make the connection without much of a search. My experience was very positive in many ways; however, I had attended a Spence-Chapin reunion workshop in 2014 and knew it could be very different- and frustrating- for many adoptees. When my teacher assigned the editorial I had reunion issues on my mind, so I decided to research and write about adoptee access to U.S. birth records. What I learned has made me a strong advocate for full and open access-for every adoptee.

Imagine that you were denied access to all information about your birth. No original birth certificate. No names of your birthparents. You might not even know where or even when you were born. How might you feel? For adoptees born in forty- three U.S. states this is current law- we are denied access to our original birth records. We are banned by the state from knowing our true origins. This practice of “sealing” birth records for adoptions began in Minnesota with the intention to overcome attitudes about the shame of adoption and illegitimacy. Over time almost all U.S. states banned adoptee access. Attitudes in some states have changed in recent decades, but almost six million U.S. born adoptees are still denied their basic birth information. I am one of those adoptees and in 2015 I believe everyone deserves full access to their original birth records as a fundamental human right.

Many Western countries, including England, Scotland and Israel, allow open access. In the United States, adoption regulations are delegated to the states, not the federal government, and the majority of states have laws preventing direct adoptee access to original birth documents. Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, social workers and adoptive parents encouraged states to seal records when an adoption was finalized. By 1950, most states had regulations that forever barred adoptee access. Since then, only a few states have changed their laws. Currently just seven states have completely opened their records, while several others provide for unsealing with restrictions. For example, Maryland and Iowa only allow access through a “mutual consent registry” and Nebraska allows adoptive parents, as well as birth parents, to veto unsealing.

Researching the history of U.S. adoption, I learned that over the years adoptees have been denied their records for three main reasons. The first reason, strongly promoted by some prominent adoption lobbies, has been the protection of birth parent confidentiality. According to this argument, unsealing records now would betray a promise of anonymity made at the time of the adoption. However, in the only two legal cases that have ever ruled on this claim, the courts have said open records laws do not violate privacy rights. The second reason dates from decades past when adoption was viewed as a stigma and spoken only in whispers. During the Depression and after WWII, issuing “amended” birth certificates became routine and helped to reinforce a “culture of shame that stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and adoption”. A third rationale is a concern for “disruption,” that sharing original birth information would disturb the lives of the adoption triad-birthparents, adoptive parents, or the adoptee. While some adoptive parents may still favor closed records for this reason, recent surveys show they are now a small minority. The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption, and rather than viewing open access as a disruption, states that sealed records are “detrimental to the psychological well-being of the adopted child”.

Among the public, as well as different members of the adoption community, there is a growing consensus that adoptees deserve full access. My family and I strongly support this position. We reject the age old reasons for sealing birth records. We see no valid justification for the state to deny me my original birth documents. I should have the same rights under the law as anyone else born in the United States- the right to know who I am. I should be allowed unrestricted access to my original birth certificate so I may know critical legal, medical, and genealogical information. That knowledge is part of my true identity. One organization, Adoption Find, really speaks for me when they state, “Adoptees did not sign away their rights. Identity is a human right…Adoption is not magic. Babies do not disappear into a void, never to be heard from again. We are real living, breathing people who deserve the same history, and wholeness of being that every non-adoptee takes for granted”.

Anyone favoring open access has opportunities to change state laws. At the current time, several states including Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Connecticut, have legislation under consideration that would expand adoptee access to their birth records. Citizens of these states, as well as all individuals advocating open access, can write to their state representatives. They can also write letters to their local newspapers and make donations to organizations that encourage unsealed records, such as Spence-Chapin.

According to one advocacy website, thelostdaughters.com, “what is missing the most in adoption is the truth”. Like so many American adoptees, I am not allowed by state law to see my original birth certificate. I believe it is time to get past the old arguments and to unseal every U.S. birth record. Without a change in the law, I could spend a lifetime of longing and searching for my true identity.

Adopting a Child with HIV

Last year we were thrilled to announce the opening of our South Africa adoption program.  Since then, we have learned more about the process, the children and the needs of the South African child welfare community.  We have learned that in South Africa, the number of children in need of families continues to grow and that these children are AIDS orphans who need families that can care for them properly.  In all, there are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa: children who are no longer babies, children with special needs and children who are part of sibling groups often remain in orphanages for years, waiting for a loving family to change their lives.

Soon after opening this program we met Megan and Cameron.adoptive family Already experienced parents (2 sons adopted from Ethiopia and Uganda), Megan and Cameron felt their family was still not quite complete.  As the couple started to look into their options, one theme kept rising above the rest; in blogs and forums and from their own hearts came the idea of adopting a child with HIV.  As Megan put it, “We did not know much about HIV – I knew that Magic Johnson had HIV. That’s about it.”  But soon they learned more – a great deal more.  They learned that with the right medication, children can have happy lives with a normal life expectancy.  They even learned that, despite the stigma the disease still carries, the CDC (Center For Disease Control) has actually removed HIV from its list of communicable diseases. Knowing this, the couple approached Spence-Chapin to adopt a child from South Africa diagnosed with HIV.  They are now in the process of completing the paperwork and hope for a child match soon.

Megan and Cameron know that in the future, their choice to parent a child with HIV HIV Quotewill be questioned.  They know they have a journey ahead to educate their community and to line up the resources their child will need to live a full life.  When asked what it is about their family that led them to this choice, when so many others tend to overlook these children, the couple seemed surprised by the question.  Says Megan, “I don’t think our family is any different; I just think we have been given the proper education.  We have the information, so we do not fear the HIV stigma. This is something all families can learn!”

As with many of the other international programs in which we work, we see children who are waiting for a family longer than any child should have to.  Children born with the HIV virus have the opportunity to lead long, full and healthy lives, but only if the child welfare and medical communities join forces to provide the care and permanency that every child deserves.  As we grow our South Africa program, our commitment to these children is stronger than ever.  With education, advocacy and adoption, we hope to provide every child with what Megan and Cameron hope for their future child: “We want people to love our child as a person first.  We want them to see that our child is in no way diminished or stigmatized and with no asterisk beside his or her name.”

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Adoption from South Africa

Megan and Cameron now… 2 sons from Ethiopia and Uganda, and a daughter from South Africa.

 

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

“I want you to know”: A Birthmother’s Letter

Birth mothers rights have been evolving over the past decades, from fully closed adoptions where birth mothers had no information about their child, to today’s adoption practices of openness and ongoing communication between birth and adoptive families.  Sheila placed her child at a transitional time when adoptions were still closed, but birth mothers were able to select an adoptive family.  Here, she bravely shares her thoughts and feelings about what this experience has been like for her.

 

I am Sheila and I am a birth mother.

I want you to know that my daughter was conceived in love within a beautiful relationship.  I want you to know that allowing my child to be adopted altered my very being forever.  I want you to know that I did not want to give her away; I wanted to protect her and love her and give her a beautiful life.  My child should have known me and how much I loved and still love her.

I want you to know that as a scared young woman who was given two alternatives…abortion or adoption.  No one talked to me about how I might be able to raise my child.  I wish I knew then the woman I would become.  I am and was strong enough and resourceful enough to raise my child, but no one ever told me that!  I wish I had had confidence and self- esteem; I doubted myself and didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough to care for another human being.  I had nothing materially, but I had love.  I want you to know that if I could turn back time, I would change the day I signed those papers and gave a part of myself away.  But, at the same time, I don’t want to diminish the importance of her family and the life she has lived.

I want you to know, through my blinding grief, I picked her parents carefully.  I was told of what a gift I was giving to another family.  All these years, I have prayed for them and felt like a part of their family from afar.  I wish her family would open their hearts to me.  I don’t want their thanks, I don’t want them to be grateful to me,  I just want them to know me  and perhaps pray for me, too.  I have this feeling that we may be able to have a pretty decent relationship.  I was drawn to them for a reason, and all my prayers brought them to my daughter for a reason.  If this all was meant to be for the good of her life and the richness of her family, then so be it.  I can cope with my loss, but I want you to know that I pray that door will open.  I am not a criminal or a stalker, which is the first thing everyone thinks when a birthmother seeks a connection with her child.  We all share something very beautiful, very natural and very strong.  I want to celebrate and honor that – together.

I want you to know that I didn’t know the depth of love I would feel for my first child.  The day she was born, I held her and talked to her and kissed her and hugged her and never wanted to let her go.  After I gave birth, no one told me what it would feel like to be a mother…I felt it later… overwhelming and unconditional love but she was gone and I couldn’t get her back.  I want her to know that I love her deeply.  While that may be strange to hear from someone she doesn’t know, it is the one absolute truth of my life.  That feeling didn’t go away over time, and was not replaced.  I have had four children since my first daughter was born and the feeling never diminished – it only grew.

Adoption may be right for some, and I hope it was good for my child.  I want you to know it completely altered who I am and the way that I live.  My daughter is in my thoughts every moment of the day.  I want to feel the touch of her hand.  I want to know her likes and dislikes, the similarities we may share and all about her that is unique and individual.  I want to know about her childhood, her favorite places, and fondest memories.  I want to share something with my child.  I want my child to wish these things too.  I want her to have all of her questions answered.  I don’t want to be an intruder in her life – but to be seen as someone who has a big heart for her – another person to love and be loved.

I want my children and my cousins and friends and aunts and uncles to know that I have another child; my first child.  My children deserve to know the truth and to know their sister and to share in friendship and love with her.  I can no longer go on denying her…I worked too hard to bring her into this world.  What kind of person am I that I deprived them of my first beautiful child?

I want you to know that for the majority of my life, I never knew another birth mom.  I thought I was the only one – the very bottom of the barrel – a terrible, awful person.  When I finally got the courage to join a birth mother support group, I was surprised by what I found.  Our group at Spence-Chapin is a casual and comfortable atmosphere that includes the most beautiful, strong and intelligent group of women.  We simply share our experiences and help one another.

I want you to know that we know we are being judged.  Not only do we judge and punish ourselves our entire lives, but society judges us as well.  There is still a negative perception of our existence, our motives and the “who” that we are.   We are very concerned with what society labels us as, how adoptive families perceive us, and what our children believe about us.  We want you to know we are not heartless, dirty, thoughtless and selfish.   We love our children – we long for our children and we need to be valued, understood and welcomed into the adoption conversation.  We are just like you – people with struggles and successes, failures and  accomplishments.

I want you to know that I am pretty wonderful today  because of all that I have experienced, endured, accomplished and contributed to life – all of it!  Everything!  My child deserves to know me and I deserve a chance to know her! I know I don’t have the right to call her my child, my daughter, but what other word expresses the closeness, the importance and the bond that she is…?

 

Bubba Watson’s Masters Miracle

Bubba & Caleb

Bubba tweeted this picture of his baby boy Caleb.

 

This year, a miracle happened at the Masters, both on and off the green. While self-taught superstar Bubba Watson made his game-clinching shot down in Augusta, his wife Angie and his newly adopted son Caleb watched from their house in Orlando. Just one week earlier, before Bubba donned his iconic green Masters jacket, they got the call that they had been waiting on for four years, they were finally going to be new parents. “It’ll probably be more emotional than this win, just to be there with my son and my wife.  I’ll get to raise an amazing kid.” Bubba remarks on going home to see his wife and 8-week old son.

The couple is elated to bring their newborn home, but it has been a long and storied road to Caleb’s arrival. After Angie and Bubba decided on a domestic adoption, they chose an agency, Chicks in Crisis, to help start the home study process while living in Florida. But, mid-way through, the couple made the decision to move to Arizona to be closer to family and their church. “When you move states it’s a totally different process, our home study got wiped away so we had to start over.” says Watson.

After their move, their plan to adopt was met with number of setbacks. As for many other families, life kept moving swiftly, bringing with it a number of unexpected ups and downs. In 2008, Watson’s father was diagnosed with throat cancer, and two years later he passed away in 2010, right after Bubba won his first Major championship. Around this time, Angie was misdiagnosed, and the family was scared that she was suffering from a cancerous tumor. The couple stuck together through their emotional turmoil, never giving up on their plan of completing their family.

Finally, in 2012 the Watson’s had a year of breakthroughs, despite a few bumps in the road. “We had two babies, two moms turned us down that went with other families, and then the Wednesday night right before Bay Hill is when we got the word that Monday we’d pick [Caleb] up.” Even through the craziness of his sudden celebrity and a Masters victory, Bubba is most excited and thankful for his new-found fatherhood, planning the very best he can for Baby Caleb. “As a father, you just want him to excel at something, and whatever that is, whatever their passion is, you just want to support them, be there for them, and hopefully they can grow up and be better than you one day at whatever it is.”

Adoption Reunion on Latest Episode of TV Show Glee

On Tuesday, May 25th, millions of viewers tuned in to watch the latest episode of the hit Fox show, Glee.  Perhaps of most interest to those of us in the adoption world was the reunion of Rachel with her birth mother, Shelby.  While such mainstream portrayals can successfully illustrate the expectations, emotional intensity and anxiety that accompany a search and reunion, Glee dismissed the importance of working to forge a relationship after the reunion.

Rachel and Shelby find out that they share many traits, but they also discover all of the things they do not share.  Having been absent from Rachel’s life for 16 years, Shelby realizes that she will never have the sort of anecdotes and memories that Rachel shares with her adoptive fathers.  While Rachel looks to Shelby to be the instant mom she’s always wanted, the two eventually realize that such bonds are forged over time and do not automatically exist through genetics.  The Glee writers can be applauded for bringing to light such an important aspect, but the applause quickly dies as Rachel and Shelby almost instantly decide to maintain a relationship from a distance and the characters part ways with a shared song.

In real life, search and reunions are far more complex than in the magical world of television.  Spence-Chapin’s post-adoption team advises that forming a relationship with a birth relative is never instant but is a process full of ups and downs.  “Reunion relationships are amongst the most complicated, with no road maps or etiquette to guide the process,” says Spence-Chapin post-adoption expert, Ronny Diamond.  Following initial contact, the birth family member and child can go through a “honeymoon” stage.  Afterwards, either the adoptee or the birth parent often pulls back.  In the episode of Glee, this is the stage at which Rachel and Shelby parted.  Future episodes may show whether they continue to work out their differences and issues.  If they do, the relationship can become more settled because expectations will have been discussed and agreement reached in many areas.

Of course, reunion experiences will not be the same for all adoptees and birth parents.  Many factors can have an impact, such as their ages, value differences, lifestyles, economic status, educational levels, religion, etc.  Birth parents who placed in the years before “open adoption” became a common practice do not have shared history with the adoptee.  However, they do have genetic and emotional ties and, with some work, a relationship may be formed.  Such relationships “can be incredibly rewarding or painfully disappointing, so I always recommend clarifying one’s expectations prior to reuniting,” advises Ronny Diamond.