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…?