Preparing Children for the Colombia Host-to-Adopt Program


Spence-Chapin partners with FANA for our Colombia host-to-adopt program. This program allows families interested in adopting an older child the opportunity to host a child in their home for three weeks before committing to the adoption.

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Children in the program, who are matched with a family, gather at FANA, an adoption home in Bogota, for two weeks to prepare for their trip to the United States.  This two-week preparation process is essential in helping the children navigate their fears, expectations, and excitement about traveling to a different country and living with host families.  Even before the children embark on their flights to the U.S., many of them fly into Bogota from other cities within Colombia.  In most cases, this is the child’s first time on a plane which is both thrilling and nerve-racking!

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Many emotions can accompany this excitement.  The staff at FANA help the children make sense of these emotions.  Some children are apprehensive about leaving their home.  Some may fear being rejected by their host families and not finding an adoptive family.  Staff members do their best to empathize with these concerns, knowing that this transition is hard and that each child experiences this process through his or her own personal experience. The staff also discusses how to balance the hope of possibly being adopted while maintaining realistic expectations. The goal is to prepare the children in order for the host-to-adopt experience so that the children can enjoy their time with their American host families.

Listen to Adraina Chavez, head of Clinical Psychology at FANA.

Children have simple questions about what to expect in New York. They want to know what food they will eat, what games they will play, where they will live, and what their host families will be like.  Each host family mails a photo album to the child or children with pictures of their family, the child’s room, bed, and toys. Because extended family is such an important component of Latin American life, children enjoy looking at the pictures of their extended host family.

FANA has found families for over 9,000 children through this process, so we know the host-to-adopt program is a successful way to connect families and older children while giving each child a voice in the adoption process.

We are seeking host-to-adopt families for this fall!

Call us today to learn more 212-400-8150.

Colombia’s Changing Adoption Landscape

Associate Director of International Programs Ben Sommers recently had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia to meet with our Colombian representatives and visit institutions. Here, he shares his perspective on the changing landscape of adoption in the country.  

To those individuals and entities working within child welfare, “changing landscape” is an oft-repeated refrain referring to a generalized way to understand the broad shifts that have taken place in the field over the last several decades. In more specific terms, one of the most significant developments is the ballooning number of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups who are living in institutionalized care. For Spence-Chapin, our own organizational shift is focused around taking a proactive approach to addressing the realities of this new landscape.

Colombia offers a compelling illustration of what the new landscape looks like. I recently had the privilege of traveling to Bogota to visit with our Colombian representatives and see firsthand how the rhetoric of changing landscape translated into reality. Bogota is Colombia’s most populous city, being home to approximately eight million people. Similar to any child welfare system in any nation on the spectrum of economic and social development, stories of children coming into the protection system due to poverty, violence, neglect, and substance abuse are commonplace.

The Colombian central authority on child welfare, Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF) has approximately eleven thousand children under its protection in the Bogota region. Of these eleven thousand children, approximately eight thousand have a legal status that allows for international adoption. The vast majority of this population of eight thousand children is made up of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups. While international and domestic policies prioritize domestic options, the children in protection institutes grow older, explaining the growing population number. Colombia’s domestic policies are admirable in their focus on family preservation and domestic options for these children but as these long processes unfold, or when they fail to yield legitimate options, the children get older.

Colombia San MauricioWhat I saw during my visits to four protection institutions clearly illustrated this reality: the former nurseries converted to dormitory-style housing, large outside play areas with soccer fields and basketball courts, varied facilities and extracurricular programming, and large staffs of child psychologists focused on the mental well-being of the growing number of children in each institution. It should be noted that the four institutions I visited are exceptional in terms of the resources available enabling them to turn into well-run, holistic facilities. Nonetheless, despite their summer camp-esque exteriors, the children in their care almost exclusively come from difficult backgrounds where abuse, transition, and disappointment have been present. Hence, the clinical focus on mental health and the socializing focus on creating structure, routine, and normalcy.

Again, the protection institutions I visited had the resources that allowed them to create these safe and structured environments. The institutions in rural, lower income areas that are home to thousands of children are not as fortunate. Also not as fortunate is the population of children with special needs who are living within the protection system. I heard numerous stories from child welfare professionals of misdiagnoses combined with bureaucratic indifference that has led to hundreds of children being placed in institutions that are inappropriate for their specific needs. Sadly, these children lack the advocates to help them find a more appropriate environment.

Ultimately, the children I saw are being productive. They take art classes, sing Disney songs, and idolize Lionel Messi. But for them, the notions of “permanent family” and a life free of foreseeable transition are still painted in somewhat vague colors. Many of the children are able to express the agency they feel over their futures by vocalizing either directly or indirectly their desire to be a part of a permanent family. There are challenges that exist for our adoptive families who hope to adopt these children, and these children will face challenges as they navigate the most significant transition of their lives. The limited snapshot of the Colombian child welfare system I was able to glimpse shows that the “changing landscape” rhetoric is grounded in the reality of individual anecdotes and that while the specific institutions I visited have constructed environments where children are able to progress, the key element of permanency is still missing.

Just Holding on Through the Curves

This article was written by Cris Beam and posted on NYTimes.com on August 29, 2013. Cris Beam, who lives in New York, is the author of “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.” Continue reading

Colombian Host-to-Adopt Program

Spence-Chapin Services for Families and Children announces the launch of a Colombian host-adopt program for the tri-state community.

Spence-Chapin and Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) in Colombia are partnering to present a special host-adopt program in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. IMG_8665The program allows families interested in adopting an older child the opportunity to host a child in their home for three (3) weeks prior to making the commitment to adopt.

School-age children, those who are 8 years old and older at time of placement, are the most overly represented population in orphanages worldwide. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of older children discourage many prospective parents from exploring this option. Currently, close to 8,000 children in Colombia, ages 10 and older, are waiting for a family. The goal of this host-adopt program is simple: to join those older children and sibling groups in need of parents with families who are ready to adopt.

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Having a child in a home before adoption finalization offers many benefits; aside from simply getting to know the child, a hosting period allows families to best prepare for the child’s homecoming – from favorite foods, familiarity with their routines, understanding the child’s personality, interests, and hobbies, families are better able to provide a child with a smoother transition into family life.

For the child, a host-to-adopt program allows for reflection on and a commitment to their adoption process. Children selected for hosting have expressed an interest in adoption; a hosting program offers the child not only a voice in their future, but also a choice. The adoption is a process of mutual selection – the family commits to the child, and the child commits to the family. Because of this, host-adopt programs have been very effective at placing school-age children.

For over 100 years Spence-Chapin has been the leader in adoption in the New York, New Jersey and across the USA finding homes for more than 20,000 children. Spence-Chapin also supports families with a variety of services including counseling, support groups, parent coaching, mentorships, and more. Similarly, the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) has been caring for thousands of children for over 40 years. Through their host-adopt program more than 9,000 children have found fulfilling futures with loving families.

 

“I Feel Like I’m Waiting to Love My Son”

I love the show “Parenthood”.  I love the characters, the family dynamics, the twists and turns of inter-weaving inter-generational lives playing out themes of marriage, raising kids, inter-racial families, and more recently, the adoption of a school-aged child.

Julia and Joel, after experiencing a heart wrenching loss when their domestic infant adoption falls through, decide to approach their local social services agency and open their home to any child that may need one.  Seemingly a day later, with no preparation, a social worker rings their doorbell in the dead of night and brings them Victor, a cute, quite, and mysterious 8 year old boy.

Two episodes into the season, we see Joel and Julia, with no visible assistance from any social worker, trying to integrate their new son into their lives.  Or, rather, walking on eggshells around him while trying to act like everything is normal.  Julia alludes to some reading that she’s doing (good) and that they have to establish trust and help him feel like part of the family (also good), but we also see Victor spending entire days lying on the couch, shooting whipped cream into his mouth straight from the can, and watching violent reality TV shows (not so good), all while ignoring the family activities going on around him.  Finally, after a series of upsetting events, Joel and Julia argue about how best to manage Victor, to which Julia, defeated, finally states “I feel like I’m waiting to love my son”.adotive parents, tv show, partenhood

FINALLY, a genuine moment in this story – for many adoptive parents, and certainly for those adopting school-aged children, this is such a common feeling.  However, the guilt and fear of judgment prevents many families from sharing these feelings with their social workers and support systems.  While it is understandable that this is a scary thing to approach (“If I don’t love him now, will I EVER love him?” is a common thought that families struggle with), it is essentially important, when bonding and attaching with a new child, to keep a few key things in mind:

  •  Love takes time.  Everyone needs time to get to know each other and build genuine emotional bonds that will last a lifetime.  If you don’t feel “in love” it does not mean that you or the child are doing something wrong.  In fact, this can be looked at as a good thing – if a child has had multiple placements and many disappointments, she has built healthy defenses by learning to distance herself until she feels secure.  Use that time to show her that you are trustworthy – providing consistent, kind, and thoughtful parenting with healthy limits, expecting nothing in return, is the clearest way to tell a child that you will be there forever, no matter what.
  • Affection takes time.  Those first days, weeks, or even months, it may not yet feel right to have a hug or a snuggle on the couch.  Instead, a quick pat on the head might do, or kicking around a soccer ball in the yard can be a shared physical activity without the intensity of physical contact.   Find that balance between smothering and distancing – maybe insist on holding hands to cross the street (appropriate for any child under 5), braid their hair, or play Twister. Be creative and don’t forget to have some fun – it’s hard for a child to want to snuggle with you if you look angry or tired!
  • Talk about it to the right people.  Find your right outlet – other adoptive parents, your social worker, a supportive therapist, your spouse, partner, or best friend.  Use good judgment; if an acquaintance has given you the message that she thinks the adoption of your child was a bad idea, that’s probably not the person to share your feelings with.

At the end of episode 2, Julia and Victor have a little breakthrough – he is emotionally vulnerable, she promises help, follows through on it, and is rewarded with a conversation and an awkward hug.  Not monumental when it comes to raising an 8 year old boy, but I was sitting on my couch, excited for these characters and all the adoptive families I have worked with, for that one moment, where even in its tiny doses, they can start to feel the love they’ve been waiting for.

Stella Gilgur-Cook, LCSW, Assistant Director of Outreach, Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children