How to Adopt from South Africa from Anywhere in the United States

Adoption from South Africa opened to American families in 2013. Since then, Spence-Chapin has been one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority – and we have been actively finding families ever since!

In South Africa, young children with medical and developmental needs as well as siblings who are considered medically healthy are waiting to be matched with families. All types of parents can adopt from South Africa – married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQ parents, single women, and single menFamilies residing anywhere in the United States can adopt from South Africa.

Let’s outline the steps to adopting from South Africa through Spence-Chapin. Spence-Chapin has paperwork experts and we joke that we haven’t lost someone to paperwork yet! Our team is here to guide adoptive parents through each step and make sure the i’s get dotted and the t’s get crossed.

For families living in the NY/NJ Metro area, Spence-Chapin conducts the home study preparation and training as well as coordinates the adoption process from South Africa. For families residing outside of the NY/NJ Metro area, Spence-Chapin is able to establish a partnership with a family’s local Hague-Accredited home study provider anywhere in the country to coordinate the adoption process from South Africa.

How to Adopt through Spence-Chapin’s South Africa Adoption Program

  1. Application:

The first step is to submit an adoption application. An international adoption application can be downloaded for free from Spence-Chapin’s website. When Spence-Chapin receives a family’s application for the South Africa Adoption Program, our adoption team reviews your family’s background to ensure eligibility requirements set by the country are met. Applications are reviewed weekly at Spence-Chapin by our Adoption Team. The purpose of the application is for Spence-Chapin to gain a full view of your family and the child you intend to adopt. This information allows Spence-Chapin to begin to assess eligibility for adoption programs and set expectations for the rest of the adoption process.

Once a family has completed the application phase, Spence-Chapin welcomes your family into the program.

Adoptive families will apply to both Spence-Chapin and their home study agency. If you have not yet located an agency in your area, Spence-Chapin can assist you with finding a reputable home study agency that can provide Hague Home Study preparation and training. If you have already begun the home study process, Spence-Chapin will connect with your local agency to ensure proper licensure and Hague Accreditation. The two agencies will sign an agreement to work together.

  1. Home Study and Dossier Preparation:

Once an adoptive family is officially moving forward with an adoption from South Africa, Spence-Chapin will provide guidance to your local social worker on any home study recommendations to meet the requirements of South Africa and our partners, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW). Throughout the home study process, families will learn about core adoption issues and prepare to adopt a child with special needs. Prior to finalizing a home study, Spence-Chapin will review the document and provide feedback to the local social worker.

 

While you are completing your home study with the local agency, Spence-Chapin’s document specialist will provide step-by-step guidance on putting together the dossier for South Africa. A dossier is the packet of paperwork that an adoptive family will submit to be considered as potential adoptive family in South Africa. Every country determines the documents that are required in a dossier and the Spence-Chapin team are experts at preparing the South Africa dossier paperwork. The document specialist reviews each document to ensure accuracy and provides assistance on authenticating documents on the state, US government and consulate/embassy levels. When a dossier is complete, the family sends it to Spence-Chapin for a final review and Spence-Chapin will submit the dossier to JCW in South Africa.

Once the dossier is submitted, the family is officially waiting to be matched with a child in need of adoption!

  1. Child Referral:

Spence-Chapin and the local social worker will provide support to the family during the wait for your child’s referral. The wait time to be matched with a child is approximately 12-18 months after dossier submission. A referral is the packet of paperwork the South African social workers compile about a child in need of adoption. It includes the child’s known social and medical history. When the referral arrives, Spence-Chapin will send the family all information and photos provided by JCW on the child. The family will review the medical history with a Medical Specialist and support from Spence-Chapin. Spence-Chapin will communicate the family’s decision about moving forward with an adoption to JCW’s social worker. When this much-anticipated time comes, families decide whether or not they are ready to make an unconditional, lifelong commitment to another person whom they may never have met! Spence-Chapin’s adoption team is available to the family to discuss questions, concerns, and more as the family makes this decision.

  1. Travel:

Once a family has accepted a child referral, Spence-Chapin will prepare the family for travel to South Africa! The Spence-Chapin team will schedule a meeting to prepare for and review all the details of the trip and how to complete the adoption. Adoptive families should expect to stay in the Johannesburg area for 2-4 weeks to complete the adoption. Families will be fully escorted in South Africa by JCW social workers to all the official appointments throughout their trip. While in South Africa, families can communicate remotely with Spence-Chapin staff by phone and email as well as receive ongoing contact with social work staff from JCW. Fortunately, English is one of the official languages of South Africa and so it is very common to read and speak English throughout Johannesburg. Parents are welcome to bring children, family, or close friends on the trip.

  1. Post Adoption:

Upon arrival home, an adoption from South Africa will be considered full and final under South African law and the children will be granted full U.S. citizenship. Spence-Chapin will provide instructions to families on obtaining all documents related to the adoption, including the certificate of U.S. citizenship, passport and social security card.

After homecoming, families will complete post-adoption reports with their local social worker. Spence-Chapin will guide your local social worker on the post-adoption requirements for South Africa and submit reports and photos to JCW.

Following an adoption from South Africa and for the lifetime of your family, Spence-Chapin welcomes adoptive families to attend annual events, travel to NYC to visit the agency and to engage post adoption services through our Modern Family Center. Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center offers parent coaching and post adoption support, over the phone or via video conferencing in all 50 states.

If you are interested in more information about adoption from South Africa, please visit us online, email us at info@spence-chapin.org, or call us at 212-400-8150.

Have You Been Called to Help Children on Orphan Sunday?

waiting children

On November 13, 2016 the world will join together to learn about the millions of orphans around the world who are waiting for a loving and permanent family. Spence-Chapin is joining the Orphan Sunday movement to bring awareness to the many children who are living in orphanages and waiting for their adoptive parents to find them. Spence-Chapin advocates for children in New York and around the world in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. In New York and around the world there are infants and children waiting for the love and stability of an adoptive family. All the children profiled on Spence-Chapin’s website are part of our Special Needs or International Adoption programs- Spence-Chapin has eliminated our Professional Services fee for these adoptions. The children are in immediate need of an adoptive family.

Please help us bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Join us for an event during National Adoption Month – Voices of the Triad Panel Discussion on November 10th, Adoption 101 webinar on November 15th, or New Jersey adoption fair November 18th. Orphan Sunday is an opportunity to raise awareness of the children here and around the world in need of adoptive families and to promote the need for post-adoption support for all members of the adoption constellation.

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.

Visiting our Partners in South Africa

Arriving in South Africa one is immediately struck by an intense color contrast never seen walking the streets of New York City.  Bursts of purple are framed against the blue sky, the green landscape, and the white exteriors of buildings.

(1)SOUTH AFRICA-PRETORIA-JACARANDA-BLOSSOM

We are told by our hosts that we have fortuitously scheduled our visit during the brief window of time that the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom.  We have come to Johannesburg to learn from our South African counterpart, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW).  JCW is a vast child welfare agency providing services within Johannesburg and its surrounding areas.  The work they do spans from child abuse treatment to family integration.   It is a privilege to see the broad range of their work and to hear from the adoption team about the realities that inform our shared effort to find homes for children where no domestic adoptions exist.  For one week, against the colorful backdrop the Jacarandas have provided, we will make visits to the various institutions and shared group homes where many of the children JCW advocates for reside.

Our first stop is Othandweni, a JCW-run institution located in the township of Soweto.  Othandweni has the capacity for about ninety children, thirty children live in the nursery and sixty older school age children  live in five cottages that are segmented by age.  There are close to fifteen full time staff.   The environment at Othandweni is lively, bright, and loud.

Africa 2012 274 Part of the reason why this welcoming and safe atmosphere exists is the presence of the Grannies.  Othandweni is the site of our Granny Program, which we first established in 2011.  Fifteen women from the local community dedicate their time to visit with the thirty children who live in Othandweni’s nursery.  They come Monday through Friday for at least 4 hours a day, dividing their time between caring for two children.  The children they are working with are between birth and 6 years of age and have a range of significant special needs, from HIV to cerebral palsy.  The dedication, consistency, and passion of the Grannies bring to life a specially-designed curriculum that helps these children meet their developmental milestones.  The visible impact this program has had on the children who have benefitted from a relationship with a granny makes it easy for everyone involved to wholeheartedly buy into this program.  It is a model that JCW hopes to implement in other institutions as its benefits have proven to extend beyond its original goals, the “gogos” speak of the sense of enfranchisement this program has brought them – as one gogo puts it, the program “has given me a new lease on life”.

animal mosaicOver the next two days we visit three other institutions.  Princess Alice is a JCW-run home for infants and is located in a particularly affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg.  The focus at Princess Alice is on providing a nursery and pediatric services to infants who have been abandoned or orphaned.  Many of the children at Princess Alice have special needs and are on medication regimes that need to be strictly monitored.  There are between twenty and thirty infants residing at Princess Alice and a combination of full time staff and community volunteers who are a constant presence.  We next stop at Cotlands, which is an institution caring for infant and toddler age children.  Cotlands had recently reduced their capacity at the time of our visit and was focused on expanding its community-based family services while still providing care for around fifteen to twenty infants and toddlers.  Like any other institution in Johannesburg there are many special needs infants.  Learning about the particular profiles in the care of these institutions continually reinforces why Spence-Chapin is doing the kind of focused work it is doing in South Africa.  The population of special needs infants and toddlers is significant in size and growing domestic options for these children is a work in progress for JCW.

Africa 2012 015Ethembeni, a Salvation Army-run institution within Johannesburg, is our last stop.  Ethembeni has the capacity for close to fifty or sixty infants and toddlers.  There is a nursery and separate living areas for the toddlers.  Ethembeni is a longtime presence in the child welfare landscape in South Africa and has done a lot of important work on behalf of vulnerable children in Johannesburg.  Continuing the theme of the trip, we met many toddlers with significant special needs including children with a combination of cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities.  There is a sizeable population of children with minor to severe cerebral palsy and also Down syndrome.  Part of the normative mindset of caregivers and administrators at these institutions is that finding homes for these children is a near impossibility, an idea that we have seen be  defied time and time again by families who possess the expertise and resources to responsibly provide homes for children with these specialized needs.  Sharing our optimism with them will hopefully encourage them to continue their active advocacy on behalf of these children.

kid and granny do puzzleWe return to Othandweni on our final day in Johannesburg to meet some of the older children who live in the cottages.  We are greeted with a performance of music, dance, and poetry.  As the older children at Othandweni come from a variety of tribal backgrounds their presentations are cultural fusions of their different backgrounds, combining the features of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other cultural traditions.  We met many children whose legal statuses were not settled and/or they still maintained connections with their birth family through visits and other forms of communication.  However, there certainly are children who desire to be part of a permanent family and Spence-Chapin hopes to be able to work on their behalf.

It was a poignant time to visit Johannesburg as the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing was approaching.  His work on behalf of the marginalized is an evident influence to the incredible work that JCW does on behalf of children who are vulnerable.  Spence-Chapin is privileged to be working with such an ethical and altruistic organization.  I returned feeling energized about the focused kind of work we are doing and with a deeper sense of accountability to the children who we met.

By Ben Sommers, Associate Director of International Programs, Spence-Chapin

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Illinois Outreach Trip

Associate Director of Outreach Katie Foley describes her recent trip to Illinois to meet with FamilyCore, prospective adoptive families, and a current Spence-Chapin family. 

As the Associate Director of Outreach, my favorite part of my work is getting to meet incredible communities of families across the country. When I travel I’m always reminded of the dedication of adoption professionals to their families and how remarkable adoptive families are! This October, I drove over 200 miles in just two days and it was worth every mile to meet the committed staff at FamilyCore, prospective adoptive families, and a current Spence-Chapin family.

On Tuesday, October 22nd, I had the opportunity to meet with the adoption staff at FamilyCore, an agency which serves families in the Peoria, Illinois greater area. FamilyCore serves parents and families with a diverse range of services, including counseling, adoption, and foster care. FamilyCore’s professional counselors and staff provide a wide selection of expertise to help meet the special needs of the community, including a special focus on single parents. Spence-Chapin is thrilled to partner with FamilyCore for international adoption services.

During our meeting, we focused on Spence-Chapin’s international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia, and South Africa and how Spence-Chapin is working to eliminate traditional barriers to adoption, including agency fees. FamilyCore staff shared how they prepare families for international adoption with a balance of in-person meetings and online education. After our afternoon together, we headed to the Forrest Hill United Methodist Church for an information meeting. The meeting was a unique opportunity for prospective adoptive families to hear from both the home study agency (FamilyCore) and the placing agency (Spence-Chapin) about the current landscape of adoption and the children most in need of a loving family – older children, their siblings and children with special needs.

On Wednesday, October 23rd, Tracy, a parent in the process of adopting from the Spence-Chapin South Africa program, agreed to partner with me to be an information meeting HOST.  Host Outreach for Spence-Chapin Together is an opportunity to introduce Spence-Chapin adoption programs to your community and to help find loving and permanent families for the most vulnerable children waiting around the world. HOST families are an integral part of Spence-Chapin’s mission to find families for the waiting children around the world.  Tracy and her son Isaac welcomed me into their home on Wednesday for dinner before the information meeting. It was fantastic to meet them both! It was an honor to spend the evening with Tracy and to learn more about her family.  As a HOST, Tracy helped me organize the meeting in Urbana, IL on the 23rd. She emailed an invitation to local adoptive families, posted on facebook, and sent the meeting details to adoption professionals in her community, such as adoption attorneys. Thank you Tracy!

Although I’ll be taking a break from traveling for the holiday season, I look forward to my next trip in the New Year.  Stay tuned for my next destination- maybe I’ll be coming to visit your community!