South Africa Adoption: How to Determine Your Family’s Medical Openness

Spence-Chapin finds families for the most vulnerable children in South Africa – children with a medical diagnosis who are in need of an international adoptive family. It takes a dedicated and resourceful parent to adopt a child with special medical needs. At Spence-Chapin, we guide families in how to make an informed decision about their family’s particular medical openness and offer support and resources before, during and after their adoption. Spence-Chapin is confident that in a loving home with the right family who is dedicated to learning about, or already has experience with special medical needs, these children can thrive!

But how does a family determine if adopting a child with special medical needs from South Africa is right for them? Here are 5 places to start:

  1. Learn about the most common medical needs in South Africa.

Check out this article on the Top 10 Medical Needs in South Africa! Currently, the two most common needs our partners Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW) see in the children in their care are: a diagnosis of HIV and unknown or unpredictable developmental delays. We are actively looking for families who feel open and prepared to parent a child with one of these two needs. You can learn more by exploring these resources specific to adoption from South Africa.  

  1. Consider the medical and developmental care children receive in South Africa.

JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. Children receive medical treatment at JCW through a partnership with Thusanani Children’s Foundation. Thusanani provides safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical and developmental care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc.

Additionally, Spence-Chapin sponsors a Granny Program at JCW to help the children develop the important socio-emotional bonds that are so important to a child’s development. Through the Granny program, children are paired with surrogate “grannies” from their local community who spend special, one-on-one time with them every day. This humanitarian aid initiative gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. We see incredible progress made by children who are matched with a granny. In South Africa, the children call their grannies “gogo”! 

  1. Consult with an international pediatric specialist to make an informed decision.

It’s recommended that families considering adopting a child with medical needs consult with a pediatrician about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of specific conditions to consider if your family has the ability to provide the care a child will need. There are many experienced international adoption medical specialty clinics throughout the United States that are a resource for prospective adoptive families. Physicians with an international adoption specialty are familiar with common medical issues involved in intercountry adoption and many of the common needs seen in children eligible for international adoption.

Because South Africa is a signatory to The Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, adoptive families benefit from a transparent and ethical process for receiving a child’s information. At the time of referral from South Africa, Spence-Chapin will provide all known social and medical history provided by JCW so a family can make an informed decision. The family will review the medical history with a Medical Specialist and support from Spence-Chapin.

  1. Gather information about resources and eligibility for services in your state and community.

Each state offers a variety of services for children with special needs through state agencies and community organizations. Free services through Early Intervention and CPSE services are offered nationally and children 0-3 may qualify when they have a developmental delay in the areas of cognitive, physical, speech and adaptive development. It can be helpful to anticipate the programs offered in the local schools as well as the State laws and regulations for special needs education.

Additionally, when considering the adoption of a child with special needs, it can be helpful to consult with other parents of children with medical needs or international adoptive families. They can be a great source of information, support, and referrals. They may be able to share their suggestions, insights, and recommendations for ways that you can strengthen your ability to parent a child with a medical need. It may also be helpful to prepare for what to expect through help from the local home study agency, special needs support groups or even online through adoption websites such as AdoptionLearningPartners.com.

  1. Ask Yourself:
  • Are you willing, and do you have the time to become informed about the realities of raising a child with special needs?
  • Do you have access to medical resources in your community that specializes in the treatment of pediatric special needs?
  • Are you able to make sure that your child takes medication or attends therapies?
  • Does your schedule allow for the time it takes to parent a child with a medical need?
  • Are you comfortable with any attention it may bring to your family?
  • Are you willing to advocate for your child in your home, school, and community?
  • Are you prepared to accept unknowns for the future development of your child and to find solutions to any challenges that may emerge?

Following the adoption of a child from South Africa, Spence-Chapin welcomes adoptive families to engage in our post-adoption services. Spence-Chapin offers counseling, parent coaching, post-adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips. These services can be provided to families in person, over the phone or via video conferencing in all 50 states. We also invite you to attend our annual family events so you and your child can meet other South Africa adoptive families!

Children with special medical needs are waiting for adoptive families in South Africa. If you feel you might be a good match for these children, let’s talk! To learn more, send us an email to info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

10 Questions About Adopting from South Africa

Spence-Chapin began its adoption program in South Africa in 2013 and partners withJohannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), a social service agency serving Johannesburg families since 1909. Spence-Chapin’s adoption program finds families for young children with special needs and sibling groups.

Who are the children waiting to be adopted?

Boys and girls with medical needs ages 1-10 years old. There are many families adopting toddlers with special needs from South Africa. Children will reflect the full range of ethnicity that exists in South Africa, especially in the Johannesburg area and adoptive families are asked to be open to adopting a child of either gender.

Who is eligible to adopt?

Many types of families! Single parents (men or women) as well as married & unmarried heterosexual and lesbian or gay couples can adopt! Parents over 48 years old should consult with Spence-Chapin.

What are the most common medical needs?

Check out this article on the Top 10 Medical Needs in South Africa! Common medical conditions include HIV, extreme prematurity, developmental delays, auditory and visual impairments and unpredictable cognitive challenges. Due to the HIV epidemic, there is a specific need in finding adoptive families for children who are HIV+. JCW partners with a Thusanani Children’s Foundation to provide safe and modern medical care to ensure each child receives the medical care they need – HIV testing and treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, antibiotics, surgery, well-baby visits, etc. JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs.

It’s recommend that families considering adopting a child with medical needs consult with a pediatrician about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of specific conditions to consider if your family has the ability to provide the care a child will need. There are many experienced international adoption medical specialty clinics throughout the United States that are a resource for prospective adoptive families.

Who is Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) and what experience does this organization have?

Spence-Chapin’s partner, Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW) is experienced in international adoptions with European and American families and has formalized procedures in place. JCW is involved in all phases of the adoption process from monitoring the children in care to providing adoptive families with cultural activities while in South Africa. JCW is responsible for written reports on the children, assessment of families, and providing the Central Authority with recommendations regarding adoption.

Do the children in care in South Africa speak English?

Yes, South Africans speak English as well as many other languages! Adoption documents will not need to be translated.

Are the children in South Africa typically in foster care or orphanages?

Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) has both foster care and orphan

ages, or children’s homes to care for children. Younger children are generally in orphanage care and older children may be in foster or group home care. In 2011, Spence-Chapin established its first Granny Program in Africa at the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto that is home to 90 children – 30 of whom range in age from newborn to four years old.  Through the Granny program, children are paired with surrogate “grannies” from their local community, who spend special, one-on-one time with each of them. During our visits we’ve witnessed the commitment of the staff and Grannies, and the genuine concern for the children.

Are the children religious?

A young child will have few memories of holiday traditions and no understanding of theology. If a child has been exposed to religious practices, they are most likely Christian. The country is roughly 75% Christian according to 2001 census data.

What is the estimated time frame to be matched with a child?

Families can expect to be matched with a child within 12-18 months of dossier submission and travel 3-4 months later to meet the child and finalize the adoption. We recommend families wait to begin the process until they would feel comfortable with this timeframe and there are no children younger than 18 months old in the home.

Are sibling groups in need of adoption?

Yes, there are siblings in need of adoption. Most likely one child would be over age 6.

What do families say about adopting from South Africa?

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.”

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.

Learn more about adopting a toddler from South Africa by clicking here or emailing info@spence-chapin.org.

International Home Studies with Spence-Chapin

 

Interested in Adopting Internationally? 

In addition to our placement programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa, Spence-Chapin also provides international home study services for families adopting from many other countries. In the past, we have supported families pursuing adoption from Ghana, Jamaica, Haiti, India, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and elsewhere around the world. We offer Home Study, pre-adoption counseling and more for every type of adoption.

Regardless of the country you are adopting from, all families, need to complete a home study. Spence-Chapin provides international home study services for families living in the NYC area, including New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and Long Island. We work with families living within 100 miles of New York City. Our home studies are of the highest caliber, and meet the highest legal regulations set for international adoption.

Finding a Primary Provider

In order for our team to fully review and consider your home study application, you’ll need a Primary Provider. A primary provider is a Hague accredited agency in the United States that is responsible for your international adoption. This agency will help navigate the inter-country laws and documentation you will need for your international adoption.

For international adoptions, it is very common for a family to use two adoption agencies – a home study agency & a placement agency. A home study agency provides the home study, parent preparation/training, and post adoption supervision. The placement agency  is responsible for the overseas adoption process including the child referral, travel, and dossier preparation. The two agencies work together to ensure that all parts of the adoption process meet state, federal and country requirements.

How do I Find a Primary Provider?

You can visit our website for links to helpful websites and organizations that may help you identify a primary provider for the country you are hoping to adopt from. We recommend reviewing potential Primary Providers through COA or the National Council on Adoption. The United States Department of State oversees all international adoptions to the United States and may also be a resource for you: adoption.state.gov.

Once I’ve identified a primary provider, what’s next?

Once you’ve identified a primary provider, the next step is to fill out our free Home Study application. The application is on our website and you can download it directly anytime. The Home Study Application is an opportunity for our team to get to know your family better and to learn more about the nuances of the adoption you’re hoping to pursue. After we receive your family’s application, our staff will follow up with you to schedule a convenient time to speak, to further discuss the adoption you’re looking to pursue and next steps in the process!

 

To learn more about completing your home study with Spence-Chapin email us at info@spence-chapin.org or call us at 212-400-8150.

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!

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.

 

Championing the Waiting Child

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does.

Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

South Africa Adoption Program: Our Partner Jo’hburg Child Welfare

Our momentous trip to South Africa this summer was inspirational in a number of ways.  Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) is a highly respected, 100+ year old NGO that does amazing work on behalf of the vulnerable children in Johannesburg.  Spence-Chapin is honored to partner with this historic agency whose mission is aligned with ours.

Jo’burg Child Welfare provides services to over 4,000 children and families annually and adoption (domestic and international) is only a small part of their work. They have four centers that house and provide for children of all ages, from infancy through the teenage years.  One of their centers also provides short-term housing to pregnant women. In addition, they recruit and train foster families, plan and prepare for children to be reunited with their birth families and provide intensive treatment to survivors of sexual abuse.

South Africa is home to more that two million orphans and JCW’s work makes a difference in the lives of some.  All of this and more make JCW an agency that is highly respected among its peers in the field as well as with the governing bodies of South Africa.  When the South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority (the governing body that oversees adoption) was looking to expand their international adoptions, they received an overwhelming number of applications from agencies across the country.  Jo’burg Child Welfare was one of only two agencies approved for adoption to the United States.  During Spence-Chapin’s meetings with the Ministry, it was clear why they chose JCW.

The passion of the employees, from the Executive Director to the receptionist who greets you, was always apparent.  While visiting their sites, it was clear how each employee felt about their commitment to the well being of the children and how seriously they took the mission and purpose of their work. The vulnerable children of Johannesburg have a champion in Jo’burg Child Welfare and now Spence-Chapin.

Visit our Flickr set to see pictures from this trip.

South Africa Adoption Program: Program Development

Orphanages around the world have one thing in common: beautiful children who deserve a loving family to call their own.  While this theme is consistent, there are numerous differences that set them apart.  As the Coordinator of Program Development at Spence-Chapin, it is my responsibility to establish adoption programs that will be successful.  Success, in this context, is defined as identifying countries where there are children in need of families and confirming that the country has systems in place to process adoptions in a transparent and ethical manner.  South Africa meets these criteria perfectly.

Spence-Chapin South Afica Adoption Program

So what makes South Africa different?  Having placed children with families from Belgium and Finland for many years, Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW) is experienced in international adoptions and has formalized procedures in place.  They are involved in all phases of the adoption process from monitoring the children in care to providing families with a cultural integration program while in South Africa.  JCW is responsible for written reports on the children, assessment of families, and providing the Central Authority with recommendations for placement; the process that JCW has established is about as seamless as it gets.

 

The care of the children is another area where this program differentiates itself.  JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. While many orphanages around the world struggle to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, the orphanages we visited in SoutSpence-Chapin South African Adoption Programh Africa were able to go above and beyond.  Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, in 2011 Spence-Chapin established its first Granny Program in Africa at the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years.  Through this program, children are paired with experienced women in these communities, who spend special, one-on-one time with each of them. During our visit in July 2012 we witnessed the commitment of the staff and Grannies, and the genuine concern for the children.  Additionally, JCW has contracted with outside organizations including The Big Shoes Foundation and Thusanani Children’s Foundation who provide medical and developmental servicesJCW provides the children in their care with a solid foundation which inevitably makes the transition into their forever family that much smoother.

In short, when examining international adoption options, need and infrastructure often do not go hand in hand.  However, South Africa proves that it can be done and as a result children receive the critical love and care they need until they join their forever family.

 Gina Pariani, Spence-Chapin
 

Visit our Flickr set to see more pictures from this trip.

 

South Africa Adoption Program

Spence-Chapin is excited to announce our newest international adoption program in South Africa.

We’re able to offer this wonderful program in partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), an organization that has been at the forefront of providing direct services to children and families since 1909.

South Africa is one of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. In addition to the country’s indigenous black majority, colonialism and immigration have led to the largest communities of Asian, European, and racially mixed ancestry on the African continent. South Africa is home to 11 official languages, with English and Afrikaans being the most widely used. Families and children face a host of social and economic challenges in South Africa, a nation with a long history of poverty and inequality, and while access to anti-retroviral treatment has increased in recent years, HIV/AIDs remains a prominent health concern in the country.

Children in Need of Homes

Both boys and girls are available for adoption in this program, as well as sibling groups, with the youngest children being 18 months to 2 years old at the time of referral.  There are many preschoolers and school-aged children waiting for families as well.

Requirements

Every country that participates in international adoption creates their own eligibility criteria for families, and Spence-Chapin upholds all requirements as outlined by the South African authorities. Married heterosexual couples and single women must submit their dossier to South Africa prior to their 48th birthday. Couples must be married at least three years. Medical, legal, and mental health issues must be assessed prior to beginning the adoption process. South Africa is particularly interested in matching children with black families and those interested in adopting children who have historically been harder to place, such as sibling groups, school-aged children, and children who have the HIV virus.

Timing and Travel

It is expected that families will wait up to 1.5 years for a referral of a child after their application is submitted. Following acceptance of referral from the South African Central Authority, families will be eligible to travel to South Africa to complete their adoption after filing appropriate paperwork with U.S. immigration.

Families will spend 2 weeks fully escorted in South Africa, where they will have ongoing contact with social work staff from JCW, and will have access to cultural excursions. Families will stay at a comfortable and family friendly hotel for the duration of their trip.

Adoption will be considered full and final under South African law and children will be granted full U.S. citizenship upon arrival and after homecoming, families will complete post-placement evaluations

Families Outside of the NY/NJ metro area

We will gladly work with families outside the NY/NJ area through our networking partners.

Cost Guidelines

There are several categories of fees and expenses that adoptive families should anticipate when considering an international adoption. For an explanation of these, please refer to the Understanding Fees and Expenses page. Included in these fees is a separate country program fee which varies. For South Africa it is $4,800. The program fee includes the professional services provided by Johannesburg Child Welfare  as well as a donation to support ongoing services to birth parents and children.

Humanitarian Aid

The connection between Spence-Chapin and JCW was forged in 2003 and has deepened in the years since, thanks to a strong shared commitment to permanency for children.  In April 2011, Spence-Chapin was delighted to open our first Granny Program in Africa at JCW’s Othandweni Family Care Center in Soweto.  Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.

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.


Nelson Mandela Day: 67 Minutes of Change

Nelson Mandela: Civil Servant, Activist, Political Prisoner, President. Mandela’s living legacy is an inspiring and unique story, one of devotion to positive social change and justice for others. Many of us recognize Nelson Mandela as the man who became president of South Africa after spending 27 years in prison, but his incarceration has little to do with his impact on the world. In 1993 Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his key role in ending the apartheid regime peacefully and safely.

He was relentless in his mission to end apartheid in South Africa, and even after that goal was accomplished, he remained dedicated to helping others in need. As president he enacted a number of progressive social reforms, including the introduction free healthcare to children, and the launch of the successful Reconstruction and Development Programme that built over 1 million houses for those living in poverty-stricken slums, called townships.

After his political retirement, Mandela has continued to act as a voice for inspired change and the common good. His commitment to changing the world for the better has lasted almost 7 decades, 67 years! In commemoration of his achievements and dedication, the United Nations has endorsed “Nelson Mandela International Day” on July 18th, his birthday.

Today, people around the world are asked to use at least 67 minutes of their own time, in honor of Mandela’s 67 years of activism, in service of their communities.

Here at Spence-Chapin, we’re deeply inspired by Nelson Mandela’s leadership and legacy, because we’re always striving to do the best work possible to help those in need. Currently, our International Adoption Staff is in South Africa learning from our partner at Johannesburg Child Welfare, visiting our Grannies, and sharing information to create a new adoption program in the country that will help many of the 1.5 million orphans in South Africa.

We know that if everyone tries, we can make this world a stronger, better, and happier place. What will you do with your 67 minutes?

Spence-Chapin Awarded Adoption Authorization in South Africa


South Africa adoption
Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children
is very proud to announce that we have been chosen by South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority (SACA) to contract with South African agencies to process Hague Adoption Convention adoptions from South Africa to the United States.


South Africa adoption
Spence-Chapin has been working in partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), to establish and support the children in orphanages with our Granny Program.

South Africa adoption

Currently, three of our colleagues are in South Africa further refining processes with our partnering agency there. Please continue to monitor Spence-Chapin.org as we update our International Adoption page with application information for adoptions from South Africa.

 

UPDATE Oct.25, 2012: We are now accepting applications for adoption from South Africa. Visit us online to learn more.

South Africa Granny Program

This spring Spence-Chapin proudly started our first Granny Program in Africa with the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years. Othandweni is operated by Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), one of the oldest, largest and most respected organizations of its kind in the country.   In September JCW and Othandweni held a dedication event to introduce the program to the local Soweto community, which was attended by many community members and local media.

South Africa Granny Program

Every week, Monday through Friday, 20 children spend quality one-on-one time with their grannies.  JCW staff reports that they immediately began to see changes in the participating children, who now look for their grannies every day!

The introduction of a granny to a young child is literally life-changing; it gives that child the opportunity to live a healthy, confident and well-adjusted life. Orphanages are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of the children in their care and are asking for programs like this one to help them improve the lives of these little ones.

Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.