Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

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! Through a partnership with Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin seeks families for toddlers and young children 18 months and older with special needs as well as sibling groups where at least one child has an identified need.

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! The most common needs as seen by Spence-Chapin, one of two American agencies accredited to provide adoption services in South Africa, include HIV, extreme prematurity, developmental delays, auditory and visual impairments and unpredictable cognitive challenges.  

  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 post-adoption services through our Modern Family Center. Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center 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.

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.

Special Needs Adoption FAQs

Since 1995, Spence-Chapin has found adoptive families for 520+ children with special needs. Spence-Chapin is currently accepting applications from families who are open to adopting a child with significant medical needs. To be considered as a prospective adoptive family please complete our free pre-application send us a copy of your current home study (completed within the past 12 months), conducted by a licensed adoption agency. In order to reduce barriers to special needs adoption there are no professional service fees for special needs adoptions. Read more: www.spence-chapin.org/asap

Emailasap@spence-chapin.org
Fax: (888)-742-6126
Mail: Special Needs at Spence-Chapin, 410 East 92nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10128

Frequently Asked Questions:

I would like to be considered as an adoptive parent. What’s my first step?
Please share a copy of your current home study and complete the Spence-Chapin online pre-application. Please email your home study and/or family profile to asap@spence-chapin.org.

Unfortunately, families without a current home study are unable to be considered.

Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately we need families that are ready to adopt.

Complete the free online pre-application here: www.spence-chapin.org/asap

I’ve emailed my home study and submitted the pre-application. What’s next?
All families who have completed the online pre-application and emailed their current home study are considered active prospective adoptive families. We will contact you if your family is a potential match for a current or future waiting child. We will provide status updates regarding the adoption process on our website within the child’s profile. All available information about a child is on our website. Spence-Chapin will keep a home study on file for as long as it is current and keep the family in mind for any future situations.

When will I hear from the social workers?
We will provide status updates on our website within the child’s profile. Due to the volume of emails, we are unable to respond to every email about a waiting child. Please stay in touch with Spence-Chapin through our newsletters, facebook, and twitter. Keep up with waiting babies through our website.

What kind of home study do I need?
You will need a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in your home state. We ask for an agency home study because it’s important for families to be connected to ongoing support and services. You can submit any home study you currently have and if you are chosen we may have additional questions and ask for it to be updated depending on the child’s situation.

The children needing adoptive families are born with a wide variety of medical needs and we are looking for adoptive families who are open to severe medical conditions. Please indicate in your home study and the pre-application the types of medical conditions your family is open to and share the resources which will allow a child thrive in your family.

I need more information- what else can you share?
Everything that we are able to share at this time is available on our website. If information changes or more becomes available, we will update the website. If a diagnosis sounds unknown or you are unsure about prognosis we encourage you to speak with a pediatrician. It is not possible to visit with the child before being identified as the adoptive family.

How much will this cost?
In order to reduce barriers to special needs adoption there are no professional service fees for this adoption program. There is no cost to submit the online pre-application and be matched with a child. Costs to consider include home study, travel to NYC for the placement, post-placement reports, and adoption finalization. If a two-parent household then both parents are required to travel to the Spence-Chapin offices for the placement and should expect to stay in NYC metro area for about 1 week.

Who picks the adoptive family? Am I eligible to adopt?
Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of large families, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any states are eligible to apply to adopt.

Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Whenever possible the birth family chooses the adoptive family. Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Where do the children come from?
All of the children are born in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut Spence-Chapin offers free, unbiased options counseling to women and their partners in the NYC metro area. Sometimes birth parents know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby.

You can watch two videos on our special needs adoption webpage from birth parents of children with special needs. You’ll hear Melissa talk about how when her daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome Melissa and her husband did not feel ready to provide her with the parenting she needed. They made an open adoption plan. You’ll also hear Scott talk about the unknowns of when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter. The same diagnoses with different outcomes and our social workers are here to support all birth parents in exploring their options. www.spence-chapin.org/asap

Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them. Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who are able to be considered. Other times we are in need of a more options for the birth family and looking for more prospective adoptive families.

If I’m chosen as the adoptive parent what are my next steps?
The social worker will be in touch about gathering a current family profile from your family and to discuss the logistics of meeting the birth family in a match meeting, either in-person or through video chat. You’ll receive the any additional information that has become available and review medical history with your pediatrician. After the match meeting you’ll speak to your social worker about if you’re ready to move forward with the adoption and the same for the birth family. Our team will plan placement of the child to your family.

When will a child be placed with me?
I wish this was simpler to answer! There are so many factors that go into an adoption placement that this is very difficult to predict and there is no guarantee that a child will be placed with your family through this adoption program. We encourage you to network with other agencies or advocacy groups once your home study is completed. Whenever possible biological parents chose the adoptive family. Some biological families have requests about the adoptive family, such as 1 or 2 parent household, religious, or racial preferences. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with all biological parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile.

Who are the children? What are special needs?
The children are infants and young children in the NYC metro area who have been diagnosed with a medical condition or are at significant risk for developing a severe medical condition. The children are born in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut and are from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The infants and children in need of adoption have a variety of special needs, from significant developmental issues to serious medical and congenital conditions.

The conditions usually require therapeutic and/or medical interventions during the child’s entire life. These non-correctable conditions can include:

  • Genetic Disorders
  • Brain Anomali
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Rare Syndromes
  • Cardiac and Pulmonary Disorders
  • Shortened Life Span
  • Excessive Drug and/or Alcohol Exposure
  • Significant Risk of Psychiatric Disorders

Many children are eligible for Early Intervention Services, Social Security Disability, Adoption Subsidy, and Medicaid.

When Doctors believe that a child’s prenatal environment will most likely lead to developmental delays or other medical needs then that child will be placed with adoptive parents ready for special needs. This includes significant prenatal drug or alcohol use, or extreme prematurity.

Where will I finalize the adoption?
It is case-by-case. Some cases need to finalize in NY or NJ, others can be finalized in your home state. If you are called about a child, it would be an important question to ask about a specific situation.

Where is the child living?
Infants may be living with our volunteer interim care families, receiving treatment in the NICU, or pediatric hospital, or living with biological family. When writing about a child’ situation on our website we try to indicate where the child is currently living.

NEWS from Our Outreach Team!

family-icon

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

Why should I consider adoption?

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

What are the benefits of open adoption?

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

How can Spence-Chapin help me with this decision?

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

Why should I trust Spence-Chapin?

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

What if I want to keep my decision confidential?

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

What types of people are looking to adopt?

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

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

Yes, hear biological parent perspectives on our youtube page.

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

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

A Week in Provincetown: Celebrating Families at Family Equality Council’s 20th Family Week

This year, the Modern Family Center was proud to sponsor Family Equality Council’s “Family Week” – a joyous celebration of LGBTQ parents, their children, and their allies. Throughout the week, parents attended educational workshops, kids participated in camp activities, and our Director, Stella Cook, got to know the staff, volunteers, and families that make Family Week such an incredible community-building event.

I arrived in Provincetown with suitcases, cameras, checklists, brochures, flyers, and a wracking anxiety that I, a white, Jewish, heterosexual, middle aged social worker with nearly 2 decades of experience working with children and families, may not be welcomed by the 1,000 parents in attendance as the expert in raising children in a gay parent home.

However, within the first 24 hours of meeting the Family Equality Council staff, and after delivering my presentation “How to Talk About Our Families, to our Children & others” to a packed room, I learned two things: 1. Gay parents are actively seeking support and education to help ease the path for their children and themselves within their extended families, peers, schools, and communities, and 2. Spending a week with this group of parents and their incredible kids was going to be AWESOME.

And it was. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the first family event – a beach bonfire on a gorgeous, warm afternoon, with a diverse group of parents and their children frolicking in the water, making s’mores, and everyone simply enjoying the exhilarating freedom of being themselves. There was even a surprise proposal (he said yes!) and anyone there could literally feel the love and joy in the air.

But, for LGBTQ parents and their children, it’s not always awesome. Throughout the week, mingled in with the fun, parents shared their stories with me; extended family members who “forget” not to use derogatory language, children who are teased, bullied, or simply have no friends, schools that are far from affirming, and communities that simply don’t understand, accept, or include LGBTQ parents and their children. Additional challenges include how to help their children understand their conception stories, how to respond to questions about birth parents, surrogates, and donors, and how to find the balance of preparing children for a world that is not always welcoming of their family while not scaring their kids and exposing them to ugliness they may not yet understand.

The Modern Family Center programming during Family Week helped to bring these conversations to light. Together, we talked, laughed, cried, and laughed some more as we explored the emotional and practical nuances of raising children today. The parents I spoke to and the adorable kids I met helped assure me: the Modern Family Center exists because Spence-Chapin saw a need to support LGBTQ parents, Family Week exists because LGBTQ family advocates saw a need to normalize, celebrate, and advocate for all families, and together, we were and are making a genuine and needed difference.

I am honored to have participated, humbled by what I have learned, and even more motivated to deliver quality, affirming, emotional care, inclusive family events, and LGBTQ parent education to the incredible moms and dads that I had the pleasure to spend time with. Thank you to those who attended my workshop, stopped me on the street to talk, welcomed my family into your community, and confirmed my suspicion that attending Family Week was going to be a life changing event.

For those of you in the NYC/NJ Tristate area, we’re going to keep the fun going at our upcoming LGTBQ Family Sundae Funday, so please join us. Otherwise, see you next year in PTown!