Adoption FAQ Fridays

Each Friday during National Adoption Month we are promoting a Frequently Asked Question about options counseling and adoption The Spence-Chapin Way to help everyone better understand how options counseling, including interim care, and the adoption process works at Spence-Chapin.  Read all of the questions and answers below!

Question: What is Open Adoption?

Answer: Answer: Open Adoption is having some form of communication and contact between the adoptive family and the birth family over time. Today, the majority of adoptions are done with some degree of openness, with the extent and frequency of contact varying from family to family. Open adoptions have been shown through various studies to benefit all members of the adoption triad—adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. At Spence-Chapin, the open adoption process is led by birth parents, who can decide what kind of communication–if any–that they want to have in the future, which can include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Spence-Chapin helps adoptive families and birth families craft an open adoption agreement, and our social workers provide counseling and guidance during the planning process, and at any time in their lifelong journeys.

Question: What is the Adoption Triad?

Answer: Adoption triad is a term used to the three groups that make up adoption: the adoptee, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. The adoptee is the child who is being adopted. The birth parents are the biological parents of the child. The adoptive parents are the individual or couple who adopts the child. Spence-Chapin supports all members of the adoption triad through our community programming, counseling, and support groups. We believe it is important to provide a space where all members in the adoption triad can come at any point in their lives to receive guidance, advice, counseling, and community.

Question: What is Options Counseling?

Answer: Options counseling is a free service that Spence-Chapin provides to pregnant women and women who have recently given birth who are unsure about parenting. Our social workers review all options available in a safe space where women can talk about their questions and concerns and not face judgement or bias. Spence-Chapin works with local organizations to help women access resources and assistance based on their choice. Spence-Chapin will travel to meet with women seeking counseling anywhere in New Jersey and the New York City metro area (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Westchester).

Question: What is Interim Care?

Answer: We understand that women and their partners need appropriate time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth. Placing their newborn in Interim Care allows biological parents to continue counseling to fully explore their options while knowing their baby is being cared for by a nurturing caregiver in a loving home. Birth parents retain their legal rights while the baby is in care and are encouraged to visit their baby. Our services are free for biological parents while they take the days or even a few weeks to make a decision.

Question: Why consider Adoption?

Answer:This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have made 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 stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find a family who can. Others choose to make a private open adoption plan instead of involvement with the public child welfare system.

Question: Who are the Adoptive Families? How are adoptive families selected?

Answer: Spence-Chapin works hard to recruit diverse families that are hoping to adopt a child. Our waiting families vary in age, background, family structure, religion, etc. After submitting an application, each family must attend several webinars and trainings to ensure that they are ready to begin the adoption process. Spence-Chapin then conducts a home study to get to know the family and their home environment more. When a birth parent is making an adoption plan, she is presented with information and descriptions of all of our waiting families and can select a family of her choice to set up a meeting with. If all goes well at the meeting, our social workers help the birth parents and adoptive family to create an open or closed adoption plan, depending on the birth parents’ preference. Spence-Chapin works closely with the birth parents and adoptive family every step of the way to placement and continues to provide lifelong guidance and support through counseling, community programming, and support groups.

Spence-Chapin has all types of waiting families! They vary in age, background, family, structure, religion, etc. They are all 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. You can also brown through profiles on our website: www.spence-chapin.org/waiting-families

7 Myths About Open Adoption

For prospective adoptive parents, the term “open adoption” may sound intimidating or confusing. What does an open adoption look like? How does it work? Is it really in the best interest of the child? To make open adoption more understood, we’ve compiled this list of Myths and Facts to help guide you through your adoption journey!

1.Myth: Not many people have an open adoption

Fact: Today, the vast majority of adoptions are open. In a study conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, only 5 percent of respondents in a survey said that they had a closed adoption. Of course, the type of openness in adoption varies among families, can be infrequent or ongoing, and can take the form of letters, phone calls, in-person meetings—and a lot in between.

2. Myth: The relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents deteriorate in time.

Fact: The relationships between adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees changes over time, and tend to ebb and flow. As long as all parties remain committed to communication and are flexible, the relationships formed are life-long and rewarding.

3. Myth: Open adoption is a form of co-parenting.

Fact: In open adoption, the adoptive parents are the sole custodians and are the ones in control of their child’s welfare. The birth parents may play an active role in the child’s life, but the legal rights remain in the hands of the adoptive parents.

4. Myth: Open adoption is confusing to children.

Fact: Children are not confused by having contact with their birth family. Even at an early age, children can understand different roles and responsibilities. Further, while all members in an open adoption are shown to benefit from the relationship, it is adoptees that benefit the most over time. Some of the benefits to adoptees include coming to terms early on with the reasons for their adoption, access to information that aids in identity formation, knowledge about their own medical histories, and a better understanding of the meaning of adoption.

5. Myth: Having contact with the birth family will be an intrusion on my family.

Fact: Surveys show that families who choose to remain in contact with the birth family report higher levels of satisfaction with their adoptions. According to the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, adoptive parents in open adoptions report a stronger sense of permanence in the relationship with their child as projected into the future, and more empathy toward the birthparents and child than those in closed adoptions.

6. Myth: Being able to communicate with and see the child will be too painful for the birth parents.

Fact: Birth parents in open adoptions with ongoing contact report less grief, regret, and worry, as well as more peace of mind, than those who do not have contact, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

7. Myth: There will be no boundaries. The birth parents will drop in whenever they want to see the child.

Fact: Through open communication, both parties should have a mutual understanding as to where those boundaries are. The way the open adoption looks is determined before placement, between the adoptive parents and birth parents (and the adoptee depending on his/her age), and is based on what is comfortable and practical for all involved. Birth parents and adoptive parents should both receive proper training and counseling on open adoption before making an open adoption agreement, to ensure that all parties have thought clearly and reflexively about what they want the relationship to look like. It is also important to work with a counselor or social worker to help craft the open adoption contract or agreement, and to have access to post-adoption services to work through any challenges or issues that may arise over time in that relationship.

Spence-Chapin encourages open adoption, which is why we are happy to answer any further questions you may have. Spence-Chapin offers individual and family counseling, open adoption support and guidance, and facilitates reunion meetings. Call us and let us know how we can support you and your family – 646-539-2167. We encourage to read this beautiful personal open adoption story.

Orphan Sunday: Join Us to Support Vulnerable Children

Orphan Sunday is about raising awareness of the many children here and around the world who are in need of a loving and nurturing adoptive family. On November 11, 2018 Spence-Chapin will once again join the Orphan Sunday movement to help bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and single women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Whether living in a children’s home or with a foster family, today we stand alongside every child who has been disconnected from the possibility of a permanent family.

Spence-Chapin advocates for children in the New York Metro area and around the world through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. We also offer lifelong support for children and their families through our counseling, parent coaching and post-adoption support services.

Building and strengthening families is our top priority.  We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition, and we focus on finding families for the most vulnerable children: the thousands of pre-school and school-age children, sibling groups, and children with medical needs living in orphanages and foster care around the world. 

Join us at an event during National Adoption Month to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference in the life of a child:

To learn more about domestic and international adoption at Spence-Chapin, or to view profiles of Waiting Children ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.  

To learn about post-adoption supportservices and community programs, contact us at 646-539-2167 or  info@modernfamilycenter.org.

Domestic Adoption Story: Mary and Sal

Mary McCabe is a social worker at Spence-Chapin and a new mom through domestic adoption. With Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month on the brain, we asked her the question: What are you thankful for?
“Having a child was always a dream of ours. After unsuccessful fertility treatments, we decided to adopt. My sister was adopted, and I was an adoption counselor, so it was a natural progression. I thought I knew all about adoption, but it was more than just paperwork, home studies, and clearances, it was an emotional experience. [We were] waiting for the phone call, the email, or any sign that our prayers were answered.

In September of 2017, a girl named Delia selected my husband and I to parent her unborn child. Delia asked to meet us and shared that she was due in November of 2017. The call was exciting, overwhelming and included a lot of butterflies!

We met with Delia and her mother on a beautiful sunny day at a small café. We were immediately taken back by Delia’s kindness, maturity and her way of making US feel at ease. Delia and I had an immediate connection, as if we had already known each other. My husband sat quietly, afraid to say anything ’wrong’. Delia asked him if he was ‘nervous about being a father’ and he answered, ’yes.’ Delia assured him that he would be a great father. She then turned to both of us and said: “I truly feel this child was never meant for me, and after I saw your profile I knew that the baby I am carrying was always meant for you”. We all cried and hugged each other.

Two weeks later, we found out Delia was having a boy. Her due date was November 22, 2017. Then, we waited. November 22nd passed and there was no word from anyone, the 23rd and 24th passed and still nothing. We were prepared for Delia to parent, and if she did, it would have been ok with us as she was a wonderful person.

On November 25, at 10:15pm, I received a text from Delia saying, ‘I’m in labor, headed to the hospital.’ I sat staring at the text in disbelief. Was it real? Is this really happening? Am I going to be a mom? Within minutes her next text read ‘Your son was just born!’ I ran upstairs to my sleeping husband saying, “our son is born!” In shock, he jumped out of bed and began packing. Delia then texted again to say that she would see us in the morning because it was late, and our drive would be long.

The next morning, with no sleep, we drove to meet our son. It felt like forever, but when we arrived, this perfect little boy was in a crib in Delia’s room. I asked Delia if I could hold him, she said, ‘of course… he is your son. I gently picked him up, telling him how perfect he was, as my husband sat quietly in a chair. I faced our son toward him and said, “this is your son” and he began to cry. I handed our son to him and we all began to cry.

We spent two days with Delia and her family. Delia asked what we would be naming him, and we told her Michael. She said she loved the name. We headed home with Michael on November 27, 2017. We keep in touch withDelia and we look forward to seeing her in a few months.

Michael is now almost 11 months old and he is the love of our lives. We love being parents and cherish everyday with him. The list is endless of the things we love about Michael; his eyes, his smile when he laughs…He loves to snuggle and hearing him say “mama” and “dada” melts our hearts. Our lives have changed forever. He makes us better people; kinder, patient and loving people.

So, what are we thankful for?
Delia, for making our dream come true.”

To read more from Spence-Chapin families, friends and colleagues touched by adoption, search #ThankfulThursday on our Facebook and Instagram accounts every Thursday throughout National Adoption Month.

What is a Birthland Trip and Should Your Family Do One?

A birthland trip is a trip made to an adoptee’s country of birth. A birthland trip can be made at any time in an adoptee’s life, and can be done alone, with family, or in a group. Individuals and families go on these trips for many reasons, but primarily, they serve as a way to connect an adoptee to his/her birth culture, and in so doing, engage more deeply with a part of his/her identity and past.

We spoke with Beth Friedberg, a therapist at Spence-Chapin with over 20 years of experience working with children and families, to provide some more context and advice on birthland trips.

Thinking about a birthland trip? 

If you are considering a birthland trip, we invite you to speak with one of our counselorsbeforehand, who can answer any questions or concerns you may have. If you would like to participate in one of our group birthland trips, you can find out more here. To read more about one family’s birthland trip experience, click here.

“People go on birthland trips for a lot of different reasons, at different ages and stages in their lives,” Beth explained. “The birthland trip is a different kind of connecting to the adoption story—it’s more tangible.”

How do you know it’s the right time for a birthland trip?

“Sometimes the birthland trip is initiated by the parents because they want very much for help their children make connections to their birth culture, foster families, or birth families,” Beth said. “Sometimes it’s propelled by the kids, who have a lot of curiosity and questions about their beginnings, and they’re asking. Usually, it’s somewhere in between.”

“In our coaching at Spence-Chapin, we try to help families realize that they will never be 100% confident with their decisions—that there will always be a certain amount of worry, fear, and concerns about how it may go. We work with families to help them decide how much concern they are willing to handle.”

In thinking about the right time, Beth advises it’s important to consider what other changes are occurring in the family system in that year. If the family has just moved, the kids have recently changed schools, or something else has happened that might make it more difficult to unpack some of the issues that can come up in a birthland trip, it might be best to wait until the next year.

Beth notes that while some children initiate the idea of a birthland trip through their curiosity and questions, others may not be interested in going at first, perhaps because of fear, or just indifference. In those cases, she suggests that parents find something that already excites their child and build on that in order to engage them in the in the prospect of a birthland trip.

“If your child loves music or pop culture, expose them to popular songs or soap operas from their birth culture. If they like cooking, or food, or history, you can share those aspects of their birth culture with them. Tap into what already has meaning for your child and build their interest and curiosity on that.”

How do you prepare for the emotional impact of a birthland trip?

“At Spence-Chapin, we provide coaching to prepare” Beth explained. “One of the main things we do in coaching for a birthland trip is to step back as a way to move into the future and explore identity. We help families go back and review the adoption process and history—to go through those photos, videos, and stories—and see how your child reacts, to gauge what he or she might be ready for.”

“It’s also important for the parents to spend time thinking about that it will be like for them to go back, and thinking through what their child might ask, and working through that with the coaching before the trip, so no one is caught off guard during the trip when it might be more challenging to handle surprises.”

“Where the real learning happens, where the family’s relationship becomes closer, is in the times that may be difficult, and working through that together. That is the way relationships grow stronger—when we show up for each other.”

My Family’s Birthland Trip to Ethiopia

This summer, Mary and Chris took their family on a birthland trip to Ethiopia. Their younger daughter, Etta, 5, was adopted through Spence-Chapin from South Africa, and their older daughter, Arri, 8, was adopted through a different adoption organization from Ethiopia. We caught up with Mary to ask her about the trip, how she and her family prepared for it, and what advice they have for other families considering a birthland trip.

Why did you decide to take your daughter on a birthland trip?
The pivotal moment of deciding to do a birthland trip came in the most unexpected way—while watching the movie Lion. That movie really reinforced to us that our children need to know who they are and where they came from. We talked after the movie and decided, we have to go back and let our daughter see where she came from.

In what ways did you prepare Arri for the trip?
Our family is very fortunate to have an Ethiopian Church in our community that offers monthly classes to children from Ethiopia, many of whom are adopted. We also attend a Family Camp in Virginia for first-generation Ethiopian American children. So, by the time we made the trip, Arri already had learned a lot about the culture, language, and history of Ethiopia—even enough so that on the trip, she was able to say hello, and speak words in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, to other Ethiopians.

How did you and your husband prepare?
That’s a great question. As parents, we felt so vulnerable and…scared, would be an honest way of describing it. You realize you’re not really in control. We knew that we didn’t have to do this visit, we didn’t have to open this door—it could stay closed. But we felt like there could be healing if we all felt brave enough to walk through the door.

We found it helped to think about and work through the what ifs—and for us there were a million and one what ifs that came up for us. What if my child is upset by the experience? What if it isn’t a good experience? We went through them all.

But, in the end, it comes down to being brave and acknowledging that it’s scary to open a door that you could keep closed. But it’s worth it—the peace it gives to the child, to the birth family, to the parents. It’s indescribable.

What resources did you use for the practical preparations?
We sought out both the broad and the specific resources out there. For example, an Ethiopian Homeland Travel online group discussed both practical questions about the travel (such as immunizations to get), as well as emotional questions. We also talked to other families about their experience. Before our trip we got together with another family that lives near us who also adopted their child from Ethiopia and had recently traveled there together.

You were also able to set up a meeting with Arri’s birth mother?
Yes. We had reestablished contact with Arri’s birth mother when she was about two years old and have been writing back and forth and having phone conversations since, so we were able to set up a meeting with her in Ethiopia. Of course, up until the moment that it happened, we made sure to prepare Arri—and ourselves—for the very real possibility that it wouldn’t happen, as a result of logistics or something else. We didn’t want to promise Arri anything that we could not control the outcome of.

What was the meeting like?
Her birthmother seemed very interested in what we are like as a family—what we like to do together, what we enjoy—to see how we are as parents, and to just spend time with us. She made it a point to let my husband and I know how grateful she was that we were raising Arri the way that we were. Arri was anxious at first, but once she was more comfortable, she seemed to just want to watch her birth mother—to get a sense of her. Overall, it felt good to have the affirmation that everyone is on the same page—it was affirming of everyone’s role in Arri’s life.

Would you still recommend the trip to parents even if a birth parent meeting isn’t possible?
Yes, definitely. It’s still such a rich experience for the child and the family to just be in the culture, to hear the language, to eat the food, to visit the historical sites. We brought Arri back to the hospital where she born, and I believe it’s important, even if the birth family visit isn’t possible, to try and seek out other types of monumental pieces to visit to give the child something to hold onto about his/her story.

What were some unexpected outcomes of the trip?
It turned out that the fact that Arri had learned about Ethiopian culture, and even knew some words in Amharic, was very affirming to the people that live in that country, which was something really unexpected for us. It seemed to help Ethiopians to see that US families that adopt Ethiopian children are trying to teach them who they are and are giving them a sense of their birth culture and history. This was evident even in just the ways people’s faces brightened when Arri said hello to them.

And how did the trip affect Arri?
We were really taken aback by how much confidence and peace the trip gave to our daughter. The way in which Arri was welcomed and affirmed by the Ethiopian community, was truly transformative for her.

I think that Arri also really grew in her understanding of her adoption. The experience with her birth mother, seeing the country, the hospital where she was born, all enabled her to really see that her adoption was not about anything that she did wrong, but due to circumstances.

We’ve also noticed that she’s been introducing herself differently since we’ve gotten back. We kept Arri’s birth name—Arsema—but we have always called her Arri. Upon returning from Ethiopia, we noticed that she began introducing herself with her full name—that she was standing taller in who she is.

It’s clear that you and your husband decided early on to raise your children with openness around their adoption. What prompted that decision?
Before adopting Arri, I attended an Adoptive Mom’s Retreat, which I now attend every year, and at those retreats, they talk so much about trying to instill the importance of being honest and raising your children to know who they are. At the retreat, adoptee young adults share their stories on how not knowing who they are, or their parents’ lack of openness around their adoption, led to a lot of grieving and pain for them.

I took from hearing those stories that the adoptee voice isn’t always lifted up as it should be, and it’s important to nurture children’s identity and be honest with them.

And I know that that’s easier said than done. Many families like ours commit to that idea of openness in the early stages, when you’re still going through the adoption process—and it’s one thing to say you’re going to do it and it’s another to really follow through, to discover how to do that, to equip yourself and your family to maintain that commitment and to face any fears about following through.

What are some resources that have helped you and your family to embrace openness in the ways you have?
We found a lot of community and support by attending different camps. I’m not really that much of a social media user, so for me, the face-to-face gatherings are what I look for to engage.

It’s just nice to have a safe place to go where everyone is walking the same walk, so to speak. And even if the topics are broader, like about being a transracial family, as opposed to something more country or region specific, it’s still very helpful.

Everybody needs community—both the children and parents.

Any plans to take your younger daughter, Etta, to her birth country?
We are absolutely planning to do a trip to South Africa for Etta once she’s old enough, but we are just beginning to discuss what that will look like, and are just starting to find ways to connect Etta to her story—mostly because South Africa is a very different country than Ethiopia, and up until now, a lot of our community connections are to Ethiopian culture. But Etta has really enjoyed learning about Ethiopian culture with her sister and has been warmly embraced by the local Ethiopian community. So, we expect it will be a harder road to navigate, but we are certainly up to the task!

Read our latest blog about birthland trips here. To learn more about birthland trips offered at Spence-Chapin, visit www.modernfamilycenter.org/birthlandtrips