February: Black History Month

Spence-Chapin has been a leader in African-American and Black infant adoption and recruiting African-American adoptive parents. In honor of Black History Month, we revisit the efforts made by those who have fought to break barriers, making African-American and Black children from all parts of the world a focus and a priority.

Adoption at Spence-Chapin

In the 1940’s, Gladys Randolph, former director of Social Work at Harlem Hospital, brought the issue of boarder babies languishing in her community without families to the attention of Spence-Chapin. Challenging the then-popular notion that African-American families were not interested in adoption, Spence-Chapin started a program in 1946 to respond to the crisis. Working hard to tackle this misconception, in 1953, the agency elected Mrs. Jackie Robinson, wife of the famous baseball player Jackie Robinson, to serve on the Board of Directors. She played a crucial role in recruiting African-American families and as the movement gained momentum, more illustrious Americans, including Ruth Harris (wife of political scientist and Noble Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche), Marian Anderson (celebrated American singer), and Willetta S. Mickey (wife of Civil Rights pioneer Hubert Delaney) helped Spence-Chapin recruit African-American adoptive families.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the featured speaker for a Spence-Chapin conference in 1954. Mrs. Roosevelt was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “No matter what the color of their skin, all our children must be looked at as the future rich heritage of the country.”

In 1991, adoptive parents of African-American children formed the Spence-Chapin African-American Parents Advisory Committee, known as AAPAC. The group, which welcomes all families parenting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adopted children, brings families together for social networking and support. One of the positive outcomes has been the close ties formed by members and their children, and the sense of community which has evolved among families.

Today, Spence-Chapin continues our mission of finding adoptive families for all children in the New York tri-state area and abroad as well as recruiting African-American, Black, bi-racial, and multi-racial adoptive parents.  

 

We Celebrate Clara Spence

“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy.”

In 2009, Martha Ulman, Clara Spence’s grand-daughter, wrote an article for the New York State Historical Association chronicling the history of her grandmother’s achievements as a pioneer in adoption in New York. We can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence. This is an excerpt from Martha Ulman’s article:

Clara_Spence resizedClara Spence achieved her work during the pivotal decades 1900-1920, when there were many people with socially progressive ideas. Some approached the problem of the discrepancy between the rich and the poor from the bottom up. They personally went into the slums and worked with the problem firsthand. Clara Spence chose to approach the problem from the top by preaching to the children of the richest New Yorkers the moral and ethical virtue of service so that they, in their adult life, would make a difference in improving the conditions of those less fortunate. Although many of her students went own to serve in their communities, the area for which they are best known is that of adoption and the creation of their nursery, which merged with that of Henry and Alice Chapin in 1943. Known today as Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, the organization continues to serve the needs of children of all creeds, colors, and nationalities.

Born in Albany, New York, in 1859, Clara Spence was a member of the middle class. She graduated from Boston University’s School of Oratory in 1879, after which she attended London University where she honed her acting skills. She came to New York City originally aspiring to be an actress but, upon the death of her mother in 1883, she shifted her talents to teaching at private schools for girls. In 1892, she founded her own school in a brownstone at 6 West Forty-Eighth Street. It was in this school that Clara Spence began a nursery for abandoned babies.

The treatment of orphans before the 1890’s followed a dreary route from institutional care to indentured service or, in the case of thousands of children in Charles Loring Brace’s orphan trains, relocation to families hundreds of miles from their homes. There, as Marilyn Holt notes in her book, “The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America”, they were often valued for their labor potential rather than accepted as members of the family. Clara Spence offered adoption as an alternative to institutionalization or relocation. Adoption, which we now take for granted, was an anomaly at a time when to adopt a non-relative was consider a brave and bizarre act, because of genetic uncertainty and social stigma. Clara Spence dedicated herself to the cause of abandoned infants and introduced her students to adoption as a new and fulfilling form of social work.

In January 1909, the White House Conference on Dependent Children adopted fourteen resolutions all aimed at replacing the institutional method of child care with home care. The next month Clara Spence personally adopted a one-year-old girl from the Children’s Aid Society. The judge had no objection to her application even though she was a single parent nearing the age of fifty. Six years later in 1915, Clara Spence adopted a little boy. Her partner, Charlotte Baker, adopted a girl in 1911 and a boy in 1914, completing what was one of the first single-sex adoption families.
Clara Spence - Central Park, February 1911

It was Ms. Spence’s personal involvement that inspired her students, who witnessed the transformation of babies who came from institutions and were “built up” for adoption on the top floor of her school. As a result, in 1915, the alumnae of the school opened the Spence Alumnae Society nursery through which several hundred babies were placed in adoptive homes. In 1921, Clara Spence brought thirteen children from Great Britain to the United States to be adopted into American families, anticipating what has today become a vast network of international adoption. By her willingness to defy public opinion and risk social ostracism, Clara Spence not only managed to make adoption an accepted practice, but one that became the method of choice for hundreds of families. It was largely because of her work and influence that New York became recognized as a leader in child welfare and adoption in particular.

Spence-Chapin has spent over 100 years finding innovative ways to fulfill Clara Spence’s legacy. Our expertise has consistently expanded the benefits of adoption to more children and the prospective parents who want to love them.

Just as Clara Spence responded to the need in her time, our work is focused on serving women and families who need help planning and building strong, loving families. We are driven by the simple and fundamental belief: every child deserves a family. Through our Modern Family Center, we provide counseling and community services that help these new families succeed. We can create more permanent, loving families just as we’ve always done.

Independent vs. Agency Adoption- What’s the difference?

Many individuals who are new to adoption are often confused about how an independent adoption and an agency adoption differ. When it comes to a domestic adoption, the first thing an adoptive family must decide on is whether to work on your own or work with an experienced adoption attorney or with an adoption organization. We often say that there are two different paths that end at the same point—becoming an adoptive family.

In an independent adoption, prospective adoptive families are guided by an adoption attorney. Families decide where and how to locate a potential birth mother, usually by networking, advertising, or by creating an online profile of their family. Adoptive parents are responsible for appropriate expenses related to the birth mother’s pregnancy and birth of the child; these expenses are state-specific and may include travel to and from the doctor, prenatal care, and/or hospital bills. The type of ongoing relationship between birth and adoptive families (an open adoption) is often discussed prior to the birth of the child between the parents. Many adoptive parents share that they chose the path of independent adoption to network across the entire country in order to be chosen by a birth mother. A home study is a document required for all adoptive parents and even families working with an adoption attorney will need a home study document to finalize the adoption. Spence-Chapin provides many home studies for families pursuing an independent adoption. Families are encouraged to work with an attorney with adoption experience; Spence-Chapin recommends working with a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

In an agency adoption, prospective adoptive parents are guided by social workers. Families are encouraged to seek out an accredited or licensed adoption organization. An adoption agency provides options counseling to birth parents, and prepare families to become adoptive parents. The social workers provide the home study and all related adoption documents for the birth and adoptive families. The adoptive parents will create profiles of their family to be shown to birth parents who are making adoption plans. Depending on the agency, adoptive parents may or may not be responsible for supporting a birth parent throughout the pregnancy. At Spence-Chapin, adoptive parents are not individually responsible for financially supporting a birth parent throughout options counseling. Often, the ongoing open adoption relationship will be negotiated with the support of social workers. Adoptive parents share that they chose to work with an adoption agency for the ongoing support and guidance provided by the social work staff. Social workers are there to help each person though every step of the process as well as provide support.

Visit our website to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s domestic adoption program or contact us at (212) 400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.  

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
 

Meet Elizabeth!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are?

This month we talked to Dr. Elizabeth Studwell, Psy.D., Manager of Mental Health Services, about her work.

ElizabethStudwellWhy did you want to work at the Modern Family Center?

I specifically wanted to work at the Modern Family Center because I believe very strongly in the freedom and acceptance to have and be a part of a “Modern Family.” I want to provide support to individuals and families that find themselves feeling different than the norm. I feel very passionately about adoption and feel that it often takes extra strength to be a part of a unique family structure, whatever that might be. All children deserve a family and all families deserve to be happy and healthy.

 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is the consultation work that I do for foster care agencies. I help to support children whose parents have not been able to fully care for their needs.

Describe your job in 3 words.
Dynamic, rewarding, humbling

Describe your experience in mental health counseling.

I completed my doctorate in clinical psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and have been engaged in providing mental health services in a variety of settings for almost ten years. I have volunteered and worked at a residential institution in Colombia preparing children for adoption. I have provided coaching, counseling, and consulting as well as psychological assessment in variety of settings including inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, behavioral day schools, and foster care agencies. I am clinically trained primarily in attachment based psychotherapy, relational therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and trauma focused psychotherapy.

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

snowflakeHolidays are a time for connecting with loved ones and provide the opportunity for time travel – we visit our past, experience the present, and set intentions for the future.

It’s easy to think about the family members we see and touch base with regularly. But what about those who were part of your child’s life before they were part of your family? It could be birth or foster families, orphanage caregivers, or early childhood friends. Even if your child was too young to remember these relationships, they are an important part of your child’s history and who they are today. Finding ways to bring their birth family, birth culture, and past into the present is important for deepening your relationship with your child.

Be imaginative about honoring those connections. The rituals and traditions you create with your child can be tangible and concrete, like putting together a Lifebook that has pictures of those important people, sending letters and cards, or setting up a visit. If you don’t have direct contact, the rituals can be symbolic. Go for a walk in the park where you first decided to adopt; eat the favorite food of that important person every Thanksgiving; collect stones from important places in your child’s life. The smallest detail can have a huge impact on your child now and in the future. Remember, be creative and make it a special tradition that is unique to your family. Your child might not like or understand the meaning of the rituals now, but it is important that you’re doing all that you can do to document and celebrate your child’s past so they can cherish it in the future. When you honor those who are connected to your child, you are honoring your children, their story, and your family’s roots.