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Spence Perspectives: Spence-Chapin—109 Years of Community Service

Adam Cotumaccio, President of Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children, was the guest speaker for the May 9 Spence Perspectives, a series of talks this year devoted to the theme of service, activism and community engagement.
Addressing the audience of students, alumnae, faculty and parents, Cotumaccio began a review of his agency’s history with a salute to founders Clara Spence, Dr. Dwight Chapin and his wife Alice, all “social reformers and child advocates.” He noted that the legacy started at Spence with Ms. Spence’s pioneering work in adoption, inspiring her students in joining her efforts in making “non-biological adoption more socially acceptable.” The Chapins saw “children growing up in hospital settings,” and had a vision of “children growing up in a family, rather than a medical setting.” “Neither founder was a social worker; they were non-sectarian and worked with families regardless of their religious background and financial means,” noted Cotumaccio.
In the four decades immediately following the merger of the Spence and Chapin adoption services, Cotumaccio shared that the agency expanded to advocacy for African-American adoption, international adoption and foster care.
Now, in its 109th year, he explained the organization’s new name, Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children, which leaves out “adoption,” reflects the evolution of services they offer to families that include counseling, mental and emotional health services, advocacy and education. Their mission is focused on the singular belief “that every child deserves a family.”
Cotumaccio’s explanation of their work with special-needs adoption drew a question from a student about the work they do with children with significant medical needs. He talked about the work they do in meeting the increasing demand for families interested in adoption of special-needs children and the rewards of seeing these children thrive in the family setting. At the same time, Cotumaccio explained that they have also counseled families who initially doubt their ability to take care of their special-needs children and eventually opted to keep their children. He shared that a notable percentage of parents who seek their services end up keeping their children.  And, prompted by a question about community involvement, he had the opportunity to elaborate the ways that volunteers help with instances where a child is temporarily placed out with a family to allow mothers to regain their mental and emotional health. He shared the case of a volunteer who has helped to take care of 80 babies and families with such need.
Cotumaccio closed his talk with an open invitation to the Spence community for volunteering, collaborating and supporting the work of the Spence-Chapin programs and services.