Your South African Adoption Starts Here.

Spence-Chain has over 100 years of adoption experience and the longest history of facilitating intercountry adoptions into the United States from South Africa. We have been placing children from South Africa into adoptive families since 2013 and in that time have facilitated over 40 adoptions. Spence-Chapin’s South Africa adoption program is open to adoptive families living throughout the United States.

Since the inception of our South Africa Program, we have partnered with Johannesburg Child Welfare (“JCW”) to facilitate adoptions from South Africa. JCW is a non-profit organization which has been serving children and families in South Africa since 1909. We are proud to partner with  JCW and support them in their work on behalf of children.

Ready to adopt from South Africa? Click the “apply now” button below to complete our FREE application. We look forward to getting to know your family.
We have many ways for you to learn about our South Africa program like podcasts, family stories, and many other resources!

Adoptive Parent Eligibility

  • Marital Status: South Africa welcomes married couples, single men, single women, and domestic partners to adopt. Unmarried couples who reside together are eligible, but please speak with our team to discuss the further considerations for such families. If an applicant has been divorced 3 or more times, we will prescreen your case with our partners in South Africa before proceeding.
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: LGBTQ+ adoptive parents are welcomed to adopt through Spence-Chapin’s South Africa adoption program.
  • Age: Applicants 25-48 years old are welcomed to apply; applicants over age 48 should consult with Spence-Chapin before applying so we can pre-screen your case with our partners in South Africa.
  • Family Composition: Families who are already parenting as well as families who are not yet parenting are welcomed to apply. If you are already parenting 6 or more children, please consult with Spence-Chapin before applying so we can pre-screen your case with our partners in South Africa.
  • Medical History: Many successful adoptive parents have medical diagnoses. If you have a medical diagnosis and/or are prescribed medication, a letter from your doctor will be required with your application indicating whether the condition is expected to impact your parenting ability or life expectancy.
  • Mental Health Diagnoses: In the U.S., accessing therapy is widely accepted and normalized and many individuals receive a formal diagnosis during the course of their treatment. South Africa has a different culture of mental health treatment and diagnoses; mental health diagnoses in South Africa are given predominantly in instances in which a person’s mental health is impeding their ability to function. Because of this, adopting from South Africa is not presently an option for a single person with a mental health diagnosis, or a couple where both members of a couple have a mental health diagnosis.
  • Citizenship: For all international adoption processes into the U.S., at least one adoptive applicant (or the sole applicant) must hold U.S. citizenship; this is a requirement imposed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services because your adopted child will automatically become a U.S. citizen upon arrival to the U.S. by virtue of being the legally adopted child of a U.S. citizen.

Children In Need Of Adoption

  • Ages: Spence-Chapin’s South Africa program places children ages 1 to 9 years old at the time of referral. Adoptive families can specify a narrower age range within those parameters.
  • Sex: Boy and girls are equally represented within the protective care system in South Africa; therefore, families adopting from South Africa must be open to adopting a child of either sex in order to ensure that all children have equal opportunity for permanency.
  • Race/Ethnicity: Families adopting from South Africa must be open to parenting a child of any race or ethnicity. However, the vast majority of children awaiting adoption in South Africa are Black, Zulu, Xhosa, or biracial.
  • Sibling groups: Sibling groups are very rarely available for adoption in South Africa. This is due to the typical ways by which children enter the adoption system. The most common reasons that children enter protective care are either parental abandonment at the hospital following birth, or a voluntary surrender of parental rights which is typically executed soon after a child’s birth.
  • Special Characteristics: All children placed through this program have special needs. Although adoptive families do not need to be open to all of the following characteristics, the following conditions are the most common needs of children awaiting adoption from South Africa: global developmental delay, prematurity, HIV, HIV-exposure, Hepatitis B, syphilis. Children receive comprehensive medical treatment while in protective care.
  • Living Environments: Foster care is not readily available in South Africa. Therefore, the vast majority of children who are placed for adoption are living in group-care settings within a children’s home or institution before placement.

We also advocate for children who are urgently waiting.


Spence-Chapin prides itself on transparency of fee disclosures. In any intercountry adoption process, families will incur professional services fees from their primary adoption service provider as well as third-party and travel costs. Spence-Chapin’s professional services fees reflect the work and support dedicated to your family. Spence-Chapin’s professional services fees are paid in installments as your case reaches new milestones.


Spence-Chapin Fees 

Total Estimated Third-Party Fees  

Estimated Travel Expenses 

Total Estimated Cost of Adoption before the Federal Adoption Tax Credit* 

Local Families** 

$18,815, payable in five installments across your adoption process 





Non-Local Families*** 

$16,315, payable in four installments across your adoption process 




* The Federal Adoption Tax Credit is an income-dependent tax credit for qualified adoption expenses which can be taken as credit when you file taxes for the year of adoption finalization; in 2023 the maximum adoption tax credit is $15,950 per child. Read more here. 

**Local families are families who live in New York or New Jersey, and within 100 miles of Spence-Chapin’s Manhattan office, for whom Spence-Chapin is providing home study and post-placement/post-adoption reporting services. See full fee disclosures here for Local Families. 

***Non-local families are families who live more than 100 miles from Spence-Chapin’s Manhattan office, or who live outside of New York or New Jersey, who will have their home study and post-placement/post-adoption reporting services completed by an agency licensed in their jurisdiction. See full fee disclosures here for Networking Families. 

Did you know that the Adoption Tax Credit is available to families adopting internationally? In 2020, the Adoption Tax Credit was up to $14,300 per child. This tremendously offsets the cost of adoption as most families are eligible.

Additionally, Spence-Chapin partners with the Adoption Finance Coach to provide our families with FREE access to experts, tools and content that can take the worry out of financing your adoption. Families who use Your Adoption Finance Coach typically raise $5,000-$15,000 for their adoptions.


1. Apply

You can complete our FREE application and listen to the South Africa program webinar here.

2. Home Study and Training

All families must undergo a home study which is designed to prepare you for adoptive parenthood and assess your ability to parent an adopted child. For families living in New York, New Jersey, or Arizona, Spence-Chapin will complete your home study. For families living outside of that area, you will work with a local agency on your home study and Spence-Chapin will guide that agency to ensure that the home study they prepare meets all of the requirements of South Africa. The home study includes paperwork, clearances, interviews with a social worker, and a home visit.

For all families, Spence-Chapin will provide a pre-adoption training plan which will help you prepare for the unique considerations of adoptive parenthood. Our social workers facilitate trainings on trauma, attachment, bonding, transracial parenting, how to talk to your child about adoption, and more.

3. USCIS and Dossier

After your home study is complete, we will guide you in filing your application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). All international adoptions are processed through USCIS and therefore in all international adoptions a family’s pre-approval with USCIS after home study is necessary before a family can receive a referral.

Once you have been approved by USCIS, Spence-Chapin will guide you in obtaining all documents required to be submitted to South Africa as part of your “dossier.” Spence-Chapin submits your dossier to Johannesburg Child Welfare and once your dossier is submitted, your officially eligible to receive a referral!

4. Wait Time

The typical wait time to receive a referral is approximately 12-24 months after submission of your dossier. Families who have a greater openness to more significant special needs and/or age of child may wait shorter. Families who have a very narrow openness to special needs and age of child may wait longer. Our social workers are here to support you during the wait!

Please note, that depending on how long you wait for referral, you may need to complete a home study update and extend your USCIS approval – we will keep track of those timelines and guide you though the process should that be necessary.

5. Referral and Pre-Travel

Johannesburg Child Welfare issues referrals in consideration of what characteristics your family is open to. When we receive a referral for your family, we will share all information provided with you. A referral will contain photographs of the child, medical information on the child, details of the child’s legal process by which he/she became eligible for international adoption, and any known social information on the biological family. You are welcomed and encouraged to ask any questions you have about the child and information provided before making a decision on whether to accept the referral.

After you accept a referral, there will be further governmental approvals to obtain within South Africa and within the United States before you will travel to meet your child. Spence-Chapin and Johannesburg Child Welfare will ensure that all necessary approvals are obtained. Please anticipate several months between when you accept a referral and when you travel to meet your child.  During this time, we will prepare you for travel, meeting your child, and the transition to parenting him or her.

6. Travel

In order to complete the adoption process, adoptive parents must take one trip to South Africa. The trip length is anticipated to be 12+ weeks. Your child will be placed into your custody soon after your arrival to South Africa and you will begin caring for your child 24/7. One week after you have taken custody of your child, you will finalize your adoption in a court in South Africa, accompanied by a JCW social worker.

After your adoption has been finalized, JCW will walk with you through every step of obtaining your child’s passport and visa. Once you have obtained your child’s visa, you will be ready to fly home with your child!

Throughout your whole time in South Africa, Spence-Chapin and JCW social workers are available to you around the clock. A JCW social worker will accompany you to all appointments and make scheduled visits to your family to check-in and offer support.

7. Post-Adoption Visits

Within the first 2-4 weeks of your arrival home, a post-adoption home visit will be scheduled by your social worker; this is designed to support your family during this significant transition.  Additional post-adoption visits will be conducted at 6 months, 12 months, 24 months, 3 years, 4 years, and 5 years post-adoption. These visits are required by the South African Central Authority.

Our Commitment to the Children in Care

It is estimated that 2.5-5 million children in South Africa have been orphaned. Spence-Chapin is responding to this crisis through comprehensive services to children living in institutional care, and by providing for the concrete needs of vulnerable children in South Africa. Spence-Chapin has the following services in place to serve children in South Africa.

Spence-Chapin’s Granny Program, pairs children living in institutions with “Grannies” who provide them with daily, individualized attention and care.  Grannies are trained to meet the developmental needs of children deprived of consistent caregivers and provide the individual love and attention that all children deserve.  For four hours each day and five days a week, each Granny focuses on the specific physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of a child they are matched with through direct care, play and skill building exercises that address speech and language development, motor skills enhancement, and attachment. Spence-Chapin founded the Granny Program in South Africa in 2011 at Othandweni Children’s Home and has now brought the Granny Program to four institutions in South Africa, ensuring that all children living in those homes receive the dedicated care of a Granny.

Within four Children’s Homes, Spence-Chapin provides funding for every child to receive a birthday gift and birthday celebration. This means over 200 children each year who are living in institutional care are being recognized and celebrated on their special day. We love receiving photos of each birthday celebration and seeing each child’s face light up!

In 2020, Spence-Chapin secured funding for and oversaw large-scale renovation and refurbishment at Othandweni Children’s Home. Othandweni, which means “Place of Love,” houses 90 children between infancy and age 18. Children come to Othandweni while a permanency plan is made for them; some children will be safely reunified with their biological family, some children will be adopted domestically within South Africa, some children will be adopted internationally, and sadly some children will age-out into independent living. All of these children deserve a safe living environment. The renovations included:

  • Renovating all bathrooms with new plumbing, toilets, baths, and showers
  • Ensuring that there were proper safety measures such as a fire alarm control panel, a wireless evacuation system, and first aid kits and fire extinguishers throughout the home
  • Updating the kitchen by purchasing and installing five stoves, six microwaves, and outfitting the kitchen with sufficient pots, pans and cutlery sets
  • Installing an automatic gate at the entrance to ensure safety of the residents
  • Purchasing and installing new beds and mattresses for all of the children
  • Providing curtains for all windows throughout the home
Play is essential to children’s development and is how children explore their world, make connections, and build self-esteem. Unfortunately, in many institutional settings there is not sufficient or safe play space. Spence-Chapin has partnered with a playground engineer in Johannesburg to design and build safe indoor and outdoor play spaces at four Children’s Homes within the greater Johannesburg Region. The play spaces have been designed to promote children’s sense of imagination, strengthen problem-solving skills, and develop fine and gross motor skills. Children look to the caring adults in their lives to model appropriate play and to support them as they try new skills on the playground. Therefore, the four playgrounds and indoor play spaces have been built in the four institutions where Spence-Chapin’s Granny Program is operating. We have enjoyed hearing the laughter and seeing children discover new abilities with the support of their Grannies helping them on the equipment.

Spence-Chapin sends recuring care packages to ensure that children living in institutional care throughout the greater Johannesburg area have sufficient food, clothing, and hygiene products. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, we continue to send personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies to the children’s homes.

Spence-Chapin believes that in order to care for the most vulnerable children, we must care for the communities in which they reside. Spence-Chapin has therefore provided funding for services to survivors of family violence within Johannesburg, funding for job skills training for community members and for family counseling centers for families facing crises in the community.



South Africa and the United States are both party to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. This ensures that safeguards are in place throughout every step of the adoption process to ensure that ethical, transparent practices are followed and the best interest of children are preserved. Spence-Chapin is Hague-accredited and has maintained that certification since the onset of such accreditation process. Our partner, JCW, is accredited by the South African Central Authority and earned this designation due to its strict adherence to legal and ethical practice.



Our podcast, Adoption Talk by Spence-Chapin, brings you stories and conversations on all topics related to adoption. Check out our episodes that are focused on international adoption today!

Family Stories

Read stories about Spence-Chapin families adopting from South Africa on our blog.

The Granny Program

Spence-Chapin’s International Africa Granny Program pairs children living in orphanages in Colombia and South Africa to caregivers from the local community who are trained in child development and provide consistent, one-on-one care and attention to each child, improving their skills and helping them thrive.

South Africa
Adoption Resources

Explore special needs resources for an adoption from South Africa