Adoption Agencies Don't Just Need Parents, They Need Volunteers

Susan Singer has cared for 20 newborns before they were adopted.

ByABC News
February 13, 2016, 3:35 PM

— -- When Susan Singer's youngest son died in a skiing accident in 2009 at the age of 22, the retired public school teacher said she was looking for something to fulfill her.

The Westchester, New York, woman said she discovered a new passion -- caring for newborns for weeks at a time -- after a friend told her about a program that takes volunteers and turns them into temporary caregivers.

Singer, who taught for 37 years, told ABC News that since 2010 she's cared for a total of 20 babies through Spence-Chapin's 100-year-old interim care provider program along with her husband, Lewis Singer, a critical care pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The nonprofit organization's Upper East Side location in New York City had no volunteers earlier this month. They're currently seeking 5 to 10 families of all types. The organization's need for volunteers mirrors a nationwide need.

"When you're working in a public school system, especially a public school system with kids that have a lot issues, you're used to being really on your toes all day," said Singer, 64. "So, when a friend called me up and told me about his program, I said, 'What have I got to lose?' I thought to take a risk because normally I would say, 'What if something goes wrong? This is really risky.' But at that moment, I just thought, 'No, I really want to do this.' And it's just been great."

"My job is to make the baby feel safe and loved 24-7," she added. "I hold them all the time. I talk to them. I sing to them. We play music. And I get so much joy and pleasure. I feel so good when I'm with an infant that I hope that it does ... something for them, too."

Volunteers have to go through background checks and home visits to ensure the environment is newborn-friendly. They typically take care of a baby for two to four weeks, said Adam Cotumaccio, president of Spence-Chapin.

"We pay 100 percent of all the expenses [to care for the newborn]," Cotumaccio told ABC News. "We have a full clinic here where we have pediatricians. We pay for the transportation costs, diapers, even the car seats, as sometimes the volunteer may not have all of the equipment."

Volunteers like Singer are needed at adoption agencies across the country.

"Agencies are not exactly the best funded today, so volunteers are more important probably than they have ever been," Adam Pertman, president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, which focuses on implementing best adoption practices, told ABC News. "All agencies over the years have certainly needed volunteers but ... the need has grown. Volunteers have become more and more essential."

Volunteers are used most times to supplement adoption agencies' staff in the office, Pertman said. They're also used in programs like Spence-Chapin's for newborn care-giving or like The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois, which recruits volunteers to cuddle newborns in their onsite nursery.

Joan Jaeger, vice president of outreach and communications for Adoption Learning Partners, is an advocate of the program.

"It's our most popular volunteer activity because everyone loves holding newborn babies. Newborns benefit so much from the one-on-one care," Jaeger said.

Interim newborn care is "not meant to be a long-term solution by any stretch of the imagination," Cotumaccio noted. It's for new mothers considering adoption but who may not have decided on a long-term plan at the time of childbirth. "If a woman is thinking of an adoption plan, she's in crisis. The program offers a pressure release valve for this woman."

Singer said caring for newborns doesn't have many immediate drawbacks, especially if you have family support and proper time management.

"I have a lot of other things going on in my life," she noted. "I still have time to travel and have lots of things going on in the community."

Singer, who is also mom to a 33-year-old son, added that when she has to say goodbye to the newborns, she handles it well.

"I have the best piece," Singer explained. "I'm the one on adoption day, telling [the new parents] all about this wonderful little person. I'm the one that gets to talk to the birth mom and send her photos and videos and reassure her that her baby is safe. So it's a really great piece to have in all of the stuff that goes on."