Home. T.S. Eliot said, “Home is where one starts from.” Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz wistfully repeated, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” And when tuning into any radio station, it only take a few minutes to hear lyrics like Michael Buble’s as he sings, “I just wanna go home. Let me go home.”
Home—a source of comfort, a place at the core of whom we are, and hopefully a safe haven from the world—and every child deserves to know where they will go when they want to go home.
Dave Thomas always said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” Today in America, 123,000 children are sitting in foster care wishing, hoping and waiting for an adoptive family and a home of their own. Each waiting child is our responsibility, yet for too many, their age creates a quiet set of barriers and challenges to assuring them a home. Nearly 45% of the children waiting to be adopted are age nine or older.
We know from national research that Americans have unfortunate and unfound misperceptions about older youth in foster care – that they are in foster care because they are juvenile delinquents, or that they are too damaged or too dangerous to be adopted. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children are in foster care waiting to be adopted because they have been abused, neglected or abandoned, and at such a level that the courts have permanently severed all birth parent ties with the child.
Older youth in care experience not only the typical identity exploration, independence cravings and adult testing that all adolescents experience, but must also grapple with the profound grief and loss that has surrounded their lives. They may also have significant trust and attachment issues and coping mechanisms related to often multiple placements, forcing changes in schools, friends and even the rules and practices of the different homes they experience.
Alyssa, who was adopted at age 16 noted, “I moved so many times while I was in foster care that if I came home from school and saw a different car in the driveway, I just assumed that I was going to have to leave that night. I was always on edge and worried about whether I would be able to make it through another change.”
Last year, more than 20,000 children waiting to be adopted turned 18 and left the system without the safety net of a family or a permanent home to call their own. Research shows that children who leave the foster care system without being adopted are at significantly higher risk of being undereducated, unemployed, homeless, substance abusers, parents at an early age and/or involved in the criminal justice systems.
Providing a family for an older child can eliminate these negative outcomes for our nation’s children. As you begin to contemplate the adoption journey to create or expand your family, considering older youth adoption from foster care can be an exciting exercise. Potential adoptive parents of older youth might ask:
-Do I have a real interest in providing a home for an older child?
-Will I enjoy the challenge of raising a child who comes with a unique history, family memories and life experiences?
-Am I willing to have the child’s extended family members involved in the child’s life, if it is safe to do so?
-Am I willing to learn about the particular dynamics of abuse and neglect and its impact on an adolescent?
-Am I confident enough to understand that as an older youth works through issues of pain, loss and grief, I am not being rejected?
-How do I handle stress and conflict?
-Am I flexible? A good listener?
-Can I be optimistic and realistic at the same time?
-Am I tolerant and resilient?
-Do you have a supportive environment?
-Can I see the potential in every child?
-When I make a commitment to a child, do I understand it is permanent?
Taking the first step to adopting an older youth from foster care is sometimes the most daunting. There are many resources online and in communities to help, including free resources at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (1-800-ASK-DTFA or http://www.davethomasfoundation.org).
Additionally, financial supports are available to most families, through a variety of sources, including employer-based adoption benefits (http://www.adoptionfriendlyworkplace.org), state and federal tax credits (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html), post-adoption subsidies (http://www.nacac.org/postadopt/postadopt.html) and college tuition waivers and scholarships (http://www.nacac.org/adoptionsubsidy/factsheets/tuition.html).
Adopting through foster care is one of the most amazing, gratifying ways to bring about positive change in the world,” says Pam, an adoptive parent of four children from foster care, three of whom were over the age of 6 when adopted. “We discovered that our willingness and our training provided most of what we needed to know. The rest we figured out through old fashioned trial and error or learned from the many support systems surrounding us.”
Every child deserves the love, support and safety of a family. An older youth adoption creates a unique family experience, weaving the past into the future and creating a rich and textured journey along the way. Alyssa said it best, “With my adoptive family, I have someone who will put up with my moods, my silliness, my sadness and my joy and never leave me alone again. When I come home from school now, I’m just a growing teen, ready for a snack and whatever may come at me tomorrow!”
For more information on older youth adoption, call the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and 1-800-ASK-DTFA (1-800-275-3832).
For more than 25 years, Rita Soronen has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children. Mr. Soronen has provided leadership for local, state and national efforts working to improve the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, while striving to assure safe, nurturing and permanent homes for North America’s children.
As Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption since 2001, a national non-profit public charity, Ms. Soronen works to find loving adoptive families for each of the 150,000 waiting children in the United States and Canada’s foster care systems. Under Ms. Soronen’s leadership, the Foundation has significantly increased its grant-making and awareness commitments, while developing signature initiatives that underscore and act on the urgency of the issue.