If you spend much time in the foster care community, you will hear the numbers. You might even know them by heart. Each year, about 22,000 youth age out of foster care without a family. Without the permanence and support that a family provides, these young people are left to make their way in the world mostly on their own. An alarming number (though not all) of youth that age out of care go on to experience homelessness, joblessness, early pregnancy, and incarceration. This is truly a tragedy, and a preventable one at that.
In 2014, 35,502 American children aged 10-17 were waiting for adoptive homes. For families to help them navigate the murky waters of adolescence and young adulthood. Many families are reluctant to consider adopting older child or teenager from foster care. Here are four common misconceptions:
Myth: Older children do not want to be adopted.
Reality: They are children.
Though their past experience may make it difficult for them to trust adults, this does not mean that they do not want a family. The vast majority of these children and youth express a desire for the permanence and belonging that family provides. Some of them go to extreme measures (like petitioning for a family on TV) to find their forever family. They are more than a statistic. They are individuals. And one of them might just be your child.
Myth: Older children cannot (or will not) attach.
Reality: They are children.
Children want to attach. Certainly the experiences that lead to their placement in foster care and perhaps some of their experience while in foster care have made attachment a challenge. That does not mean that it won’t happen. Many parents of older youth find that they attach well to their new families if given the support and time to help them do this successfully.
Myth: Older children will have extreme behavioral and mental health problems.
Reality: Guess what? They are children.
Each one of them has a story filled with obstacles and resilience. Some of them will need professional intervention to help them successfully navigate family, school, and community. Some of them will not. Every single one of these children deserves a family.
Myth: All they need is love.
Reality: You guessed it! They are children.
They need love and belonging and physical affection. They need fresh air and team sports. Some of them will need accommodations at school, some will need mental health services, and some will not. Often the therapy-related services that these children may require are provided by the state, free of charge, to adoptive families. Research the laws in your state. Government wants these children to be in families instead of state care, and it provides many resources to help make adoption of older foster youth successful.
Certainly adopting an older child or teenager is not for every family. But it is for some of us. Is it easy? Decidedly not. But parenting is never an easy job. Here’s the reality: no child should be considered unadoptable. And no child should age out of foster care without the support of a family (even if this does not include “official” adoption). All young people need the guidance, support, and love of caring adults as they transition into life beyond high school. And you can be one of those adults.
Have you adopted an older child or teenager from foster care? What has been your experience?