Several years ago, I worked with a foster/adoptive family who desired to become a permanent home for a child under the age of three. They preferred a little girl as they had a young son and wanted to adopt within birth order. Not long after their foster home license was approved, they accepted placement of a three-year-old girl. This little girl had witnessed very “adult” behaviors – sexual in nature – and had come from a lot of chaos.
As the family fostered her, they found her behaviors were extremely difficult to manage. She acted in ways that would be considered very inappropriate for a child of preschool age. Although they cared for her, it became clear to them that they were not a good match and they could not offer her what she needed. Because of this, they made the difficult decision to request her removal from their home.
A few months later, the agency I work for sent out a profile of a fifteen-year-old girl. The foster father called me and reported they were interested in learning more about her. I inquired to make sure they understood the girl to be fifteen years old and not fifteen months old. “We know,” he said. “There’s something about her.” Soon after, they started visiting with the girl and were officially selected as her pre-adoptive family.
This teenager had been in the system for several years. She was bright, was hoping to go to college and become a doctor, and desired to be adopted. During the waiting period before finalization (6 months of placement in adoptive home in our state), the foster father called me and said, “I may not have seen her in her first Easter dress or watched her say her first words, but I believe I will be the first father she’s ever had and there are many ‘firsts’ that I will get to experience with her.” Wow. My eyes filled up with tears and in that moment, I knew there was going to be one less waiting teenager in the foster care system.
The family I worked with absolutely treasure the teenager they adopted. They chose loving and raising, if only for a few years until legal adulthood, over their initial own desires. While birth order is important, it should be not the nail in the coffin when it comes to adopting older kids. Their son did better with having an older sister than he did with being the older brother.
Families interested in adopting older youth need to be willing to let go of the notion that all teenagers in the system are troubled, don’t want to be adopted, or have issues. If you are considering adoption of an older youth, consider your schedule and your flexibility. Take a look at your family dynamics. Is there enough space for a teenager to have his or her own room? (Note: not necessarily required but potentially ideal). Does your schedule allow for lots of extracurricular activities that often come with teenagers? Could you be patient and understanding of the drama that comes with teenagers? Remember, you were once a teen as well!
Could YOU adopt a teen? Absolutely. Just like the family I described above, it does take time and an open mind. You may have to lose your own expectations of what you think would be a perfect fit for your family and embrace that life is an adventure. Often, the best gifts are the ones we least expect.
Author’s note: Just as a follow-up, through some work of the case manager, a family member was found for the three-year-old girl and she was adopted.