The theme for this year’s National Adoption Month is “Teens Need Families, No Matter What.”

When I first heard about this, I felt pleased but also burdened.  It saddens me that there is a belief out there that teenagers don’t want to be adopted, don’t need to be adopted, or are not fit for adoption. Of all of the damaging misunderstandings regarding children in foster care who need adoption, the thoughts about teenagers carry a heavy weight.

Teens need families, no matter what. It does not matter what their histories are or if they are thirteen or eighteen. It does not matter if they have lived in multiple foster homes or have barely been able to make it in more structured settings. It does not matter if they have lived on the streets of the inner city or the dirt roads of the country. What is vital to their success is the sense of being wanted, needed, and belonging.

In most states, teenagers have the right to choose whether or not to be adopted. In my professional experience with working with older youth in the system, I can count on one hand (maybe) the number of teenagers who stated they did not want to be adopted. Even the ones who were unsure about adoption were keenly aware of the need for belonging in a family. The sad truth is that their adoption profiles were sent out multiple times without a single response because of their ages.

According to AdoptUSKids, approximately 20,000 older youth age out of the foster care system per year. While some may have a connection to a family or mentors, many do not have the legal permanency that adoption brings. The risk factors for these youths are very high – drug usage, pregnancy, homelessness, lack of education, and unemployment. Although it might be easy to flippantly say that their choices lead to these issues, one cannot and should not overlook the truth that being connected to positive, healthy adults who teach, discipline, and model daily life skills is critical.

Teenagers need a family to come home to.  They need a home where they feel secure. They need to know that they are loved without condition despite their flaws or histories. They deserve the opportunities that families can give – opportunities for education, travel, and special interests. They need to hear a loving voice on the other line when their hearts get broken. They need parents who will teach them to drive, manage bank accounts, fill out job or college applications, and celebrate each birthday. More than this, they yearn to know their lives mean something and are filled with purpose.

If you have considered adopting an older youth, do not wait. Ask questions and learn as much as you can. Get started on the process. There are many wonderful teenagers waiting for families. You can be the difference between a teenager aging out of foster care without roots or one that enters into adulthood with wings.

Teens need families, no matter what. Why? Because they matter and because families matter.