So far this month, this month I have dedicated to the subject of adoption, I have written primarily about special needs adoption. I know many families are reluctant to consider the adoption of an older child, and specifically teenagers. That’s why there are so many teenagers that wait, and so many that eventually ‘age out’ of the foster care system.
There was a wonderful article in our local newspaper a while back that addressed that very point. The article was tough to read. There were statistics like:
- Once children in foster care reach age 9, they are less likely to be adopted. Research shows that many of them will face significant obstacles in the future, including homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, depression, substance abuse, and the lack of educational attainment. These outcomes impact all of society, which bears the costs at the local, state, and national level.
- While their circumstances and backgrounds vary, the demographics of foster care children awaiting adoption have been changing. As of September, 27.8 percent of the children in foster care were between the ages of 16 and 18. Another 16.8 percent were between the ages of 13 and15. Forty percent are African-American, and more than half are male.
- Every day that a waiting child remains in foster care, his or her chances of being adopted grow dimmer.
These are the facts that break my heart. I imagine a young man, say 17 years old, who has been working really hard to improve himself. He has the support of a group home and probably several organizations to help him along that path to improvement. But he knows his time is running out. Where will he go on his 18th birthday? Will he have to call the streets his home? Who will help keep him safe?
And my mother’s heart has even more questions. Who will tell him Happy Birthday? Who will ask him what he wants for Christmas? How can he look forward to holidays when in his life, holidays are just the same as all the other days?
Parenting a teenager is not for the weak of heart. But parenting a teenager from the foster care system can make your heart grow stronger. Often I hear parents say, “But if I adopt a teenager, I will have missed all the ‘firsts’ in their life – first steps, first words, first day of school.” Check back with me tomorrow and we will talk about ‘firsts’, and how you can still celebrate them with your adopted teenager.
(The young man pictured above is 17 years old and is available for adoption. If you are interested in finding out more about him (his name is Gidd), contact your local social service agency.)