The notion of adopting a child can come with the illusion of a perfect newborn waiting to be shaped and molded into a model human being. However, the reality is many of the children waiting to be adopted from foster care are teenagers. Across the country, thousands of older kids in care are aging out every year. According to an article written by the National Conference of State Legislatures, youth who age out of foster care often have little to no support and are at a higher risk of ending up on the streets. Thankfully, there are national initiatives that support adopting older children and are working to get older kids in care forever homes.
Adopting Older Children: Why It Matters
In 2011, and according to A Family For Every Child, there was an estimate of 104,000 children in foster care who were available for adoption. Of that number, about 43,000 were in care for five years or longer.
Nearly 30,000 older children age out every year without having a forever family.
But why is it so hard for older children in care to find forever homes? Some might argue it’s fear of the unknown. With the dread of emotional and psychological issues (e.g. Reactive Attachment Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder), many resource parents fear for the well-being and safety of their families if they adopt an older child.
This fear of prevalent psychological and behavioral issues may lead foster parents to believe that older foster kids are beyond saving. However, this is not the case. According to AdoptUsKids, older youth who are adopted have a greater chance of finishing high school, going to college and having greater emotional stability than their peers who age out of foster care.
While it is true that older children in care face great challenges, it doesn’t change the fact that they need forever homes – maybe even more so than younger kids in care.
There is hope.
Adopting Older Children: Initiatives at Work
The National Adoption Center, based in Philadelphia, features an initiative called “Wednesday’s Child.” This program introduces older youth who are waiting to be adopted to prospective adoptive parents through the mediums of television, radio and newspapers. There are more than 30 cities who have similar programs, and they have proven to be highly effective.
In Philadelphia alone, more than 60% of the children who were featured have been adopted.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is helping to bring awareness and assistance by providing resources and education to those who are interested in learning more about adopting older youth.
In New Jersey, there are programs that pair prospective adopted youth with adoptive families. Earlier this year, an “Art Match” event was held at the Art Center of Northern New Jersey in conjunction with the National Adoption Center. The event allowed families to meet with older youth in care in a creative way and gave the opportunity for future relationships to develop.
Foster and Adoptive Family Services has training for licensed resource parents in New Jersey to help them cope with the psychological and emotional issues youth in care face. Courses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: No War Needed discuss causes and effective treatment options available for foster kids.
AdoptUsKids also has a plethora of information available to aid families who are willing to open their hearts and homes to older youth.