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Why Adopt a Teenager? How about: Why not?

When Jason and I started out foster parenting we set our parameters that we would accept a placement of one child or two siblings up to age 5. We were first time parents and we were/are young (26 & 28 at the time). Most of our friends had kids under 5 years old. We felt more competent parenting a young child. All those factors led us to set our parameters the way we did.

Over a year later, our hearts have changed a lot. We’ve gained confidence and grown passionate about the kids in the foster care system. When we start back up again, we’re considering opening our home to a child of ANY age. That means we could be placed with a newborn or an 18 year old. As always, we’ll prayerfully consider and discuss each potential placement and decide what will work for our family. This time around we have a 1-year-old daughter to think about, not just two adults.

(Sidenote: Case workers please take note. First time foster parents are scared and may think they only want to accept young children. Don’t turn them away! A year or two later, they might be the ones who are willing to accept any placement.)

Our biggest concerns about parenting, fostering and potentially adopting a teenager are kind of silly. Mine is: what will people think? A 30 year old and 28 year old with a teenage kid? Jason’s is: how much more will it cost to parent an older child? Will we have enough for college? Jason’s response to my fear: does it matter what people think? My response to Jason’s fear: there are grants available for kids from state care to attend college and I’m sure that God will provide financially for our family, just as He always has.

Ever since I learned about the waiting kids in the US, most of whom are over 8 years old, my heart has been breaking for them. Most people consider them to be too old. Not adoptable. But yet, they wait desperately for parents. I’ve had in the back of my mind, “someday, when we’re older, maybe we can adopt an older child.” The past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the teenagers that are approaching adulthood. For a kid in state care, adulthood means “aging out:” getting dropped into the real world without any parental support.

I entered adulthood younger than many of my peers. I got married just before my 19th birthday. At 19, I was completely moved out of my parents’ house. Jason and I were renting an apartment, going to college full time, working part time jobs, sharing an old used car to get around, making a budget, paying our own bills. I was 19 and a full-fledged independent adult. Except for one thing… we had a safety net of wonderful parents supporting us. We went boldly, confidently, excitedly out on our own into adulthood—because we knew our parents had our backs. They had taught us how to make a budget and pay bills, helped us get our first car, they assisted us financially through college, and most importantly—we knew without it ever being stated that they would help us when we got in trouble.

And we did run into trouble. Every young adult does. I still vividly remember the morning I went out to the car to go to work and discovered someone had smashed our Ford Focus into the curb during the night. A hit and run. I called our insurance agent to find out what our deducible was and then looked at the checkbook. I called my mom and cried. We were living on such a tight budget that we didn’t have $500 for the deductible. My mom was there to catch me when I fell. Just as my parents always have been. I cannot imagine entering adulthood without parental support.

(Me and Jason on our honeymoon at 19 and 20)

Which brings me back to the “unadoptable” older kids in the US foster care system, waiting, waiting, waiting to be adopted. They know they’re going to age out at 18 and be “free” but most know that’s not really what they want. They want parents and families into adulthood. They want someone to help them decide on a future career. They want somewhere to go home to for Thanksgiving and Christmas break from college. They want someone to walk them down the aisle when they get married. They want someone to celebrate the birth of their first child with them, someone they can call in the middle of the night when the baby won’t stop crying and they’re exhausted. Someone who misses them and calls to check up on them.

I really don’t know what’s in store for our family down the road. We have big dreams but loose plans. I don’t bother making specific long-term plans anymore. God’s plans alway turn out to be different than mine, and so much better. But I wanted to share my heart, because there are thousands and thousands of older kids waiting to be adopted and I can’t fix it on my own.

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8 Responses to Why Adopt a Teenager? How about: Why not?

  1. Annie says:

    I love Omar.

    and Lamont

  2. farrahfrye says:

    I cannot tell you how much this post excites me! I have been following your blog for a while now, and recently began blogging again myself- you see, we got a foster placement of a sibling group of four (17,15,13,11) and I took the first year of their placement off from blogging. I began again, because like you, I am passionate about older children in care and want to share our story.

    We plan to adopt our oldest daughter after she emancipated at 18. We know that many people don’t understand why we would want to do an adult adoption, but know how much permanent and a family will mean to our girl.

    As to your husband concern: a law was actually passed so that the adoption of older children isn’t discouraged. Because of this colleges do not look at your income when any older children you adopt apply for financial aid. Also, I have done beginning research for our daughter and there are tons of scholarships and grants for children who have been in care.

    • mahlbrandt says:

      Thanks for your comment, Farrah! I’d love to hear more about your family. (I’ll check out your blog.) And I love to hear that you’re planning to adopt your daughter at 18. I may end up coming back to you as a resource if/when we need more information about college financial aid.

  3. misseves says:

    Older children can be daunting. I started fostering a 12yr old four years ago. She’s still with me. And I’ve just taken in an 11yr old. Both have some special needs. But are a joy! I work for a private agency specializing in children who are going to grow up in foster care (can’t be adopted because they still have contact with birth family neither can they be returned to their family). Although I haven’t officially adopted them, I have made a life long commitment.
    The province I live in recently began offering monthly subsidies for children over 10yr of age or sibling groups of any age who are adopted from foster care. The $950/mth per child will continue until they reach 18. It’s an amazing gift to adoptive parents, who often struggle with unforeseen costs of therapy and medication.
    While you’re waiting to get into your new house, I’d recommend reading, Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory C. Keck & Regina M. Kupecky. Although it focuses on adoption, the insight is applicable to foster children as well. I wish I’d read it before starting to foster.

  4. Jennifer says:

    My husband is a social worker who specializes in working with troubled teenage boys. We have never had to take one in but because of what he does we know that if/when we foster it would be an adolescent. They want what every child wants: structure, love, and encouragement.

  5. Amber says:

    Wow. Thanks for your post. I have been reading here for a while, and my husband and I are in the process of getting licensed to foster. We have our first homestudy visit next Tuesday, and we have been going round and round about what age of kids we feel comfortable parenting. We are young (24 and 25) and we don’t have any kids yet, so I think both of us are a little nervous at jumping in with both feet, but we are definitely excited. We are currently looking at 6-12 year olds, but we have been talking about taking teens too. I have been a little more hesitant than my husband, but this post (and reading the other comments) has really been encouraging. Thanks!

    • mahlbrandt says:

      Amber, thanks for your comment. I’m excited for you and your husband – foster parenting is an amazing, challenging, life changing experience. Don’t feel any pressure to accept a placement beyond what you’re comfortable with or suited for, especially the first time. I’ve seen that go badly for other families. You can always change your parameters later and if your county is like ours, even if you don’t change your parameters they’ll still call you for older kids when they’re in a bind.

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