Vol. 17, No. 1 • November 2012

A reader asks . . .
What should I know about adopting teens?

Have you considered adopting a teenager? Many families are hesitant to adopt a child over age 12 from foster care. Some of the typical comments we hear are:

"I'm afraid I won't be able to bond with a teenager."

"I won't be able to make a difference in their life, because they'll only be with me for a few years."

"Teens are already set in their ways. I want to be able to teach my child my values."

"Teenagers are expensive!"

While adopting a teenager may not be right for everyone, there are many great reasons to adopt a teen.

Teens Need Families
Teens need parenting just as much as younger children. They need someone to help them navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of middle and high school, teach them to drive, and provide direction regarding life skills, such as maintaining positive relationships and budgeting. They need guidance as they decide what type of career to pursue, and help selecting a college, technical school, or job. Teens need a parent to cheer on their successes and help them learn from their mistakes. Adopting a teen gives a person an opportunity to be a mentor and a positive role model. Because adoption is a life-long commitment, the role of an adoptive parent doesn't stop once a child becomes an adult.

Adoption Has a Lifelong Impact
What would it feel like to go to college without anyone to help you move into your dorm or apartment, or a family to visit on the weekends and holidays? What about getting married without a parent there to sit on the front row or walk you down the aisle? What about having a baby without a doting grandparent who can be there for you during the birth process and those first weeks of parenthood? How about buying your first car or house?

Having a parent there in those special moments is wonderful, but parents are also important during the more "routine" days of our lives. Having a mom or dad to call for advice or encouragement, or just to say "hi," is something most of us take for granted. Yet, many teenagers age out of foster care without this special relationship.

While all children need a forever family, teenagers are much less likely to be adopted than younger children. As a result, teens age out of foster care every day. Many who age out become homeless or incarcerated, or have problems with drugs or alcohol. Young adults with supportive families experience better outcomes.

If your goal is to make a difference in the life of a child, adopting a teenager just might be the option for you.

There are many opportunities for bonding and connecting with a teen. Teenagers enjoy a wide variety of activities with their families, such as concerts, movies, reading and talking about books, hiking, or cooking a meal together. Teens blossom when we take time to share experiences with them.

Help Paying for College
Many potential adoptive parents wonder how they'll send their adoptive child to college. To help them, North Carolina offers NC Reach. Through this program children in foster care who are adopted after the age of 12 are eligible to receive services for their entire college career. They receive financial, academic and personal support. They can attend any North Carolina public community college or university at no cost to them or their family. For more information about NC Reach, please visit http://www.ncreach.org/ABOUT-NC-REACH.50.0.html.

An Adoptive Mom's Perspective
Tracy Duncan, who adopted a teenager (now a young adult), speaks from experience when she says, "Many teens in the foster care system have had numerous disruptions and rejections in their lives. They may make it very challenging to support them while they ‘test the waters' of your commitment to them. However, they all need that port in the storm, someone they can turn to even as they venture out (as all young adults do) to find their own path. Adopting a teenager gives them that place to go to for advice, reassurance, and acceptance. If you can make a commitment to a teenager, you WILL change his or her future--and that helps all of us."

There may be challenges along the way, but adopting a teenager can be a very rewarding experience for both the teenager and their adoptive family. There are many teens here in North Carolina waiting for someone to give them a chance.

Won't you consider opening your home and your heart to a teenager? Be a hero to a child in need!

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina, send it to us using the contact information found here.

NC Teens Aging Out of Foster Care

In 2010-11, 554 teens aged out of foster care in our state. About them we know:

  • Almost half (40%) spent more than 4 years in care
  • More than half (53%) were female
  • A disproportionate number were African American. 48% of those aging out were black, though African Americans made up just 37% of the foster care population.

Source: Duncan, et al., 2012

To view references cited in this and other articles in this issue, click here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~