When thinking about adoption, babies most often come to mind. But there are older kids who desperately need the love and stability of a family, too. In the U.S., about 45% of children who are in need of an adoptive home are 8 years old or older.
For children and youth in need of an adoptive family, finding a permanent home is invaluable. “Many of them have been waiting for years, and are longing to have a family to call their own,” says Erin K. Carter, director of adoption and recruitment for Children’s Bureau, Inc., which has office locations throughout central Indiana. “Belonging is a basic human need, and many of the waiting children have not consistently experienced what it feels like to fall asleep knowing they are loved, wanted, safe and secure.”
Older Kids Need Homes, Too
Some families shy away from adopting older youth because they want a younger child to experience “firsts” with. But parents who have adopted teens will tell you that there are still many firsts to experience with older children. “In fact, sharing new memories with a teen can be even more special, because they can appreciate moments in an entirely different way,” Carter says.
Nearly all of the children and youth in Indiana Adoption Program, a program for hard-to-place children who are in the custody of the state, are over the age of 8. And the majority of those kids are males between ages 11 and 16. “Many are part of sibling groups, so families who want and can provide for multiple children are especially needed,” Carter says. “They come from various ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. That’s why we try to recruit families from all walks of life.”
What’s Required of Prospective Families
Applicants must be committed, tenacious, persistent and patient. Prospective parents must complete background checks, 16 hours of training, and an interview/home study to help their social worker learn more about their ability to parent and provide a stable home. After completing these steps, families can become recommended to adopt, which allows them to view photos, read confidential child summaries, and inquire about children they might be interested in.
There are a lot of misconceptions about who can adopt from foster care, Carter adds. “Many people think that sexual orientation, relationship status or having a high income are factors that are considered, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important thing is being able to provide a loving, stable, permanent home for a child or sibling group.”
Adopting from foster care also requires a willingness to accept a child with a complex family history, learn new or different approaches to parenting, and know when to ask for support. Families interested in adopting older children and teens need to understand that they are making a commitment to the child for a lifetime, just as they would with a biological child.
“Although our goal is to find permanent homes for Indiana’s waiting children, we also want to be realistic and honest with families about the process of adopting from foster care — because we want to make sure the right family is matched with the right child,” Carter says. “Any adoption, of a child of any age, is going to bring with it challenges. It’s critical that prospective families have a strong support network that is prepared to assist them during the tough times, and celebrate with them in the joyful times — as there will be plenty of both!
Providing a Supportive Home
All of Indiana’s waiting children have come from “hard places,” and need parents who will support them in overcoming these challenges throughout their life, Carter explains. “Many have endured neglect or abuse, and all have experienced the trauma of having to leave their home,” Carter says.” But, all of Indiana’s waiting children also have this in common: they are children, with hopes and dreams, favorite foods and sports teams, unique talents and personalities. Though they may struggle to trust adults, they are loving and resilient and courageous. Their laughter can be contagious, and they can bring incredible joy to those around them!”
Parenting means being up for new adventures — and having a good sense of humor and a talent for keeping life in perspective can go a long way and help you celebrate the successes in an adoptive child’s life. “You’ll have to advocate for your child’s needs and be flexible enough to roll with unexpected changes, stresses, and challenges,” Carter says. “But children don’t need perfect parents — just one or two individuals willing to meet the unique challenges of parenting and willing to make a lifetime commitment to them.”
Finding Adoptive Families for Indiana’s Longest-waiting Youth
Organizations in Indiana and around the country are teaming up to find loving homes for older children. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national nonprofit public charity, is partnering with the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and The Villages of Indiana to expand the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, which funds efforts to serve youth at risk of aging out of foster care without a family. These youth include teenagers, children with special needs and siblings.
“Every child, no matter their age, deserves the love of a family,” says Shannon Schumacher, president and CEO of The Villages of Indiana, an organization that provides training and education for foster families in Indy. “We never want to see children waiting to feel that love and the stability a family provides.”
The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program will be expanded in Indiana over the next three years. Efforts include hiring more recruiters to find homes for older foster youth. Currently, of the youth served by the program, 89% are older than age 8, and 22% have been in foster care more than four years. To date, the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program has found adoptive homes for more than 10,000 children across the United States, including 160 youth in Indiana.