Unadoptable is unacceptable: Adopting older youth in foster care

Often when families think about adoption, the first thought that comes to mind is of infants or younger children. Sometimes families are hesitant about adopting older youth due to the fear of the unknown. For some, the thought is "will it be difficult to foster a teenager?" or "Will a teenager adjust to living in a new home with new rules?" The reality is teenagers need loving forever homes too! Just like younger children, teenagers thrive emotionally and socially from the secure attachment offered by their caregivers. According to research completed on interpersonal neurobiology (2015), the type of attachment a child forms at an early age impacts their ability to form adult relationships. If a child does not form a secure attachment with their caregiver during the early stages of life, the child’s brain can still be nurtured during early adolescence to alter the way they form attachment bonds. Older youth in foster care often believe that the older they get, the less likely they will be adopted by a family. This mindset instills fear in the teenager that they will never find a family because they are too old. Eventually, they give up hope, and the lack of hope creates a lack of enthusiasm.

In Pennsylvania, there is a large number of youth aging out of the foster care system without the skills they need to thrive as adults. Nationally, among older youth, 32% age out of foster care without being reunited or connected with family. Foster care makes youth so dependent on their caseworkers and staff that when they get out on their own, they are lost because they are required to do everything for themselves without family or permanent connections that they can depend on when they need help. Teenagers who age out of the foster care system without a family must fill the void of not having a mom or dad to come home to or having someone to call at the end of the day. For the youth facing the world alone with no one to support their journey into adulthood is tough because the fact is everyone needs someone or a place to call home.

Siegel, D. J. (2015). Interpersonal neurobiology as a lens into the development of wellbeing and resilience. Children Australia, 40(2), 160-164.