As an adoption professional for nearly 30 years, I have had the privilege of representing clients in over 2,500 adoptions. While the majority of those have been newborn adoptions, the ones that have really grabbed my heart are the adoptions older children and adults. My oldest adoptee was almost 60. There is no age limit in Florida on who can be adopted –. the desire to be a part of a family does not extinguish with age. The tears that are shed at these final hearings are often far sweeter knowing these families are created by mutual choice, as older adoptees must consent to their adoption.
Approximately 23,000 kids age out of foster care each year without being reunited with family or being placed in a permanent home. Without family or a dependable adult to rely on for guidance and assistance, their chances of success diminish. Many will not complete high school. Few will complete college. They are at higher risks for homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, depression, and suicide. They are victimized physically and susceptible to being trafficked. Many fall prey to financial scams, usury interest rates, and are subject to identity theft before they reach the age of 18. Many embark into adulthood with no one upon whom they can rely. Most still yearn for a family and a place to call home. There are over 71,000 waiting to be adopted.
For almost ten years my family and I have opened our hearts and our home to a number of these young people. Some have stayed but a few weeks or months, some for many years. Our walls are full of photos of our ‘extended family’. One day a very special young man named Derrick came into our lives. After many months, he asked us if we would adopt him. “You are already a part of our family” I said. “But I want to make it legal. Permanent.” he replied. So, we did.
On our adoption day we decorated our car with “It’s a boy” stickers and drove to the courthouse, joined by fifty or more of our family and friends. When the Judge asked him why he wanted to be adopted, he responded, “You never know what a difference you make in someone else’s life. I am thankful that my Mom touched mine and took her time to invest in me. As a result of her love and the love of my family, the pain of my years in foster care is beginning to be erased. I want to be an advocate like her to let others know that someone believes in them, and that they are defined not by their past but only by their dreams of the kind of person they want to be.”
At 11:30 AM, on a beautiful sunny Friday morning, the Judge legally pronounced us a family. Our tears of joy were shared by everyone present. We celebrated for three days so that those who could not make it to the hearing could still be a part of our official becoming a family.
Over the years our relationship has only deepened. My son has stretched us as much as we have him. In becoming a part of our family he has seen first-hand that being committed to one another does not mean that families are perfect, or that its members always agree with each other. Putting down permanent roots has given him the courage to spread his wings. When he first moved out of state, homesick and overwhelmed, he called and said, “I can’t do this, I want to come home.” After reassuring him that he could always come home, we talked through the problems and by morning he was resolved to stay and conquer his fears. It has been a privilege to watch him grow into the confident man he has become. He is an outspoken advocate and voice for those in care, fighting to increase their chances of becoming successful adults. In 2022 he will graduate from law school.
When asked “What can I do to increase the success for kids aging out of foster care?” we would encourage you to open your heart and your home to become a mentor or family for just one more, especially a teen or young adult. My son encourages everyone to adopt teens and young adults, whether in care or those who have aged out, saying, “When you adopt an older child at least you know what you are getting.” But that is one of those areas where we may not agree. We never knew on the day he chose us just how much more joy he would bring into our lives. We are so thankful he’s a part of our family and in following his advice, we adopted one more!
— Susan Stockham is a Fellow of AAAA and practices adoption and ART law in Florida