Youth ages 8 and older remain in foster care longer, are adopted less often, and “emancipate” from care far more often than infants and children ages 1 – 7. Older youth are often stereotyped as damaged goods, unadoptable, and behaviorally disordered.
Adults who are considering adoption of an older youth should be familiar with the myths that accompany the adoption of older youth. Here are the most prominent:
Myth #1: All Older Youth Do Not Want to be Adopted. Most young people in substitute care want to live in safe, permanent, loving homes with one or more responsible adults. They want families like they see on the internet, movies, or TV. The want to speak freely about their home lives with friends as school. Youth who have a clear understanding about what their successful adoption would look like almost always eagerly embrace the adoption process.
Myth #2: All Older Youth have Attachment Disorders that Prevent Them from Attaching to New Parents. Some older youth do have struggles with attachment to new adults in their lives and this is typically because of earlier trust issues with previous adults. But all attachment is based on a process of trust-building over time. Prospective parents should make trust-building a centerpiece of their new relationship with their adopted youth.
Myth #3: All Older Youth have serious mental, medical, and behavioral problems. Some youth in foster care have had experiences no one should have growing up. Some have been traumatized; some are on medication and some act out. But the bottom line is that young people are usually as resilient as their circumstances permit. They may need professional and/or medical help along the way. But most important they need the love and support of a family.
Myth #4: All Older Youth are Damaged. This simply isn’t true. Some older youth have encountered neglect or abuse and less inclined to quickly trust a new adult. However, most of them are resilient, strong, and ready to evaluate prospective new parents.
Myth #5: All Older Foster Youth “Act Out” more than Non-Foster Youth. Again, this just isn’t true. But make no mistake, adolescents are adolescents. Their hormones change, their brain cells grow, their social attractions fluctuate. They are teens! So they are going to “Act out.” But not more than most adolescents in general.