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Our team at The Downs Group LLC has worked with countless older youth, parents, and professionals over the years. We’ve witnessed first hand some of the challenges in the adoption of older foster youth. We’d like to offer some guidance for adults who are considering adopting older youth (usually defined as age 8 or older) from care.

Agency Choice. Locate an agency that has a great deal of experience and success placing older youth who are eligible for adoption. Seek references on the agency and, if possible, speak with parents who adopted youth from this agency.

Two-Way, Honest Communication. Some prospective parents think that adoption is something like an inquisition where you are expected to be on your best behavior and answer every question. While good behavior and truthfully answering all questions are essential, your questions – and the answer to them  – are just as important. The adoption process will raise many sensitive questions about your financial stability, employment, medical and mental health history, criminal involvement, and family life. You should be prepared with many of your own very direct questions about the agency and about the prospective youth you may adopt.

Patience.  Rarely does the adoption of an older youth go swiftly. More often there are bumps along the way. The youth may have encountered a poor match in the past, or may have reservations about you. The more patience you can muster for this process, the better.

Flexibility.  Most parents have a preconceived notion of the characteristics they want in a youth they adopt. Frankly, this is no different from parents who have biological offspring. In nearly all cases young people (biological and adopted) do not meet the expectations for them. Adults who are flexible about the youth’s characteristics usually have the best adjustments after the adoption is complete.

Perseverance.  The adoption process is a marathon, not a sprint. The process can last many months. Know that before starting.

Solid Home Life. Whether you are single, coupled, with or without children already in the home, it is essential to take a very close look at your home life before beginning an adoption process. Is your relationship solid? If there are other children at home, are they fully involved in the decision-making and process of an adoption?

Community Supports. Most successful adoptions of older youth involve parents who have strong community supports in place. Some of these can include a community center, a spiritual home, or a strong extended family. Community supports are especially important for LGBTQ-involved adoptions in which either the parent(s) and/or the youth are LGBTQ-identified.

Major Life Events. Most agencies and social workers will dissuade you from the adoption process if you have encountered a major life change during the previous month.  These changes can range from positive (marriage, major job change, started a new business, moved into a new neighborhood) to negative (death of someone close, significant illness, lost employment, unexpected financial pressures). If you’ve had a significant life event in the previous 12 months, it’s usually best to wait a while before beginning the adoption process.

Self Care. As with any major change in life, it’s essential to take very good care of oneself during the adoption process. Rest, exercise, social/personal connections, and nutrition are all very important parts to supporting you as you move through the adoption process.

 

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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.