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Give teens in foster care a chance

Staff Writer
Jackson Newspapers
Jackson Newspapers

“I don’t care what my family looks like, I just want a family who will love me and let me stay,” said a teen in foster care waiting for adoption.

In the United States, there are over 122,000 children legally eligible for adoption. Approximately one in five of these children waiting to be adopted are teens, who are at an increased risk of aging out of the foster care system without establishing a permanent family connection. (AFCARS report)

Yet, when we think about adoption, we rarely think of older children. The false perception of teenagers in foster care is that they are often irredeemably troubled but these teens can be just as fun, resilient, and rewarding to families as younger children are. More importantly, they can fully benefit from the emotional and financial stability a family offers, and teens are the most in need of loving homes currently due to the risk of aging out.

Karissa Golden has spent 13 years as an adoption recruiter with Mission West Virginia, helping to find families for children waiting in the foster care system. Adoption recruiters work with smaller caseloads, ensuring that they can provide these children with the attention, resources, and support they need and find the adoptive families they deserve. Golden’s experience working directly with children of ages has afforded her a special understanding of behaviors of teenagers in the foster care system.

“I think there is a common misconception that all teenagers in the system are distant and won’t engage with anyone. Over the years through my work, I’ve found that many teens are shy when I first meet them but as time goes on, the teens slowly let their guard down as they realize you’re going to stick around,” Golden said.

It is important to remember and understand why teenagers in care tend to put a guard up or seem distant. Due to the trauma teens may have encountered throughout their lifetime, they may experience feelings of rejection from going through a failed placement and/or just feeling like they are a bother in the system. Naturally, a lot of the teens tend to pull back before letting their guard down or they won’t show that they care because it will display how vulnerable they feel.

“Once you get underneath that hard exterior, all teens truly want the same thing... a family and a chance to prove themselves,” Golden added. “Teens are just afraid to be let down again and fear that no one will give them that chance to find a family.”

So, what are the teenagers in foster care in West Virginia really like? They make people laugh by telling jokes, they are passionate about things important to them, and they enjoy still being kids. The boys tend to enjoy video games, board games, reading books, and spending time outside playing basketball. The girls like to get their hair and nails done, enjoy playing with make-up, snuggle up with fuzzy blankets, journal, and more. Golden visits the kids on her caseload monthly and brings special treats.

“I am a big treat and snack person to show them I care through little things. During visits, I talk and support them through hard things and then we spend a lot of time laughing over silly stuff. My favorite thing to see when I visit a kid is when I can tell they are just comfortable with me and we can talk about things openly,” she said.

It’s no secret that teenagers like their independence, but everyone still needs a family. Teens in foster care need someone responsible who can teach them how to drive or someone they could call when they need help, so they don’t feel alone. It’s very hard on children who have grown up in a system where they’ve had to act older than they are to handle the trauma that they have encountered. If teens age out of the system without the chance to find their forever family, they experience a lot of angst about how they will handle navigating their future alone.

Most of us have the luxury of a gradual transition to adulthood. However, teens aging out of care are left responsible for making their own decisions on housing, health care, and major life decisions with no guidance from a loved one. It’s hard to imagine having no one invested in your future or having nowhere to go for the holidays, however, there are hundreds of foster youth who experience this daily.

“Sadly, there are more that I would like to admit that I have known who have aged out,” Golden painfully recalls. “They will still call me years later after aging out, and I think that’s because I was someone that showed I cared for them.”

Every year, more than 20,000 teenagers age out of the foster care system and are at an increased risk for homelessness, unemployment, unstable relationships, and more.

Golden urges families who are considering adopting a teenager to be flexible and to not let fear or misconception scare you away. Teens want you to give them a chance! The most important family dynamic to teens is being patient with them and showing that you truly care. There is no age limit on love. Finding and getting more older children into permanent homes can dramatically change their lives and greatly improve the odds of success.

In the words of a teen in foster care, “Give me a chance! Don’t count me out. Don’t take me putting up a guard for not caring. Realize that sometimes it’s hard to trust after trauma. I just want a family who will love me and let me stay.”

November is National Adoption Month. Be the one to answer the call and adopt a waiting teen in care. If you are in West Virginia and would like to learn more and receive information about foster care and/or adoption, contact Mission West Virginia at 304-512-0555, email fosteradopt@missionwv.org or visit missionwv.org.