Adoptive teenagers seek lifelong bonds - Catholic Courier

Adoptive teenagers seek lifelong bonds

ROCHESTER — Dominick, a 14-year-old African-American boy, holds a basketball and flashes an engaging grin. He is described as a sports enthusiast with a good sense of humor, hoping to find parents and older siblings who share his passion for athletics.

His most crucial priority is revealed in the last sentence of his profile: “Dominick is just looking for a family who cares about him and who he can care about as well.”

Dominick is one of 31 young people — including several teenagers — awaiting adoption on the Hillside Children’s Center online “photo album” at www.hillside.com/Services/adoption.htm.

Thinking primarily of adoption for infants and younger children, many people might be surprised to learn that teens are waiting for adoption while living in foster care or other special programs. Teens currently constitute 30 to 40 percent of the nearly 1,000 children in foster care within Monroe County alone, according to Kim McConnell, caseworker supervisor with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services/Foster Care Homefinding Unit.

Not realizing that teens need adoptive homes “is a common misconception,” noted Lisa Maynard, executive director of Hillside’s Adoption Resource Network. “Not a lot of people, when they think ‘I want to build a family,’ are thinking teenagers right off the bat.”

Yet Maynard observed that “we all need permanent connections” — which is the key difference between adoptive and foster placements.

“(Adoption) is family. Kids in foster care who want to be adopted are thinking, ‘I’m going into the Army; when I come home, who am I going to celebrate Christmas with?'” she said.

Maynard said that without the foundation of family life, teens may not have anybody to care for them when they reach adulthood and are released from foster care or other services. Absent of such attachments, the possibility then increases for homelessness, crime and other negative lifestyles.

But Maynard cautioned that an adoptive parent’s commitment must be absolute, since the child has been through so much upheaval already. She cited a 2001 article by Pat O’Brien, executive director of You Gotta Believe: The Older Child Adoption & Permanency Movement, Inc., a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to finding permanent homes for teen and pre-teen children in foster care.

“Teenagers need first and foremost at least one adult who will unconditionally commit to and claim the teen as their own. Anything less is an artificial relationship. Teenagers need unconditional commitment before anything else constructive can happen,” O’Brien wrote in an article called “Unconditional Commitment,” which can be found on his group’s Web site at www.yougottabelieve.org/articles.htm.

Maynard said adults considering adoption of teens must keep open minds while offering steady love and support. “Our job is to keep putting (support) out there, whether or not we’re getting anything back,” she said, noting that adoptive teens “have complex issues, a lot of scars” such as sexual and physical abuse, brain damage and emotional trauma.

She acknowledged that an adoptive teen’s often turbulent background adds to the natural challenges of the teenage years. “It’s tough when you’re the parent of a teen, no matter how they come into your home,” she said. In addition, adoption requires the development of parent-child attachments, at the same time that teens need to be encouraged toward the separation and independence required for adulthood. “It’s a real struggle,” she said.

Yet she emphasized that the bond of adoption is permanent, even if the adoptive child only lives at home for a couple of years. “It’s not like at (age) 18 everybody’s done.”

Adoption can even extend to children who are institutionalized. “There are parents out there who are willing to do the unconventional. Every child is adoptable,” Maynard stated. “There really is a family for every child out there.”

Rewards are plentiful for adults willing to adopt teens, such as seeing them establish careers, have children of their own and return the love they received.

“They have so much to offer,” Maynard said, observing that many teens’ successes can be tied to the simple fact that somebody cared: “Absolutely. It’s amazing to see how far they can go.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hillside Children’s Center, in conjunction with other local agencies, will sponsor a gathering Aug. 24 during which prospective parents can meet children awaiting adoption. For details, contact Lisa Maynard at 585/256-7967 or write to: lmaynard@hillside.com.

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