If you’ve been working with teens or older youth, you’ve probably encountered this situation: A young person on your caseload has given up on having a family or says that they do not want to be adopted. How can you support them and encourage them to consider what being adopted could mean for them?
One key practice is to engage older youth in their own permanency planning and help them explore their questions and concerns about being adopted. Youth may need help thinking about what permanency means—both in general and for them specifically. Help them by talking through their fears of rejection, their questions about what adoption would mean for their existing relationships with their birth family and others, and what their options are.
We offer these 10 tips and conversation starters to help in your work to achieve permanency for teens and older youth.
Begin preparing for permanency early (not just in the final few months before a youth will age out of foster care) through ongoing discussions about their future and by helping them cultivate supportive relationships.
Use words they will understand, not child welfare jargon that might be confusing.
Explain the meaning of permanency and adoption. For example, permanency is a family relationship and bond that is intended to last a lifetime. Adoption makes the family permanence legal.
Assess and be aware of your own thoughts and attitudes—including possible biases or resistance—about adoption for older youth. If you have doubts about the possibility of finding families for older youth, you may reflect that doubt in your work.
Remember that the word “adoption” may have negative or confusing connotations, especially if they think it means replacing their biological family or other important relationships. Understanding their perspective and experiences is key to helping them talk through their own concerns and questions.
Support them in understanding their options as you talk about adoption; help them build skills of self-determination and using their voice. Ask them what questions and concerns they may have about adoption and work with them to find answers and address their concerns. Encourage them to explore what they want for their future and talk with them about ways that being part of a permanent family can help them achieve their goals.
Consider engaging a youth’s independent living worker as a messenger and partner for helping youth explore the possibility of adoption and the importance of permanency.
Involve youth in their own recruitment, such as being part of writing their profile for photolistings, arranging for a professional-quality photo or video to accompany their profile, identifying characteristics of potential parents for them, and sharing their ideas about recruitment messages.
Involve older youth–whether they have been adopted or not–in mentoring their peers. Read stories and watch videos together highlighting foster care alumni and discuss the stories with the youth. Our stories of teens who have been adopted on our blog and YouTube channel are two great sources.
Consider all options. Has everyone involved with the youth done everything they can to support the youth’s permanency options through reunification or guardianship with relatives? As you discuss adoption, the youth may have questions about whether there were other options for having a permanent family.
Some specific questions you can use in conversations with youth about permanency include:
For additional tips and strategies, see our tip sheet developed with Child Welfare Information Gateway, Talking with Older Youth About Adoptionas well as Child Welfare Information Gateway’s publication developed in partnership with AdoptUSKids, Belonging Matters: Helping Youth Explore Permanency, and other resources highlighted on the National Adoption Month website.