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November 2004Vol. 5, No. 9Keys to Successful Adolescent Adoptions

Characteristics of successful adolescent adoptions, factors influencing the adoption decision, and testable models for adolescent adoption were the subject of a research project by the Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of South Carolina's College of Social Work. Funded by a grant from the Children's Bureau, researchers set out to identify the factors that produce positive outcomes for adolescent adoptions.

A qualitative approach to data collection and analysis was used that included interviewing 58 adoptive parents and 37 of their children who had been adopted when 12 to 18 years old and whose adoptions had never dissolved. The children were also asked to complete an instrument designed to measure life satisfaction.

When asked about keys to success in their adoptions, parents and adolescents cited a variety of factors:

  • Commitment
  • Realistic expectations
  • Support from professionals, family, and friends
  • Personality characteristics, including flexibility, good communication skills, and a sense of humor
  • Compatibility
  • Positive attitude

Based on the interviews and life satisfaction instrument, a number of recommendations were proposed for agencies to promote the successful adoption of adolescents:

  • Offer opportunities for adults in the community to get to know adolescents in foster care. Research showed that many of the adults had never considered adoption until they met a particular teen. By creating opportunities for adults to become acquainted with teenagers in need of homes (through such programs as Big Brothers/Big Sisters), the pool of possible adoptive families is expanded.
  • Promote coordination among public and private agencies so that parents do not have to contact many different places to find information. A number of parents cited the frustration of having to contact multiple agencies before finding one that fit their needs, and many were discouraged early in the process.
  • Allow adults and teens enough visitation before moving teens into the home. Adolescents and adults needed to be allowed time to get to know each other before having to make the adjustment to living together.
  • Employ caseworkers who specialize in adolescent adoptions and have positive attitudes about teenagers. In this study, several of the adolescents were not considered for adoption until their cases were turned over to agencies that specialized in placing older children.
  • Prepare adolescents for adoption through steps that include explaining their legal status, offering adoption as an option, explaining the adoption process, and providing support.
  • Provide postadoption support services, and make sure that families know about the services and how to access them. A number of parents in this study called on their agencies for counseling or other support before and after the adoption was finalized.

Information on this study, "Field-Initiated Research on Successful Adolescent Adoptions," can be accessed on the Center for Child and Family Studies' website at (PDF - 1,065 KB).

Related Item

"Permanency for Adolescents" in the October 2004 issue of Children's Bureau Express highlights some programs that offer permanency options for adolescents.