• November 2010
  • Vol. 11, No. 9

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Adoption for Older Youth

Recognizing that older youth in foster care often refuse to consider adoption because they fear losing connections with their birth family, the Children's Bureau funded nine grantees in 2005 for projects that would promote adoption while maintaining birth family connections. The Adoption Opportunities grant "Improving Permanency Outcomes by Developing Services and Supports for Youth Who Wish to Retain Contact With Family Members" provided grantees with both funding and a mutual support group as they implemented and evaluated their projects over the subsequent 5 years.

You Gotta Believe!, based in New York City, used its grant to work with youth in foster care in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. County social workers referred teens who were resistant to adoption to the Long Island Opening Adoption's Door to Teens Project. Instead of accepting the teens' resistance, project staff used one-on-one counseling sessions with each teen to identify why the teen objected to the idea of adoption. In counseling, the teens were able to discuss their fears about losing connections with siblings, parents, and other important people in their lives, and they received assurance that adoption would not end those ties. Over the course of six to eight counseling sessions, the teens' reluctance was addressed, the benefits of open adoption were discussed, and staff were able to proceed to help the teens find families.

In addition to helping the teens accept and welcome the idea of adoption, the project had four other components:

  • Making foster parents of teens aware of the urgency of permanency so that they would either adopt the teens or help them find an adoptive family
  • Training all staff who work with teens in any capacity about the urgency of permanency
  • Training prospective adoptive parents about the importance of helping the teens maintain their ties to their birth families and other important people
  • Providing many opportunities for teens to connect with prospective families, for instance, having teens serve as training consultants, work in the agency office, attend events, and serve on panels

As part of the overall grant process, You Gotta Believe! and the other grantees participated in quarterly phone calls and annual meetings at which they shared their ideas, findings, and resources. According to Pat O'Brien, Executive Director of You Gotta Believe!, one of the ideas that arose again and again turned out to be particularly useful: Several of the programs recruited adults as mentors or weekend parents or just friends for the teens. These were adults who were willing to have a long-term relationship with a teen but were not willing or able to adopt. Hearing that idea, You Gotta Believe! staff decided to implement it and take it one step further. Adults are starting to be recruited and "deputized" to establish relationships with the teens and then go out and find permanent families for them. The adults will take teens to family reunions, escort them to meet and greets, and involve themselves in other events in teens’ lives where they might meet prospective permanent families. In this way, the project will enlarge its recruitment staff by using volunteers, and the teens will establish ongoing relationships with other adults who care about them and want to help them find their lifetime permanent families. 

You Gotta Believe! is wrapping up its Long Island project and expects the evaluation to show that approximately half of the teens referred to the project found families who gave the teens permanency while helping them stay connected with their birth families. Looking ahead, You Gotta Believe! is hoping to incorporate lessons learned from this grant into its future projects for youth. For instance, family-finding techniques and social media (such as Facebook) will be added to the repertoire of tools that staff will use on a regular basis to help older youth in foster care find permanent families. Capitalizing on the networks that teens already have will give teens a greater chance of finding the person or family who can be their "forever family."

For more information on You Gotta Believe!, visit the website:


For more information on the "Improving Permanency Outcomes by Developing Services and Supports for Youth Who Wish to Retain Contact With Family Members" grantees, visit the National Resource Center for Adoption website:

[Editor's note: This link is no longer available.]

Many thanks to Pat O'Brien, Executive Director of You Gotta Believe! for providing the information for this article.

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