“Teens need families as much as any other age group and they have to wait the longest in order to be adopted,” says Ben Herne, the national project director for AdoptUSKids. “This pandemic has really brought out the highlight of how important family is and how we all need people.”
Herne says there are over 4,000 children waiting for forever homes in Michigan alone.
Amber Smith is a social worker in Child Protective Services and also someone who was adopted out of the foster care system in Oklahoma as a teen. She says being adopted at 19 years old changed her whole outlook on life.
“You’re graduating high school, and hopefully either going off to college or trying to find housing and getting a job and you can vote and there’s just so much that’s all happening all at one time,” explains Smith. “The difference when you’re in foster care is there’s a lot of uncertainty of what that looks like.”
Smith entered the foster care system at 15 years old. While with her adoptive family, she gained a new appreciation for academics. She eventually earned a scholarship to college on the debate team and says the love and support she received changed the trajectory of her life. “I had a family that was able to teach me just like basic life skills like creating a budget and making good choices…”
As someone who has been on both sides of the foster care system, Smith says there are several misconceptions about adopting teens that she would like to dispel. “What I’ve experienced, in my own life as a foster care kiddo and also as a worker, is just that the decisions and the thought processes — teenagers are very similar, regardless whether they’re in foster care or not. We all make poor choices as kids sometimes. And really, what we need is just that unconditional support, and love.”
Right now, there are more than 100,000 kids and teens in the foster care system waiting to find permanent homes. The first step to considering adoption is openly talking about adding a new member to their families.
“You have to be willing to open up your heart in your home. And we’re here to help you through that process,” says Herne.
If you or someone you know is interested in adoption, you can head to adoptuskids.org to learn more.