I am one of the 5% of almost 7,000 children and youth in our foster care system who was adopted between the ages of 13-18. I met my mother, Elaine when I was 12, the adoption was finalized a year later and I officially was part of my forever family. You often hear the term “forever family”. It may sound strange, but to me, it encompasses everything an adoptive family is and should be. A foster family is simply not a ‘forever family’.
I remember the emotions I felt when I was going in and out of the eight foster homes I was in previous to my adoption. Whether or not you are included in the family vacation this year, how you are introduced differently than the birth children or simple things like not knowing whether you would be welcome during holiday parties, these are the things that many older children in foster care experience. I often felt that foster parents brushed off and diminished my feelings. I tried to convince myself that I was lucky enough to be somewhere other than the home I was born into.
The challenge becomes one of the child and adoptive parent, taking two previous separate lives and making one together.
I look back now and see that I was lucky, but I deserved more. I was worthy of love despite my older age. I wasn’t “difficult” or “unruly” in fact I was quite the opposite, overly pleasing and attentive of others needs because I tried extravagantly to prove to others that I was likable despite my situation.
My mother, Elaine, is my best friend and I am so happy for the forces of the universe that ‘matched’ us. My mother has my back no matter what situation I am in. Last September I remember packing my bedroom away as I prepared to move to my University residence. I stood in my almost empty room crying while holding a pack of hangers. My friend reminded me that I had a lot of unhappy moves and this was first time I could really know I was going to return home – this is what a ‘forever home’ is. I learned that I could come home whenever and be welcomed. I also learned that I was missed when I wasn’t home.
One of my most reassuring moments was when I was worried about getting into the University program I desperately wanted to be in. When I was put on a waiting list I was devastated and my intelligence and personal worth. I called my mother, who listened to me cry, calmed me down and reminded me that no matter what happened she had a plan. I would be okay because she would be by my side.
You can’t imagine the feeling I had in that moment. Even though my path may not go in a straight line, I had my mother to pick me up, brush me off and steer me into the right lane. For the first time in my life I felt worry and strain leave me and my whole body sighed with relief. That is what you are giving an older child when you adopt them, the immeasurable security of having someone you can rely on forever.
It may seem daunting, to think of being a parent to a youth. Older children have a backstory that is usually not so easy to forget and will be triggered at times. The challenge becomes one of the child and adoptive parent, taking two previous separate lives and making one together.
The stigma behind older child adoptions needs to stop.
It’s true our lives weren’t as consistent or stable as other children but this can be a positive. I have seen the bad things, I have lived the bad things but I am not dark inside or angry because of it. I move forward and I continue with hope because I have a parent who ‘has my back’.
I won’t lie, the process is hard and challenging at times but it will be worth it. Every day I am amazed that I got to be one of the few who made it out of the child welfare system okay. I have unwavering assistance in all areas of my life and above all a Family to rely on.
The clock is ticking for older youth in the child welfare system. Adoption will change their life and it will change yours too.
Ashley, 18 is a part of the ACO's Youth Network. This fall she will be returning to University to pursue her Social Work degree. Ashley's writing has received national recognition by the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Student Nonfiction Writing Contest. We would like to thank her for her contribution. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please contact us at email@example.com.
Don't want to miss a post?
If you would like to be a guest blogger, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sign up for our newsletter for news about adoption and adoption related events.