There’s a look of shock upon the administrator’s face when I state who I am there to see. I am sent to the guidance office. The counselor has the same reaction. As a former Law Guardian (child advocate) this happened to me countless times. Client after client, year after year has defied the stereotypes. I spent over thirteen years as a child advocate, a lawyer for foster children. For years, I encountered responsible tweens, honor roll teens and just all around really nice kids. Many have cared for younger siblings, making sure they had enough to eat, changed diapers and were even in charge of bath and bedtime. They are resilient, strong and often have great senses of humor which they developed to cope in stressful situations.
When an infant is adopted, a parent will need to decide if, when and how to tell a child they are adopted. (I recommend speaking to a child therapist for advice.) When an older child is adopted, they almost always know the reasons why a judge decided it was not in their best interest to be reunified with their parent. Most likely, they participated in counseling surrounding the issues of abuse, neglect and termination of parental rights. Some children may have even testified in court against their parents. They understand what it means to want a family and to be part of a family. Many times, they are open to the idea of having two families, or in some cases, one big extended family.
Many older children want to find a forever family. They are open to the love and security that an adoption brings for years post-childhood. A few older children I’ve worked with even celebrated once they were able to be eligible, hoping it would open up the possible homes that would be interested in them.
There is a likelihood that adopting an older child will take significantly less time than adopting a younger child because more are available for adoption at any given time. Unfortunately, there are not as many homes willing to adopt older children as younger ones. But if you are willing, the state assists with health insurance and adoption costs. In NJ, a child must live with you for at least six months before an adoption can be finalized. An older child has the right to agree to an adoption. Waiting at least six months allows the child and adult to get to know each other, make it through half a school year and see whether they both feel it is a good fit to move forward. Some think of this as a trial period, but it is much more than that. It is time to build the foundation for what will hopefully be a lifelong relationship between a parent and a child. It is a time to build a strong foundation ensuring that future holidays and family outings will be spent together.
Opening your home to an older child can be incredibly rewarding. For example, you don’t have to deal with sleepless nights of an infant waking or potty training. Instead, you are encouraging them to pursue their talents from art to music to science to athletics. You are making sure they have life skills such as budgeting, cooking, food shopping and deciding what to do after high school. You are making sure their academic needs are being met and helping them chose classes to take for graduation. Everyone deserves a family and positive role models. Plus, you will find mutual love and support from an older child.
If you’d like to discuss the realities and challenges of becoming a resource parent or are interested in foster or adopting an older youth but would like to know more before contacting the state, our firm provides New Jersey consultations. If you are ready to contact the state, we know an amazing child is out there waiting for you and we wish you all the best.