Adoption often leaves older children behind, alone, but waiting families change the future

Published: Tuesday, April 16 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

It's different with real discussion of what adoption could mean. Otherwise, a social worker checks off no, and the child misses a chance.

In a study of emancipated youth in the Midwest, University of Chicago professor Mark Courtney documented poor outcomes regarding education, economic hardship and victimization. Fourteen percent experienced homelessness after leaving the system, 60 percent were unemployed and 25 percent were malnourished. The same study found family connections are important to successful transition for emancipating youth.

Children who reach adulthood without finding new families or being reunited with their first one rarely go to college. "The barrier is to get them to think they are worth it, that they can do it," Munger said. "They need help filling out applications. And when the dorms close for winter break, where are they going to go? ... We want to get kids into a permanent family. There's no time you reach a certain age and don't need family."

Bruce and Kathryn Failor of Wytheville, Va., adopted three children internationally nearly a decade ago. The children are now older teens, a challenging age under any circumstance.

"When I came here, it was really, really hard," said Yana Failor, 18, who was born in Kazakhstan. She is a junior in high school because she was behind when she got to America. She didn't know the language and didn't really know her new parents, who had already adopted siblings Zhenya and Andrew from Russia. They "hosted" Yana while the agency looked for a family. Her brother had been adopted, her sister institutionalized. Ultimately, the Failors adopted her.

The little Failors were far from anything familiar. Andrew had been in the orphanage nearly his entire life; the girls ran wild as toddlers, had been abused and witnessed violence. Early in her new life, Zhenya would raid the refrigerator and feed Andrew, same as always, leaving chaos behind. None of them spoke English.

Even now, there are adjustments. "The hardest part is forgetting your last family and where you were born," Yana said. "I have to let go of my past and what happened to me" — a euphemistic reference to great trauma. Being adopted has given her the chance to plan a future. "I want to go to college and study how to be a pharmacist."

Bruce Failor believes the love in your life depends on how much you put into a relationship. "I am putting it all into all of them," he said of his family, which includes natural and adopted children.

Pushing forward

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, founded and significantly funded through Wendy's restaurants, focuses intensively on older children and best practices to get them adopted, Soronen said.

The foundation over the years has refined its efforts. It hired a child-focused recruiter, helping families understand what children need and helping the children, often bruised emotionally and physically, understand the value of family. "Some protect themselves by saying no because they are afraid of being re-abused or abandoned again."

Since starting in 2005, the foundation has helped match 6,000 children to new parents; more than 3,400 of those adoptions are final, others in the works.

It's an age bracket fraught with problems — past childhood traumas translating into belligerence sometimes, or misbehavior. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not an uncommon diagnosis. Sometimes it's flat-out hard. But older children are "at a developmental stage where they're ready to shine and grow and contribute," Soronen said. If, that is, someone steps up.

"This is definitely not for everyone," Jacob said. "I'm not going to tell you adopting older children doesn't have challenges."

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