Babies available for adoption are snapped up; by age 8, the trend turns downward, adoption becoming rarer. For teens, the adoption rate plummets. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 400,000 abused and neglected children are in foster care nationwide.

Imagine being a young person on the verge of adulthood whose life consists of foster homes, whose real parents are unfit and whose recent past is filled with a series of names and faces that seem to constantly be exiting before a real relationship develops.

For most such young people, adoption is a dwindling hope. A looming 18th birthday, often an exciting moment for many, means the end of any state obligation for their welfare. It means facing adulthood, suddenly and harshly, on their own. It means no permanent association with the unconditional support of family, no help during times of trial, and no one with whom to share life's joys.

As Deseret News reporter Lois M. Collins notes in her spellbinding story about older children and adoption on today's front page, too often this is a recipe for homelessness. Half of the nation's homeless population started in foster care, as did many who populate the nation's prisons, according to the associate director of A Family for Every Child, based in Oregon.

Scripture talks of service to the least of those among us as being service to the divine. In this case, the young people in foster care often feel as though they are lower than the least, when in fact they have enormous potential that requires a little love to unlock.

If such service is divine, the couples who adopt such children truly are angels. It isn't an easy task. Young adults in foster care often come with issues concerning trust and behavior. Through no fault of their own, they have developed barriers for self protection. Often they don't know the benefits of a stable family because they haven't seen one in action. As a Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange website says, the child comes to the home having been rejected, and "he will expect rejection again and perhaps will provoke it."

More than anything, however, underneath the barriers the child is afraid. And whether or not the child realizes it, adoptive parents hold the key to beginning to heal and build a productive life.

Those who have adopted such older children and were interviewed for today's story said the joys far outweigh the challenges. They provide a sense of belonging that can save a young person's life, even if that means a lifetime of helping that young person cope with life's challenges.

For older children in foster care, the alternatives are bleak. About 27,000 of them will turn 18 each year without really knowing how to proceed in life. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute refers to studies that show almost 60 percent of the young men will be convicted of a crime, and 75 percent of the women will end up receiving government help to meet their needs. Unemployment or low-paying jobs become a way of life for too many.

Adoptive parents, then, save not only the kids they bring into their families, they save society, as well.