Not 'Unadoptable': New Effort to Find Homes for Older Foster Children

By Rauschart, Lisa | The World and I, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Not 'Unadoptable': New Effort to Find Homes for Older Foster Children


Rauschart, Lisa, The World and I


Lisa Rauschart is a freelance writer.

The little boy was more silent than most, withdrawn really. Yet his new adoptive mother was still surprised by what happened one morning after she sent her children into the hallway so she could make up their beds. Called away unexpectedly to the telephone, she returned an hour later to find the 5-year-old still standing in the same place, although his two siblings had drifted away long before.

"I just fell on my knees and hugged him," the boy's mother says. "I could not imagine a little child standing in one spot for so long."

The child was Anthony A. Williams, now the mayor of Washington, D.C., probably the nation's best-known success story among older adopted children. Virginia E. Hayes Williams raised two other adopted children along with Anthony and her five biological children.

With many older children still languishing in foster care, the need for adoptive parents is clear. However, how to handle the older adopted child, who may bring a whole trunkload of baggage from the past, is not always as easy to see.

"Older children come to their new families with a previous history and previous influences," says Jody Sciortino, clinical director at Kidsave International, a nonprofit organization that seeks to place orphaned and foster children in permanent homes. "That's a critical point for families to understand."

Still, many parents of older adoptees say the rewards outweigh the negatives.

"She's got this wonderful energy," says the Rev. Laura Schultz of Camp Springs, Maryland, who, as a single parent, adopted a 15-year-old girl in late 2003. The girl's name is being withheld for privacy reasons at Schultz's request. "She's not perfect, but I wouldn't expect her to be."

Long stigmatized as "unadoptable," older children are becoming the focus of a new push to adopt. Recent legislation provides incentives to states that increase their adoption rates, particularly for older or hard-to- adopt special-needs children.

"The current administration makes it easier for states to be excited about adoption," says Ed Schwartz, president of Loving Shepherd International, a not-for-profit Christian adoption services organization, and of LSI Institute for Adoption Research.

Through the administration's adopt-uskids.org Web site, more than 2,400 children have found permanent homes, Schwartz says.

"We have a tremendous resource of parents out there," he says. "There are over 275,000 Christian congregations in the U.S., and only 126,000 children waiting for adoption."

For older parents especially, the prospect of an older child can be quite appealing.

"I'm a widow, and we had no children, so I'm vulnerable in that area," says Wendy Graham, vice president of investment at Capitol Securities in McLean, Virginia, who is in the process of adopting a 13-year-old girl from Russia. "But I'm also working, so I need someone who would be in school part of the time."

Teenagers, of course, come with their own issues.

"Teenagers are probably not going to be all lovey-dovey the way they might have been at 6 or 7," says Schultz, who is the pastor at Bells United Methodist Church. "Their job is to be individuating instead of bonding."

So just when a family is hoping to bond, the teenager may be ready to strike out on his or her own.

"The older a child is, the more time he or she has had for rejection and trauma, and the more repair work there is to be done in the family." says Sylvia Stultz, a psychologist in private practice in Washington. D.C., who holds a doctorate. "It's important to find a way to have a balance between establishing the outer bounds of protection and limits."

That means the boundaries have to be clear, and the players have to understand one another.

"Setting limits is very important," says Terry Baugh, president of Kidsave International, which last summer placed 153 prospective adoptees across the country as part of its Summer Miracles program. …

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