Faith-Based Adoption Laws in 2020: What’s Going on in Fulton v. Philadephia?

In 2018, we outlined the rise of faith based adoption laws across the United States. Today, we’re updating our coverage of faith-based adoption laws, their increased passage, and why every American- regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity- should be concerned.  Contact us to learn more about this issue.

Faith-Based Adoption Laws in 2020: What’s Going on in Fulton v. Philadephia?

In early 2018, two foster care providers in the city of Philadelphia stopped issuing foster care licenses to same-sex foster parents, citing their religious beliefs as a basis for the decision. The City stopped sending foster care referrals to these providers, who responded by filing a lawsuit against the City for infringing upon their free exercise rights. The providers, including Catholic Social Services, sought relief through multiple appeals phases and have taken their case to the supreme court. The case before the Supreme Court this year is Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia.

In Fulton, the Supreme Court will decide if the City has the right to exclude a Catholic agency from participating in a public foster care system because that Catholic agency does not work with same-sex couples. A ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services in Fulton has potentially devastating consequences: ruling in favor of CSS gives faith-based adoption agencies untethered license to discriminate.

Faith-Based Adoption Laws: An LGBTQ Issue, or a Broader Concern?

US States with Faith Based Adoption Laws

Eleven states — Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia — have faith-based adoption laws, which surged in popularity after same-sex marriage became legal at the federal level. Faith-based adoption laws permit religiously-affiliated adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ parents- in some cases, even allowing agencies to refuse to serve children who identify as LGBTQ. Since our last update on faith-based adoption laws in 2018, four more states have added this type of legislation to their books.

Although proponents of faith-based adoption legislation defend the practice on the grounds of religious freedom, there is little evidence to suggest faith-based adoption laws contribute to improved outcomes for children. Supporters of faith-based adoption legislation argue that resistance to faith-based discrimination in child welfare creates undue burdens on systems, forcing religious agencies working to close their doors in response to anti-discrimination laws designed to protect LGBTQ individuals. Despite this argument, the question remains: who do these laws really protect? A cursory glance at KidsCount datasets provides insight into how the growing number of states with faith-based adoption laws are serving children in (and out of) foster care:

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Why Faith-Based Adoption Laws Harm Everyone

Whenever laws are enacted that threaten the rights of more vulnerable groups, the distribution of justice becomes dependent on beneficiaries of this uneven power dynamic. At present, faith-based adoption laws negatively impact LGBTQ adoptive and foster families; however, the future impact these laws may have on other families is unpredictable, broad and impossible to define.

Were a favorable ruling for Fulton to become precedent in this case, faith-based adoption agencies may use religious doctrine as grounds for discrimination on the basis of faith, marital status, family structure, political affiliation, and more.  People from all backgrounds could experience this shift: transracial couples, interfaith couples, and children who receive services from faith-based child welfare agencies.

Further, in Fulton v. Philadelphia The Court may determine how faith-based adoption agencies can use federal funding to provide services to families- or, how they use federal funding to discriminate against families. A ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services  could set a precedent that allows faith-based adoption agencies and child welfare organizations to accept federal funds for programs as they continue to implement discriminatory practices that prevent children from being cared for by loving families.

While there’s no question that faith-based adoption laws cause dignitary harm, they also place stress on systems their advocates claim they’re designed to help. According to the 2018 AFCARS report, more than 437,000 children were living in public foster care systems across the United States- 125,422 of those children were waiting to be adopted.

Excluding LGBTQ parents to serve as resources for waiting children is a failure of child welfare systems. More than two million LGBTQ couples, individuals and families across the United States are interested in serving as family resources for children through adoption and foster care. LGBTQ families are currently raising more than 3% of children living in foster care across the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports full access to adoption and foster care rights for same-sex couples as part of promoting growth of stable and healthy families for all children. Currently, no data supports the exclusion of LGBTQ individuals or couples as part of the framework of a healthy foster care system.

What’s Next for Faith-Based Adoption Laws?

As we await the Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia, adoption agencies across the United States continue to work with a growing number of LGBTQ parents.  This year, Adoptions Together is honored to celebrate our 30th anniversary forming families from every background- including those families from the LGBTQ community who make up a vital part of our foundation. In 2019, we received the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children, All Families Project’s Innovator Seal in recognition of our work serving LGBTQ youth and families, and we continue to advocate for systematic change to make child welfare work for everyone.

US States with full legal protection for LGBT peopleToday, you can make a difference. Encourage your representative to support legislation that welcomes all families, regardless of religious belief, sexual orientation or gender identity.  Progress is being made on local and state levels to pass anti-discrimination laws that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But currently, 28 states lack explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.  Support public officials who support welcoming platforms. And support adoption agencies that support our communities- all of our communities.  Because we must support every child, every family, every step of the way.


We Can, Because of You: Finding Family for Children in Baltimore City Foster Care

Since 2012, the Family Find Step Down Project has worked in partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services to connect children living in foster care with permanent families before they age out of the system. The Family Finding team collaborates with Baltimore City caseworkers to create tailored plans for children in need of permanent, loving family connections. The types of family connections that result from the Family Finding Project take many forms such as adoption, legal guardianship, kinship adoption and the formation of lifelong, committed connections.

The Family Finding team consists of highly-skilled professionals known as Permanency Specialists as well as an Investigator who helps caseworkers identify important information, documentation and individual people during the Family Finding process.

This year, our Family Finding team helped to connect dozens of children living in Baltimore City Foster Care to permanent families. The unique mission of Family Finding has inspired us to share some of those stories with you this National Adoption Month.

Kinship Care: Using the Resources that Work

In early 2019, the FFSD team received a referral about a three-year-old who had been removed from her mother’s care along with her 4 siblings due to her mom’s substance abuse challenges. Although her siblings were able to return home after her mom sought treatment, the three-year-old’s developmental needs required specialized care that her mother was unable to provide. In order to create the best possible environment for the child, she was placed in the care of her biological grandmother. When FFSD received the referral, concerns about long-term permanency for the child were voiced because the grandmother’s home was undergoing long-term renovations. Despite the child thriving developmentally and her grandmother expressing a desire to legally adopt her, the condition of her home was a barrier to establishing permanency.

Our team assisted the grandmother with finding appropriate resources and with establishing a reasonable timeline for finishing her home renovations. We also helped her to become an advocate for herself while working with her DSS caseworker, ensuring she is capable of remaining the most stable resource for her granddaughter as her adoption becomes final. Although this child experienced the trauma of being removed from her biological mother, she is now able to remain in the permanent care of her biological grandmother, who continues to learn to advocate for herself and her growing family member.

Family Finding: Investigation Pays Off

Over the summer, our Family Finding team received a referral about a 16-year-old who’d been living in Baltimore City’s foster care system for several weeks. He provided his name and birthdate to his caseworker, but DSS was unable to confirm his identity. Despite providing other details about his childhood, family and upbringing, his caseworker was unable to locate any of his identifying documents or information using traditional avenues and asked our team to help.

Our Specialist met with the boy and turned up little more- he reported never having attended school, remembering very little about the surroundings where he lived and knowing almost nothing about the people he grew up with. We needed more help. That’s where our Investigator came in.

The job of the Family Find Investigator is extremely unique- she helps to find important documents and records, information about cases, and people related to investigations whenever a team member feels like we’ve hit a dead end. When this case seemed like there was no stone left unturned, using a single deleted email, our Investigator managed to reveal an entire story that no one expected.

To protect the identities of many people involved in this case, we’re jumping ahead to the end. Through the discovery of a single deleted email, our Investigator discovered the true identity of the boy. For many reasons, he’d concealed his identity in order to find stability and support through the services provided to him by DSS. Our investigator was also able to locate his biological father, who is now working toward reunifying with his son using the services of our team.

At this time, the boy is attending school and forming a supportive relationship with his foster family. We are proud to have been a part of this complex story which resulted in building a unique foundation of support for a child who expressed his needs in a very different way.

Family Finding: A Replicable Model Across the United States

Each year, more than 440,000 children enter public foster care systems across the United States. While most of these children will return to their families of origin, when that is not possible, finding safe and creative solutions to permanency is critical for ensuring children who’ve experienced life in care have the opportunity to reach stability and thrive.

Family Finding is a replicable model that can be deployed in systems across the country to the benefit of children and Departments of Social Services. By working together to locate permanency resources for some of the most vulnerable children living in foster care, Family Finding teams use an array of resources unavailable to traditional casework models in order to establish stable permanency that works.

For more information about the long-term success of our Family Finding team or implementing Family Finding in your jurisdiction, contact us today.


Celebrating Adoptions Together’s Inclusion in the ACAF Project

Announcing Adoption’s Together’s 2019 Innovative Inclusion in the All Children All Families Project

Adoptions Together has been honored to collaborate with the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children All Families Project to make adoption accessible, welcoming and progressive for LGBTQ families since the inception of the initiative 12 years ago. As a founding member of the ACAF advisory board, our executive director, Janice Goldwater is honored to have played a key role in supporting the development of this initiative.  By partnering with public and private child welfare agencies, the ACAF project assists agencies like Adoptions Together to identify barriers that LGBTQ youth and families face when accessing services and help us to ensure we have the skills and compassionate understanding we need to better serve our community.

This year, our collaboration with the All Children All Families Project earned us the Innovator Seal of Inclusion, recognizing our foundation of work with LGBTQ youth and families as well as advocacy for policy reform and organizational partnership. Achieving the Innovator Seal has been a rewarding journey for our team’s commitment to this need. Over the past few months, our staff participated in training and evaluations designed to meet the seven benchmarks of the ACAF’s practice areas:

  1. Non-Discrimination: Together, we expanded our existing non-discrimination policy to also include our commitment to an equitable workplace for employees, volunteers and partners who collaborate with us to make meaningful change a reality for everyone.
  2. Staff Training: Our staff participated in ACAF online trainings and attended a comprehensive in-person training led by the Human Rights Campaign’s ACAF team.
  3. Rolling Out the Welcome Mat: Part of serving LGBTQ youth and families is demonstrating that everyone belongs at Adoptions Together. We pride ourselves in ensuring representations of LGBTQ families and individuals are part of our everyday message- not just when it’s “part of the story”, but because LGBTQ families are part of our story. Whether you’re browsing our website, viewing our annual report, or wandering the halls of our offices, LGBTQ families are part of the picture you’ll see that signal “you belong here”.
  4.  Parent Best Practices: When we work with adoptive parents, foster parents and parents involved in the child welfare system, it’s important for us to understand best practices to ensure LGBTQ adults feel included and welcomed at Adoptions Together. Our team participated in comprehensive training on LGTBQ parent recruitment efforts, LGBTQ parent training and best practices for affirming home studies with LGBTQ clients.
  5. Youth Best Practices: Expanding our ability to best serve LGBTQ youth is one of the most important goals our staff achieved through receiving our Innovator Seal this year. Because the number of youth in foster care is growing each year, and the number of LGBTQ youth living in foster care continues to over-represent non-LGBTQ youth, it is critical for child welfare professionals to understand their unique perspectives, needs, and how to serve them with every available resource. Learning about LGBTQ youth trends from the HRC, as well as ways to ensure all youth we serve feel safe, supported and understood has been a meaningful benchmark for our team as we continue our work.
  6. Sustainability and Capacity Building: Our team is committed to ensuring LGBTQ inclusion doesn’t stand in the way of our mission’s sustainability or our ability to expand our efforts to serve youth and families who need us. Creating a better understanding of our organizational culture, how sexual orientation and gender expression impact that culture, and implementing policy practices that are affirming to everyone are part of change that help us ensure we will be here for the community into the future.
  7. Leadership and Innovation: Part of our mission is advocating for continuous improvement of systems that promote the well-being of children and families. As a recipient of the Innovator Seal, we understand that this aspect of our mission is critically important to advocacy and change for the LGBTQ community. Our team is dedicated to being present, outspoken and innovative as part of this mission.

Serving LGBTQ youth and families is a cornerstone of our work. Our partnership with the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children All Families Project helps us to more effectively serve LGBTQ individuals in our community each day. The Innovator Seal Recognition is an honor to receive in 2019 and drives us to continue our pursuit to welcome all families in the future.


LGBTQ Adoption from Foster Care

LGBTQ Adoption from Foster Care

More LGBTQ families are choosing to grow through adoption than ever before. Did you know that LGBTQ parents are 6x more likely to become foster parents and 4x more likely to adopt than non-LGBTQ families?  Today, among LGBTQ individuals and couples under 50, 48% of women and 17% of men are currently parenting a child under the age of 18- many of these families are formed through adoption from foster care (source).

The access LGBTQ adoptive families have to adoption agencies serving them proudly, directly impacts the children who are settled with loving, permanent parents providing them with the support they need to thrive. LGBTQ individuals and couples make some of the best parents, and we know you deserve the right kind of support as you begin your foster care adoption journey.

LGBTQ Adoption from Foster Care

LGBTQ couples and individuals are encouraged to pursue adoption from foster care, regardless of their race, religion, or socioeconomic background. Our team is proud to serve all families as part of our mission to connect children living in foster care with the support they need to thrive as they grow. Primarily, we want to ensure families you can provide a safe, loving environment for a child, regardless of the parents’ background. For children who have experienced life in foster care, this is most crucial.

Finding an LGBTQ Friendly Adoption Agency

As a same-sex couple, or LGBTQ individual, it is important to find an adoption agency that is welcoming to all families. As the number of LGBTQ families choosing adoption grows, the number of agencies serving LGBTQ families as part of their mission has expanded. The Human Rights Campaign’s All Children All Families Project has a convenient listing of LGBTQ-friendly adoption agencies that are ready to work with you.  Asking friends for referrals to LGBTQ-friendly agencies can help to identify providers who assisted the people you trust to grow their own families.

What Questions Should I Ask My Adoption Agency?

Same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals should approach adoption with several factors in mind.  In addition to the complex factors involved in becoming a new parent, it is important to find an agency that will welcome you.  Agencies whose practices affirm your identity will ensure your family is supported throughout the home study, foster care adoption training, matching, placement and finalization process. You may consider asking your agency to disclose the number of LGBTQ families with whom they have worked, what percentage of their adoptive families identify as LGBTQ, and whether they have undergone LGBTQ competency trainings to help them support you fully as you expand your family.  When visiting the agency’s website or building, be mindful of small cues, such as pictures- do these images portray a wide variety of family types?

What are the next steps?

If you’re considering adoption from foster care, you can contact us at any time to discuss your options. We are proud to serve LGBTQ families and individuals living in Maryland, Washington, DC and Virginia.  We look forward to helping your family grow!


Who Can Adopt from Foster Care?

Who Can Adopt from Foster Care?

We like to tell prospective adoptive families “there’s no such thing as a perfect parent!” This is a great way to help us recognize kids don’t need perfection, they need love, strength and support to thrive.  If you’re interested in adopting from foster care, you don’t have to be perfect!  In fact, all kinds of people can adopt from foster care.

Do I Have to Be Married to Adopt from Foster Care?

No! Families and parents from all backgrounds can adopt a child from foster care. We work with single parents adopting from foster care, partnered couples adopting from foster care, married couples adopting from foster care and LGBTQ couples adopting from foster care. The most important thing to us is that you’re prepared to parent a child who experienced life in foster care and you have the resources to support your growing family.

What Do You Look for In Families Adopting from Foster Care?

Prospective parents interested in adopting from foster care should be prepared for the reality of raising a child who experienced separation from their biological family. We prepare families by providing the required 27-hour foster care adoption training that focuses on effective parenting strategies, bonding skills and emotional awareness of the child’s needs and their own.

Each adoptive family undergoes a home study which ensures they can support a child. The home study process involves interviews with a social worker, foster care adoption training, a collection of documents and a review of your home environment. It is important to remember that the home study process is not designed to turn you away- rather, to help you move forward in your foster care adoption journey so that you can become a loving, stable parent for a child who needs you.

What Are the Next Steps?

If you’re interested in adopting from foster care, you can contact us anytime to learn more about the foster care adoption process. We are eager to help you through your journey and excited to be part of your family.


How Does Foster Care Adoption Work?

How Does Foster Care Adoption Work?

When we work with families who are adopting from foster care, our job is to ensure they understand the complexities of adoption and how adoption from foster care works. We are often asked if children adopted from foster care can be “returned” to their biological families after an adoption takes place. The short answer is: No. Adoption is a legally binding process, and adoptive parents are the legal parents of their children once an adoption is finalized.

How Do Children in Foster Care Become Available for Adoption?

Children enter foster care for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are abuse and/or neglect.  It is important to remember that the purpose of the foster care system is to serve as a temporary safe haven for children who cannot live with their biological families while their parents become stable, safe caregivers.  Most children who experience life in foster care return to their biological families.

When it is not possible for a child to return to their biological family, a process called “termination of parental rights (TPR)” is undergone within the court system.  This process allows the child to be adopted through the foster care system without custody being granted back to their biological family. Once a parent’s rights have been legally terminated, the child may become available for adoption depending on several factors.  Children seen on websites like The Heart Gallery and AdoptUsKids have undergone the TPR process and are “legally free” for adoption.

How Does Foster Care Adoption Work at Adoptions Together?

Adoptions Together helps families to adopt from foster care by preparing them for the realities of parenting a child who has experienced life in the foster care system, completing their home study, and completing their required 27-hour foster care adoption training.  We also support families through the matching, placement and finalization process with children who are “legally free” for adoption (those whose TPR process has been completed).  Most of the children we work with are school-aged and we help families from every background to explore the option of foster care adoption.

 

If you are interested in learning more about adopting from foster care, you can contact us at any time to discuss the process in detail.


How Much Does It Cost to Adopt from Foster Care?

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt from Foster Care?

If you’re considering adoption from foster care, the first question on your mind is probably “how much does it cost to adopt from foster care?”  Misinformation about the cost of adoption makes potential adoptive parents hesitate to explore foster care adoption, so let’s talk about actual costs to adopt a child from public foster care.

How You Pursue Adoption from Foster Care Makes a Difference

There are two main ways to adopt a child from public foster care in the United States. Many families pursue adoption from foster care through their local Department of Social Services. Typically, a family becomes foster parents to a child before adopting.  Working with your Department of Social Services to pursue this type of foster care adoption can cost very little or nothing.  This process includes the cost of the home study and training that is required to foster children.

The second way families pursue adoption from foster care is through a private adoption agency who can help them to complete their foster-to-adoption home study, training, and match with a child (or sibling group) who is ready to be adopted from foster care. This method can be more expensive for families, as there are fees paid to the agency for services rendered, but some families may prefer working with an agency to adopt from foster care, as the process may run more smoothly and the family may receive more individualized attention. Adoptions Together’s current total fee for foster care adoption is $10,970.  Read more about how to offset the costs of adoption.

Many children adopted from foster care are eligible to receive financial assistance under the federal Title IX-E Adoption Assistance Program. This type of financial assistance takes many forms, including a one-time payment, ongoing monthly support, or programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  It is important to discuss the individual eligibility of Adoption Assistance with your adoption provider in detail.

What to Do Next

If you’re considering foster care adoption to grow your family, financial considerations are an important part of the picture. We believe that stable, loving parents come from all financial backgrounds, and that children have the best chance to thrive in permanent homes. Our team is here to discuss the option of foster care adoption, as well as which options are best for you as you begin your adoption journey.


What are the Age Requirements to Adopt from Foster Care?

What Are the Age Requirements to Adopt from Foster Care?

Have you considered adopting from foster care, but worried “I’m too old to adopt”, or even, “I’m too young to adopt”? You’re not alone- one of the most common questions we get from prospective adoptive parents interested in growing their families through foster care adoption is whether they are too old (or too young) to adopt a child from foster care.  The truth is, there are very few age requirements in place when it comes to foster care adoption. The most important thing is that your family is prepared to meet the needs of the child you’re adopting.

Am I too old to adopt from foster care?

There is no upper age limit for parents interested in adopting from foster care. In fact, many “older” parents decide that foster care adoption is an excellent way to grow their families after raising other children or fulfilling other parts of their lives’ journeys.  Each prospective adoptive family’s age is taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis with the child’s specific needs and situation in mind. If you think you’re too old to adopt from foster care, contact us and we’ll talk about whether foster care adoption is an option for you!

Am I too young to adopt from foster care?

This question is more complex for a few reasons. First, the most important thing for a child (regardless of his or her background) is that their adoptive parent can provide a stable, supportive family environment where their physical, emotional and financial needs are met.  For this reason, many states (like Maryland) require parents adopting from foster care to be at least 21 years old before applying.

Private adoption agencies may have additional policies in place to ensure your family is prepared to meet the needs of a child who has experienced life in foster care. Adoptions Together requires all parents adopting from foster care to be a minimum of 25 years old before applying in order to ensure they are stable and prepared for the challenge of growing their family through foster care adoption.

How old are the children eligible for adoption from foster care?

This is a great question. Although it is uncommon, it is possible to adopt an infant from foster care. Most often, children adopted from foster care are school-aged.  This is due to a variety of factors. but the primary goal of foster care is to help biological parents remedy the challenges which caused their child to be removed from their care, and help the parents gain stable ground in their lives.  There is a lengthy legal process to assist families, and when the parents are unable to reach stability, parental rights are terminated.  Typically, this process takes several years and may not occur until a child is old enough to enter school.  Most of the children Adoptions Together works with are school-aged children and teenagers.

What are the next steps to adopt from foster care?

If you are interested in learning more about the age requirements of adopting from foster care, feel free to contact us at any time. Our team can help you discuss the options that are best for you, and how you can begin the foster care adoption process.


Changes to 2018 Federal Tax Laws Are Impacting Adoptions Together & Other Non-Profits

The Issue

The fundamental reasons you donate to Adoptions Together have not changed. The need for your generosity has never been greater for us, and for the many 501(c)3 organizations you choose to support. But recent changes to tax laws have the potential to make a profound impact on both of us. Under previous federal tax guidelines, the charitable deduction was made available to roughly 35% of filers who itemize their tax returns. By doubling the standard deduction, the new tax law is estimated to reduce the number of itemized returns to between 5-10%. We know tax benefits are not the primary reason you choose to donate, but let’s be honest- it’s both a factor and an incentive.

Potential Outcomes

Estimates are that 60-75% of all non-profit donors are individuals- not corporations. As these donors file their 2018 tax returns, they may learn that itemizing will not be beneficial due to the higher standard deduction. The Tax Policy Center estimates this law change may reduce charitable giving in 2019 by up to $20 billion. A study by George Washington University also estimates this law change may result in the loss of at least 220,000 non-profit sector jobs.

Solutions

There are ways to give to and support Adoptions Together that will still be tax beneficial to you. Strategies exist that will allow your continued generosity to remain a tax write off. We are planning a short series of sessions with CPAs, Attorneys and Financial Advisors to help our donors learn about and become more comfortable with various donation options for both short-term and legacy giving.

Next Steps

Please sign up and we will inform you of upcoming lunch and learns or open houses to discover how you can still derive tax benefits from your contributions even if you no longer itemize. A few of the topics we will cover include:

  • Appreciated Securities
  • Bunching of gifting
  • Mandatory Required Distributions
  • Trusts and Charitable Trusts
  • CommunityFoundations- Donor Advised Funds

Adoptions Together appreciates the generosity and support you have given us over the years. We hope we can support you by making it easier for you to continuing to support organizations like ours as tax laws evolve. Thank you for being part of our family, and for making us part of yours.


Adoption and the Teen Years: Understanding Adoption and Adolescence

The teen years are defined by growth- your child is forming an identity that is separate from yours and building skills that will help guide them through the joys and challenges that lie ahead. As a parent, your job is changing, too. You may find yourself coaching from the sidelines more frequently, or even struggling with your new role. As the parent of an adopted teen, some of the complexities can feel harder to address. We are here to help you navigate the unique joys, experiences and issues faces by many adoptive families during the teen years so that you are prepared to navigate them head on.

Adoption and Teenage Development

You’ve probably noticed some of the developmental changes in your adopted teenager. Things like hormonal changes, physical changes and emotional shifts that occur during the teenage years can impact how our teens relate to one another and to us. We know that many of these changes are developmentally normal for all children, regardless of their background. Brain development during the teen years also undergoes a unique shift that regulates behavior. For example, chemical changes in the pre-frontal cortex of teenage brains can encourage youth to seek out risky behaviors without considering consequences.

These changes are not unique to adoptees. However; their early experiences and family structure is. How can we be mindful of our backgrounds during this time? Let’s start by considering our child’s early experiences and how they can impact physical, emotional and brain developmental during this stage. Did your adopted teen experience trauma as an infant or child? Being mindful of how traumatic experiences can impact emotional experience as a teenager and young adult can have a positive impact on your relationship today. Helping your adopted teen to understand that you are present, caring and supportive when they are expressing fear, anxiety or other difficult emotions is a useful way to remain connected to your child. It is also important to consider whether your child’s medical history may impact their development so that you can best assist them throughout adolescence. Teens with a history of prenatal alcohol and drug exposure may have different needs from family members, teachers and therapeutic support teams.

Adoption and the Teen Identity

During adolescence, your teenager is learning more about their own identity, what it means to them, and how they can use their identity to help guide them through the world. For adopted teens, their unique background is a crucial part of this identity formation. Teens begin to grapple with questions like “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?”, “What do I want to become?” and they must learn how they are connected to, and different from their parents, siblings and communities as a whole.

You might notice that your teen is beginning to connect more with friends than with you. You might also notice your teen is focusing more on things like his or her appearance or identifying with a particular music group during this time. These normal developmental processes are part of your teen’s expanding identity. For adopted teens, learning about identity can be more challenging because they have a more complex story. They may begin to ask more questions about their birth family, or their questions may be more complex. They may have an increased understanding of the complex concepts that touch some adoption stories, such as poverty or addiction, leading to more nuanced questions about their birth parents’ experience. Even if your teen has met members of their birth family, they may have new questions about their birth relatives that help them to understand their identity. Some teens may express interest in spending more time with birth relatives than they did during childhood- remember that this is a normal part of adolescence and supporting your teen during this time is an open demonstration of love and commitment to your family.
As adoptive parents, it can be difficult to navigate adolescence as your teen begins to form this kind of independent identity. Remember that it is normal to feel sadness, anxiety and even anger when your child wants to learn more about their birth family or expresses a desire to spend more time with biological relatives. Processing these emotions fully and safely with the right kind of support is important so that you can continue supporting your adopted teen. In the same way you successfully parented your adopted child, successfully parenting your adopted teen comes with new challenges you can prepare for. Building a community of support for your family is a good way to ensure you have help when you need it. Reaching out for additional support through adoption competent therapists is another way to bolster your support system.

Talking with Your Teen About Adoption

If you’re still reading this, you probably know adoption needs to be a safe subject. Adopted teens think about their birth parents and adoption more than most parents realize. Finding ways to reassure your child that they can broach the subject of adoption with you is more important now than ever. We know that children whose parents talk about adoption from the very start have an easier time talking about adoption throughout their lives. If you think your teen has adoption on their mind, don’t wait for them to bring it up- raise the topic with them so they know you’re thinking about it, too. One way to introduce the topic is to share you’re thinking about their adoption or their birth parents’, and inviting your teen to add what they may be thinking about. Showing your child that talking about adoption is okay can help them understand that talking about their birth family and asking questions won’t hurt your feelings or offend you.

Some adoptive parents struggle with what kind of information they should share with their adopted teen now that their child is older. Parts of their child’s adoption story that may be difficult or painful might seem tempting to conceal during your child’s teen years, especially if your adopted teen is dealing with other challenges. For example, if your child’s birth parent has a criminal history or dealt with substance abuse, it may be tempting to keep that part of the adoption story hidden. Consider that this may be the right time to share your child’s story so that he or she is able to understand their own identity fully, without imagining another version of the truth (that may be worse). This conversation can be intimidating for parents, and seeking the support of a professional adoption counselor can help you navigate discussing the complexities of your child’s adoption story so that it can be a positive, affirming part of your relationship.

Maintaining, Building and Growing Relationships with Birth Family Members

The teen years may not be the first time your child has expressed interest in their birth family. Or perhaps your child has never met his or her birth parents. But we all have a deep desire to understand our roots. Many adopted teens feel a need to connect or reconnect with their birth family during adolescence. It is important to be prepared to navigate this contact thoughtfully.

If your child’s adoption is open and you’ve maintained contact with birth family members, that’s great! Continue the conversation within the framework of your open adoption relationship so that your child knows they have support to continue building healthy relationships. Be mindful that your maturing child may have new questions that you can help them explore before reaching out to their birth family.

An important reminder if your child has an open relationship with birth relatives during their teen years: be familiar with social media use. It has become increasingly common for adoptees to connect with birth family members through social media. When teens know the names and locations of birth relatives, connecting with them online is relatively simple. Continuing open, safe discussions about supporting your child’s ongoing connection with their birth family is one way to avoid surprise contact with birth relatives that can cause confusion for your child.

If your child has never met their birth family, they may express a desire to do so during adolescence. This process is often referred to as “Search and Reunion”. One important thing to remember is that the “search” does not always go together with the “reunion”. If your adopted teen expresses a desire to learn more about their birth family for the first time, it’s important to listen to what they’d like to discover. Do they want to know the name of their birth parents? Find out where they were born? Discover more about their family tree? Or would they like to contact their birth family? Connecting with an adoption professional to begin the Search and Reunion process can be helpful in supporting your teen through this stage.

Giving Your Adopted Teen the Tools

Your role as a parent is to provide your child with the skills and tools they need to succeed. As an adoptive parent, providing your child with unique skills to face the world as an adoptee is equally important. During the teen years, it’s important for your child to feel secure as an adoptee. You can help your child feel more secure and confident in many ways. Prepare them to discuss adoption openly when it comes up in conversation. Help them to anticipate questions about your family, their background and to help their friends discuss adoption in ways that make them comfortable. Reassure your teen that they don’t have to share personal details, and that they are in charge of what information they would like to discuss about their adoption story. Teaching your teen that setting boundaries in discussions about adoptions is okay is a good way to show them they have autonomy. Finally, avoid using your child as an “example” for adoption in social interactions so that he or she understands adoption is a part of their story, not the defining characteristic. Reassure your child that it is okay to say “I don’t know” or “that’s not something I share about” if someone asks a question about adoption, and always ask before sharing part of their story with others.

Want to Continue the Conversation? Join Us!

Are you a teen adoptee? Parenting an adopted teen? Working with teen adoptees and their families? Join us for “Adoption and the Teen Years: A Conference for Teens, Parents and Professionals” on April 27th at the McLean School to help build your toolkit!