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Monday, 16 November 2009

Adopting Older Youth


This is a current, and quite interesting Canadian article about adoption and family plans for older, or "transitional age", youth. The point made, which is something I have considered from time to time, is that foster youth still need a family after age 18.

In my previous work with teens in a mental health facility, and through church youth work, I have experienced a real sense of sadness for these young people, off on their own at 18, expected to find housing and get themselves into full-time work or post-secondary education (or to complete high school credits). I am not sure how many 18 year-olds with secure family backgrounds and lots of opportunity to learn social responsibility would fare heading out entirely on their own, let alone the addition of lifelong disruptions leading to extra vulnerabilities. I actually toy with the idea of pursuing "something" along the lines of developing supports and networks for these youth.

One statistic presented in the article really caught my attention - traditionally only 21% of foster youth end up maintaining the employment or academic pursuits necessary to continue receiving financial support through Children's Aid. I think that would have surprised me at one point, but having seen some youth struggle in this area, even when I would have bet they had the skills to stick with the plan, maybe even more so than others, this number just confirms the level of need.

I have seen bright young people become so wrapped up in social and emotional chaos that they cannot maintain housing or work. Then they end up crashing temporarily here and there, or ending up in various kinds of trouble. One of my last clients in my previous job was a strong, yet exceptionally vulnerable, young woman to whom I waved as she was driven away in the taxi taking her to her new, empty little apartment located in an area of town where she would in all likelihood have difficulty separating herself from the influences that kept bringing her down. I have certainly seen a few manage their independence effectively, which is encouraging. But even then I have seen loneliness - like the young man who maintained outpatient appointments with me for months, working on a goal I suspect was not his primary need or priority. But he needed those sessions to have regular adult contact.

Some of my experiences involve youth who were not in foster care, but who had extremely limited or disrupted family contact. But the examples are the same for foster youth, too. And employment and academic progress speak mainly to the economic part of it - because even if you stick with the job or the school program, where do you go for Christmas dinner, and who comes to your college graduation?

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