As CCAI continues to celebrate National Foster Care Month and highlight the stories of older youth in foster care awaiting adoptive families, we are honored to share the story of one adoption professional who also bears the title of adoptive mom: Susan Stockham.
As an adoption professional, I have had the privilege of representing clients in over 2,500 adoptions. While the majority has been newborns, the ones that have really grabbed my heart are the older children and adults. My oldest adoptee was almost 60. There is no age limit on who can be adopted. The desire to be a part of a family does not extinguish with age. The tears that shed at these final hearings are often sweeter knowing these families are created by mutual choice, as older adoptees must consent to their adoption.
Since 2012, approximately 23,000 kids age out of foster care each year without a permanent home, without family, and without a dependable adult to rely on for guidance and assistance. Many have not completed their high school education. Few complete college. They are at higher risks for homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, depression, and suicide. They are victimized physically, financially and many by identity theft before they even reach the age of 18. Many embark on adulthood with no one whom they can rely on. Many still want and need a family and a place to call home.
For almost ten years we have opened our hearts and our home to a number of these kids. Some have stayed only a few weeks or months, some for many years. Our walls are full of photos of our ‘extended family’. But five years ago one very special young man came into our lives and asked us if we would adopt him. “You are already a part of our family,” I said. “But I want to make it legal. Permanent,” he replied. So we did. On our adoption day we decorated our car with “It’s a boy” stickers and drove to the court. When the Judge asked my son why he wanted to be adopted, he responded, “You never know what a difference you make in someone else’s life. I am thankful that my Mom touched mine and took her time to invest in me. As a result of her love and the love of my family, the pain of my years in foster care is beginning to be erased. I want to be an advocate like her and let others know that someone believes enough in them, and to know that they are not defined by their past, but only by their dreams of the kind of person they want to be.”
At 11:30 AM, on a beautiful sunny Friday, joined by fifty or more of our family and friends, the Judge legally pronounced us a family. Our tears of joy were shared by everyone present. We celebrated for three days so that those who could not make it to the hearing could still be a part of our becoming a family.
Our relationship has deepened over the years. My son has stretched us as much as we have him. In becoming a part of our family he has seen that being committed to one another does not mean that families have to be perfect, or always agree. Putting down permanent roots has given him the courage to spread his wings. When he first moved out of state, both homesick and overwhelmed, he called and said, “I can’t do this, I want to come home.” After reassuring him that he could always move back home, we talked through the problems and by morning he was resolved to stay and conquer his fears. It has been a privilege to watch him grow into the confident man he has become. He is now working on his Ph.D. in public advocacy in order to be a voice for those in care, fighting to increase their chances of becoming successful adults. He encourages everyone to adopt older kids, in or out of care saying, “When you adopt an older child at least you know what you are getting.” But, that is one of those areas where we may not agree. We never knew on the day he chose us just how much more joy he would bring into our lives. This summer we will again be expanding our family by adopting one more young adult. What will you be doing to increase the success for our kids aging out of care? My sons and I encourage you to open your heart and your home to become a mentor or family to just one more.