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Madison (right) with his new family. Courtesy photo.




Adoption struggles
Foster teens often left behind

12/03/15
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



In the early years of high school, Madison was a troublemaker. He was disruptive during class, got failing grades and was often penalized with in-school suspension for skipping classes. As Laconia resident Dawn Dragon puts it, he had no goals. Dragon and her husband adopted Madison earlier this year.

“We don’t care about Madison’s past so much. We’re here for the current-day Madison,” Dragon said.
His behavior was perhaps no surprise. His biological father was a drug addict and his mother lost custody rights, so Madison had been in the foster care system for most of his life, bounced between almost a dozen different households. Before he knew it, he was a teenager and still hadn’t been adopted.
 
Last ones chosen
According to Kathleen Companion, the foster care manager at the Division of Children Youth and Families, the odds of Madison finding an adoptive family diminished greatly the older he became.
Of the 123 children adopted in New Hampshire over the last federal fiscal year (between October 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015), only 11 percent were age 13 or older. Companion says that’s higher than average.
“That is an area that we struggle a lot in … to find families who want to adopt teenagers,” Companion said.
To prospective parents, it can seem like a daunting task.
“Teenagers are, even in the normal world, scary,” Companion said. “They’re challenging. They want their independence. They don’t really want to follow parental rules. It’s the natural time in their life to want to pull away and test the waters and do new things.”
Besides teenagers, DCYF has trouble placing sibling groups of three or more, as well as children with mental and physical disabilities or with significant medical needs. On average, she says there are about 25 orphans each year who qualify for adoption but don’t get placed with a forever family.
Generally, Companion says, very young children are easier to adopt out, but a growing influx of kids 2 years old or younger means even more competition for older kids trying to get adopted.
“Eighteen percent of the children adopted last year were under 2 years old. That’s an increase,” Companion said.
She says all the younger children entering the system is a sign of the growing addiction problem.
Older kids, once they graduate from high school and turn 18, are cast into the world with very limited supports. Social workers will try to help young adults as much as they can, but resources are scarce. Companion says housing is a common problem for former youth in care once they graduate, if they don’t find adoptive families.
In the case of Madison, he had developed a friendship with one of Dragon’s daughters, Sarah. The last two foster homes he stayed in had religious objections to raising Madison, who is gay, so he was going to move to Northfield when the Dragon family offered to step in to become his foster family through emergency placement. Incidentally, Dawn Dragon was friends with Madison’s CASA case worker, who sped the process along.
“Now, he gets the highest grade in his health science class, he had been voted the ambassador for the Huot Tech nursing program, to be the liaison between the nursing program and the school board and other colleges. His grades have drastically improved [and] he’s looking at different colleges,” Dragon said.
Dragon says it’s important to consider adopting older kids because you can help guide their futures.
“These years ... are as important as when your kids are babies and toddlers,” Dragon said.
Plus she said, even though older foster kids like Madison may be very self-reliant, everyone wants a place to call home and family to visit for the holidays.
 
What’s being done
Companion says DCYF efforts to find adoptive parents for these kids are a hodgepodge of various approaches. One big push is to build awareness through the media. DCYF worked with WMUR to produce a New Hampshire Chronicle segment called “Home at Last” where adoption-eligible youth in care are featured.
Companion says that’s already had about a 50-percent success rate.
“One of the first boys that we presented on the show [had previously] been adopted by a family that saw him on the show and said, ‘Oh, we already worked with him when he was little. We’ve always wanted to know what happened to him. We’ve never stopped loving him.’ And they were able to come back into his life and adopt him,” Companion said.
The state also works with a part-time recruiter from the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, which tries to find influential adults from a kid’s past, like a coach or a teacher, who might be interested in adopting.
And while New Hampshire doesn’t have an adoption exchange of its own, DCYF works with the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (which offers an online photo catalog with biographical information) to post New Hampshire orphans on the MARE site.
Companion says social workers are trying to listen more to what the kids want and ask who they’d like to live with or have as parents. And she says DCYF is open to suggestions. She and others in the agency are working on creating a roundtable for brainstorming new ideas for recruiting families. 





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