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Fostering & Adopting Older Children
Published Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Terry and Lillias Freeman-Hogan and their four children were living an already-full life in Kansas City 16 years ago when they were confronted with a life-changing decision: whether or not to help a frightened teenager who was living in a homeless shelter.
Jason, 17, was a friend of the family’s two oldest children, and was scheduled to "age out" of the system within a few weeks when he turned 18.
The girls saw their friend was suffering and wanted to provide him a safe place to "crash" for a bit.
"We were not surprised they would think this way," Terry explains. "We had always raised our kids to give back and help where you can. We’d told them, 'You are part of a larger group.' Well, they took us up on it."
But in their wisdom, Terry and Lillias knew that Jason needed much more than a temporary place to crash. He needed a home—a home that provided nurturing and support to help him get set up and prepared to enter the world and perhaps attend college. The family decided to move forward and became Jason’s legal guardians.
Fast forward 16 years. Jason is now 33 and he’s still part of the family. "He will be all of his life," Terry says. "He is our son."
Ready to foster-to-adopt
As the years passed, the house emptied as the children grew up and left home for college and job opportunities. In 2010, Lillias and Terry took the six-week class through Child Saving Institute to become licensed foster parents with the idea they might provide respite emergency care for other foster parents. They were also considering fostering with the goal of adoption—foster-to-adopt.
They met Katie, then 14, who was living at Boys Town at the time. When they came home from their first meeting, Lillias wrote down two pages of questions she wanted to ask Katie at their next visit. At the next get-together, Katie came bearing three pages of questions—color coded. One of her questions was whether she could get a dog, but she was quickly informed, they were "only adopting one thing at a time."
Nine months later, blond-haired, backpacking hiker and nature enthusiast Katie was officially adopted—as was Mandy, a portly beagle mix.
Not long after that, Lillias and Terry asked Katie her thoughts on adopting another child. Katie said she’d like a younger sister—two years younger.
"Why?" Terry asked, curious about the specificity. Katie responded that if you adopt someone the same age, they’ll argue with you all the time and "buck your authority."
At the conclusion of the school year last May, Skye, 13, joined the family. Skye likes singing, coloring, mac & cheese, and the TV show, "The Walking Dead." When asked how she was adjusting, she responded with a wry smile, "You have to be weird to fit in here, and I’m pretty weird."
Both girls had been available for adoption through the Nebraska Heart Gallery, an online site that features photos and brief bios of older children who are legally available for adoption. Both have been in foster care for more than half their lives.
Of course, the girls' transition has not been without its share of familial squabbles. "If they were natural-born siblings, they would have about 13 years to get to know each other’s foibles, idiosyncrasies, likes, dislikes, and habits. They are cramming that in over the course of weeks," Terry explains. "It’s no easy path."
Focused on helping teens
So why do they do it? Specifically, why foster teenagers? Terry explained that he’d once read a statistic that set that course: 95 percent of youth who are in the foster care system at age 13 or 14 will age out of the system without permanency.
Lillias and Terry knew this was where their help was most needed. "We love seeing young people go from rebellious, confused kids to contributing members of society. We are perfectly willing to stick with them long after their 19th birthday to help them accomplish this—just as any family would," Lillias explains.
"Love...and the privilege of sharing the life of a few of our next generation," Terry adds. "This task, foster parenting, can seem to take all you have some days; but it gives you hope, love and happiness to see the success in the lives entrusted to you."
Any advice for others considering fostering older children? "Is your home’s backyard always full of neighborhood kids? Do extra kids always seem to crop up at your dinner table? Do neighborhood kids always come to you when they have a scraped knee? Or a bee sting? Or a broken heart? Do teens often ask you, 'A friend has this problem, what should I tell them?' Then you’re a natural for foster parenting!" Lillias offers.
"Accept that you will see defeat, strife, pain, unhappiness and sorrow," Terry concludes. "That is part of life. Be open to success, achievement, wonder, happiness and love. You will find the gains always outweigh the pain."
If you’re interested in learning more about older child adoption, please contact Sarah Caldararo at 402-553-2428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.