Never too old for a family

Posted on October 1, 2022

By Melinda Haggerty, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Senior Vice President, General Counsel 
Previously published April 2015

Personal and professional experiences have taught us that you never outgrow the need for a family. At the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, we know that sentiment is especially true. Adult adoption, where a person is legally adopted after their 18th birthday, provides young adults aging out of the child welfare system the opportunity for a permanent family long after emancipating from foster care. 

Before my professional path brought me to the Foundation, my own adoption story began when I was placed into foster care as a teenager. After entering foster care at thirteen years old, the statistics were stacked against me. It was unlikely that I would ever be given a safe, permanent, loving family. However, during the five years that I spent in foster care, I thrived in a new, stable environment where I was supported and encouraged to achieve my potential. 

As I approached my 18th birthday, I became keenly aware of the threat of aging out of foster care without the safety net of a permanent home. My foster mother legally adopted me right after I emancipated, narrowly avoiding the fate of the thousands of young people who leave the child welfare system every year without a forever family. 

Adult adoptions are currently permitted in a majority of states. Some states place restrictions on adult adoptions, including:  

  • A requirement that the adoptee and adoptive parents have an age difference of a set number of years. 
  • A minimum time period that the adoptee and adoptive parents have a relationship prior to the adoption; 
  • Or the requirement that the adoptee have a disability.  

However, most state laws recognize the important role of family even after a child’s eighteenth birthday and place no additional restrictions on adult adoptions. It is important to note that the process to adopt an adult can vary by state. For guidelines on how to petition for an adult adoption in your state, review this guide by the Child Welfare Information Gateway and contact your local court for additional information. 

The impact that adult adoption had on my life cannot be understated. It meant a home to return to during summer breaks in college and a place to go for much-needed advice and support as a young adult. I carry this personal experience with me into my professional role at the Foundation, where it motivates me to passionately insist on the adoptability of all youth, regardless of age.  

If you are a foster youth who aged out of care or an adult who has a relationship with a youth who has aged out, please consider the option of growing your family through adult adoption. Because you are never too old for a place to call home. 

For general information on adult adoption and its significance in the lives of older youth, visit the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connection website.

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