By Melinda Haggerty
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Senior Vice President, General Counsel
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 his or her eighteenth birthday, provides young adults aging out of the child welfare system the option to find their forever family long after emancipating from foster care.
Before my professional path brought me to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 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 eighteenth 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 more than 23,000 youth per year who leave the child welfare system without a 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 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: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/jurisdiction.pdf and contact your local court for additional information.
The impact that adult adoption has had on my life cannot be understated. It has meant having a grandmother for my daughter, a place to share laughter around a Thanksgiving table, and the enduring gift of unconditional love. I carry this personal experience with me into my professional role here at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 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 with a relationship with an aged-out youth, please consider the option of growing your family through adult adoption. Because you are never too old for place to call home.
For general information on adult adoption and its significance in the lives of older youth, please visit http://www.nrcpfc.org/is/downloads/Adult%20Adoption.pdf.