August 2015

Adoption of older youths comes with special challenges, special rewards

The Uhlers pose for a family photograph at their home in York County, Pennsylvania. Adopted daughter Tori is in front left.

Adoption of older youths can come with special challenges.

Jeff and Angela Uhler of York County understood that going in. But they also had a plan—to help their adopted daughter build a bridge from her past to a better future and to understand that, no matter what, her future with them was assured.

Thirteen-year-old Tori had experienced a lot of unhappiness—being separated from her sisters, spending several years in foster care, and awaiting potential adoptions that didn’t work out. Her birth mother had passed away in 2009 and, shortly after that, her father had terminated parental rights.

Tori is not alone—many of the youths who await permanent families are older. They don’t fit the adoption stereotype of the healthy infant, yet their need for permanence is just as great. And, often, as they grow older in foster care, they feel time is running out.

The Uhlers, in fact, began the adoption process seeking a child between 7 and 12. They had given a lot of thought to age, even consulting their then-9-year-old daughter, Grace. At first, Grace wanted a sister her same age, then decided one younger would be better.

“It feels as if she’s always been part of our family.”

Despite her being slightly older than their age preference and not on a list of potential matches, the family was immediately drawn to Tori. “Tori has attention deficit disorder. So does Angela,” says Jeff. “Tori has seizure disorder. I have seizure disorder. She had lost her mother; we had lost a close relative. All these things in Tori’s life we related to.”

Moreover, Jeff told Angela that he had found himself re-reading Tori’s profile. She had been doing the same, she said. That sealed the deal.

“We knew it was a good match,” Angela says. “There are qualities we have that we knew could help and guide her. We had faith.” And Grace decided that having an older sister, in fact, seemed the way to go.

Tori joined the family the end of last summer, just as the school year was set to begin. In those early days, she was busy adjusting to junior high school, new friends and her new family. Jeff helped her with homework. They got her involved in Girls Scouts and signed her up for soccer. Tori’s life was definitely different and full of new experiences.

But there were also challenging times, Jeff recalls.

“Were we ready for a teenager? Not really,” he says. “But we told Tori that no matter what, you’re our daughter. We’re not sending you away.”

“We knew there were going to be times of trauma,” Angela adds. “We had our first fight with her a week-and-a-half after she moved in. She was testing us.”

And now?

The Uhler family members enjoy numerous activities together.

“There are still moments,” Angela smiles. “I mean, she is a teenage girl. But early on, we told Tori, ‘you’re with us now’ and we’ve talked with her about future education, after high school. We said, ‘we’re behind you 100 percent.’ It helps her to know she has people to be there for her.”

Further, the Uhlers emphasized that “we want to start new memories, not have you forget your past, but build new ones together.” Over the last year, they’ve worked to find the right balance, as most adoptive families do.

While having an older youth presented challenges for the busy family, such as having someone at home for Tori after school, Jeff found that his company—an engineering consulting firm—was willing to allow him to adjust his schedule and work from home as needed. “They were all for it. I really appreciated that,” he says.

The Uhlers praise the training and orientation they received from Diakon Adoption & Foster Care for helping them know what to expect and how to deal with common challenges adoptive families face. 

Today, the family is busy building lots of new memories for Tori. Grace sometimes pesters Tori, “like a little sister should,” Angela chuckles. And Tori talks of college and a future that may have been impossible before.

Angela succinctly sums the journey that brought Tori to their family: “It feels as if she’s always been here.”

Adoption of older youths can come with special challenges—but also very special rewards.

 

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