Broadening teenagers’ horizons through extended family

It’s National Adoption Month and this year the focus is on teens. Teenagers make up almost one quarter of the children in the foster care system

Many teens in foster care develop a sense of hopelessness. They see themselves aging out of the system without good prospects—and the stats aren’t in their favor, 29% experience homelessness, 20% are likely to be incarcerated and 23% will become parents before turning 21 years-old. College enrollment is only 50% of the rate of the general population.

What’s missing is not only the love and stability of being in a family but the connections stemming from kinship that bring involvement in wider society. Sadly, for children over the age of 16 in foster care, less than half will leave by going into a family. This situation is actually worse than it was five years ago.

Downey Side started with a single teenage adoption. Father Paul Engel, placed sixteen-year-old Brian Champoux with one of his parishioners, Margaret Downey, in 1967 in Springfield, Massachusettes. The agency has steadfastly centered its attention on placing school-aged children into permanent loving homes ever since.

This year, Downey Side has already finalized 6 adoptions—2 boys and 4 girls—aged between 9 and 17 years old and we hope to add another 13-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl soon. This is typical for us. The average age of our adoptees is 11 ½ years old, twice the national average.

At the Downey Side barbecue for our families in Point Pleasant NJ at the tail end of summer, it was especially moving to hear the stories of grandparents in attendance. It brought home how families are a gateway to supportive relationships.

The grandparents all shared a keen interest in their grandchildren’s development, helping in all kinds of ways from simply giving parents a break or showing up for local team sports to using their social network to solicit opportunities such as getting part-time employment. Greater socialization is such a natural part of being in a family it’s easy to take for granted. And, it’s particularly important for teens, without it they are poorly equipped for adulthood.  

You can hear some Downey Side grandparents share their experiences along with other family members in this video.

How can you help Downey Side during National Adoption Month? 

When families adopt school-aged children, Downey Side charges them a fee, one that is much lower than most other adoption agencies. We can do this for two reasons, firstly, we keep all our overheads to the barest minimum, and secondly, through the generous financial support of people like you.

To donate to Downey Side click here

You can also help by spreading the word and sharing this blog post or encouraging your friends to follow us on social media.

-Ian Keldoulis,

Writer & Downey Side Board Member