Every so often a feel-good movie comes around that not only inspires, but actually shares useful information that we usually don't get in the pop culture universe. Mark Wahlberg’s new movie Instant Family introduces a couple who chooses to become foster parents to three siblings after moving into a big house with rooms to spare. It's loosely based on the real-life experiences of the movie’s director, Sean Anders, who went through a similar journey with his wife. The main difference, however, is that the movie includes a teenager in the mix, which Anders purposely highlighted since teens have a harder time being adopted. In fact, statistically, 40 to 50 percent of teens who age out of the foster system become homeless within 18 months.
Personal Space spoke to Tifarah Canion, a family recruiter for SAFE’s Foster & Adopt in Austin, to find out more about what the foster-to-adopt situation really looks like for couples interested in learning more about the process. SAFE stands for “Stop Abuse For Everyone” and its program provides foster care, adoption services, and kinship care to families in Central Texas.
Canion said that, in her experience, it is very rare for families to request a teen, as most are interested in adopting babies and toddlers. The situation of older children needing homes is more dire, because if they don't have an established support system in place before they turn 18, they become homeless, addicted to drugs, or pregnant within the first year out of care like many others.
One of the best ways to help if you are able to is to become a foster parent. A common first step in this process is to attend a Foster/Adopt information session and then follow up with orientations with different agencies. At that point, you are in a position to begin pre-service training.
Although Instant Family highlights certain parts of the process that are less known, not everything is as simplified as it can appear to be in a family comedy. Canion explained that it is important for foster parents to know that it can be difficult for an older child to establish trust, since older adoptees have come from a lifetime of being let down by adults. Sometimes they may act out even if their current situation is going well since for many, “it is about a past that led them to build up walls and protection due to rejection.” It is imperative to go into the process with an open mind and the intention of slowly gaining trust with your foster child.
According to Canion, it is also important to understand that trauma alters the brain. Canion explains that a 16-year-old who has been in foster care may respond differently than a child the same age from a safe home. An agency with a good support system will be happy to provide you with the training to assist the transition for you and your foster child. One of the wonderful aspects about working with older children is that once you build that trust, they are easier to connect with because they can communicate their needs better than someone who is much younger.
While adding a new person to any family is an adjustment, the benefits can far outweigh the challenges. Having the ability to completely change someone’s life for the better is a very powerful thing, but not a decision to be made lightly. If giving a loving home to a child who has nowhere else to go is something you can do, that certainly would be the best gift in the world.
Credit: Paramount Pictures
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