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“The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he/she will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.” – Bruce Perry

As a dedicated advocate who has worked with foster children in West Virginia for more than 28 years, I consider this Bruce Perry quote to be my mantra. November is National Adoption Month, and as we head into this holiday season after a difficult year, we now, more than ever, need to support our older youth in foster care that are so in need of belonging, support and love.

Did you know approximately one in five children in foster care are teens waiting to be adopted? And, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), more than 122,000 foster youth eligible for adoption across the nation, who are without permanent family connections, are at risk of aging out of foster care when they turn 18-years-old. Research shows children that age out of foster care without any strong or stable family support are at a much greater risk for homelessness, mental illness and addiction.

Additionally, AFCARS shows that youth who have aged out of foster care have less than a 3% chance to earn a college degree at any point in their life, and 7 out of 10 girls will become pregnant before the age of 21. While programs are in place to support youth aging out of foster care, nothing can compare to caring human connections, support and a sense of belonging created by family.

Many adolescents in foster care have experienced abuse, neglect and chaos due to the actions of their biological parents or care givers. They may have experienced numerous broken promises and have learned to protect their feelings from further pain. Over the last 10 years, we have learned a great deal regarding the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). There has been a revolution in biological sciences, neurobiology and genomics regarding our understanding the of the effects of ACE on children and families. Childhood trauma can impact the long-term health outcomes for physical, social and emotional wellbeing. We now know that the best treatment for the trauma of childhood comes from the love and connection of caring adults.

Foster care is a temporary living situation to provide safety for children. It’s not designed to replace the need for lifelong family connections and belonging. For many, the end goal is reuniting with their family, but for some, this never happens. Some children spend years in foster care and, as they enter their teenage years, lose hope of ever truly belonging to a family. Fortunately, each day thousands of foster families open their hearts and homes in order to love and support, and adopt, many of these older children.

As parents, we know that our children need support, guidance and love as they take those first steps into adulthood and thereafter. Many of us are blessed with lifelong family support systems and connections. And as grown adults, we look forward to time spent with our families, we celebrate birthdays, holidays or a simple Sunday family dinner. Home should always be a “safe place to land.” It’s difficult to imagine being a young adult with no family. No matter their age, all children deserve a loving, permanent family and a place to call home. No foster child is too old for adoption.

Please consider learning more about welcoming a teenager into your family. For more information about foster care and adoption visit Children’s Home Society of West Virginia at childhswv.org. Visit childwelfare.gov for more information about National Adoption Month.

Kathy Szafran is the executive director of Aetna Better Health of West Virginia’s Mountain Health Promise Medicaid managed care program.