Adoption is intended to lead to better outcomes than are often experienced by young people who age out of foster care. Yet, little is known about how youth fare following adoption. To learn more, we surveyed young adults adopted through the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) adoption recruitment program. Because of the foster care history among these youth, we anticipated that their families would experience challenges related to adoption. However, we also hoped that, because WWK’s diligent recruitment approach aims to match young people with parents who can meet their needs, most would have positive relationships with their parents.
We targeted for interviews all individuals ages 18 to 26 during our data collection period (Oct. 2014-Jan. 2018), who entered foster care at age 8 or older, and who were adopted through WWK in 13 states. We focused on older children because we suspected they would have been unlikely to have been adopted without WWK. We included questions on the survey used previously in the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth to facilitate comparisons with a sample of young people who exited foster care without having achieved permanency. Many questions were also used in the National Survey of Adolescent Health (add Health), allowing for comparison with a general population of young people. Young people were interviewed in-person at locations convenient to them. Respondents answered questions about the adoption process, post-adoption services, and about their well-being across multiple domains.
Of the 824 eligible respondents, we interviewed 132. Ten percent had experienced a prior failed adoption; 41 percent were adopted at age 15 or older. All their adoptions were intact, though 6 percent had thought about legally ending the adoption at some point. Overall, 79 percent experienced a challenge related to adoption, such as anger (42%), conflict with siblings in the family (48%), or managing relationships with birth family (58%). Twenty-four percent had run away at least once. Yet, 80 percent were very or extremely close with at least one adoptive parent. Most said it was very or extremely likely that they would spend future holidays with their parents (76%) and that they can turn to them for help (76%).
Conclusions and Implications:
A prior evaluation demonstrated WWK increases the likelihood of adoption. While the present study does not support causal inferences about the impact of WWK on young people’s well-being following adoption, it sheds light on how they are faring. As anticipated, challenges were common, but no adoptions had dissolved and most young people reported faring well in general and positive relationships with their parents. A caveat is that adoption instability and difficulties with the transition to adulthood are likely more common among survey non-respondents than respondents. Because child welfare cases close following adoption, an ongoing challenge in post-adoption studies has been identifying and locating participants; this is an area where more work is needed. The frequency of challenges speaks to the importance of post-adoption supports for families adopting older youth from foster care.