A rush to finalize before a teen turns 18
On a cold Thursday in January, Jeff received the call that started a flurry of events to adopt his fourth son. He had been home study approved for about a year and a half and was specifically waiting for a teen who needed a family.
“When I started fostering and adopting a few decades ago, I had the perspective that you should start as young as you can and do what you can. I believed that the battle was already won or lost when a kid reaches 18. What I’ve since discovered, is that it’s very important that I’m in the lives of all three of my kids, who are now in their 30s and 40s,” Jeff explains. “I’m the only person who has been truly consistent and always there for them.”
“I’m the only person who has been truly consistent and always there for them.”
Over the years, Jeff has continued to support his kids. “I’m there for everything from, ‘Hey Dad, we won the fishing tournament,’ to ‘Hey Dad, my girlfriend just dumped me,’ all the way to ‘Hey Dad, can you loan me some money?’ or ‘Hey Dad, can you help me figure out how to get the social services I need?’” Jeff explains.
So when the call from his worker came that January afternoon, he was excited to learn more about Dakota, a teen who would turn 18 in February. Jeff quickly agreed to meet him: “I thought he was quite interesting. I was hoping he would like me.”
After Dakota showed interest, they made plans to meet the following Tuesday at the local Ground Round. “I told Dakota’s Child-Specific Recruiter, ’When you first tell Dakota I’m interested, make it clear that I know his history and there is nothing in it that is going to make me decide not to adopt him’” Jeff shared. “The way I work, and in fact, the rule at Children’s Home, is that you don’t meet a kid until you’ve made a commitment to yourself that you want to adopt him. I didn’t want to set him up for another rejection.” It took a while for Jeff to convince Dakota this was the case, “He felt like he had to sell himself to me,” Jeff shares, “By the end of the meal, I convinced him that I was highly interested in adopting him.”
The two bonded over silly conversation and their differences. “He mentioned he knows how to make meatloaf. I told him that, in my lifetime, I’ve made three attempts to make meatloaf and they were all dismal failures. So we agreed that when he visited me, he would make meatloaf.”
That Friday, Jeff picked Dakota up and they ran to the grocery store to get the ingredients. “His meatloaf was delicious. He gave me the task of making the baked potatoes for the sides—Amazingly, I managed to avoid messing those up” shares Jeff.
The next couple weeks were a blur. Dakota visited Jeff each weekend while, as Jeff explains, “workers in Becker County, Grand Rapids, Duluth and even at the state of Minnesota all worked above and beyond to work a miracle.” In about a month, their workers needed to complete all of the required steps to finalize Dakota’s adoption—a process that typically takes 6-12 months. If they succeeded in doing it before his 18th birthday, he would be eligible for adoption subsidies up to the age of 21.
“Nobody was sure they would pull it off, but they did,” says Jeff. A mere three days before Dakota’s birthday, and less than a month after Jeff’s initial call, Dakota and Jeff officially became family. “I was taken by surprise in the difference I saw in Dakota after we went to court,” notes Jeff, “His voice changed. His posture changed. It’s clear to me that the finalization, really was the assurance to him that this was for real and I was not going to go away.”
A Lifelong Path
Jeff may have just adopted at the age of 65, but his compassion for children has been inherent from childhood. “When I was in elementary school, in my small town in Appalachia, I found out there was a children’s home where the kids lived. It just blew my mind that there were kids that nobody wanted,” he remembers.
In college he signed up for a big brother program and was matched with an 11 year old from a state school for the visually impaired that was down the street. “Now he’s 57 and we’re the best of friends,” Jeff explains.
“In 1981, I became a foster parent to an older teen through a program that tried to give kids a couple years of life skills before they went out on their own. I tried to teach him things that a kid in a healthy environment would know, but he had not been exposed to: how to be bodily clean, get a job, manage his money and clean his home,” Jeff shares. “He was with me from just before the age of 17 to just after he turned 19.”
“Looking back, I should have adopted him. But back then the idea of adopting even a 10 year old was a radical, new thing,” Jeff reflects.
“When you adopt an older teen, you know what track their life is on. You know what they’re doing and what you need to prepare for as a parent.”
After fostering, Jeff decided he should provide permanency to younger foster youth and proceeded to adopt three children from foster care. His experience parenting his three sons through puberty and into adulthood helped him see the value in adopting an older teen before they age out. He explains, “I’m not saying don’t adopt a younger kid. But, with an older teen, they’ve already gone through the tumultuous times of puberty and have come out the other side. When you adopt an older teen, you know what track their life is on. You know what they’re doing and what you need to prepare for as a parent.”
A Non-Traditional Family
It was important to everyone that Jeff and Dakota’s family dynamic supported the needs of Dakota. “He’s doing so well in school that he wanted to finish his year of school out. So he visits me on weekends and holidays,” shares Jeff. “We get together, and just like with my other kids, Dakota pokes fun at his old man.”
They’ve also begun planning for college visits—Dakota has applied to four schools around the state. “We’ll look at a couple more schools in the Twin Cities, too. I think Dakota is leaning toward wanting to be closer to home.”
Though the relationship is new, Jeff glows with the same fatherly pride as someone who has raised a child for years. “The first description I heard from his Child-Specific Recruiter was, ‘He’s a nerdy kid, very sweet and very funny.’ It’s the most accurate, short description I’ve ever heard in my life,” recounts Jeff. “This young man I just adopted has been a pure joy.”
Jeff has adopted four times from foster care. If you would like to talk to him about adopting a teen, he would be happy to connect. As he puts it, “The more homes we find, the better.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect you.
Learn More about adopting Teens
Jeff strongly recommends people watch Yves’s video from MN Adopt. In it Yves shares his perspective on wanting a family and being adopted just before his 18th birthday.Infographic: What Happens When Kids Age OutLearn About Foster Care AdoptionMeet Tyler: A Teen at Risk of Aging OutMeet Thelma: A Teen at Risk of Aging Out