I originally wrote this foster-to-adopt case study for the National Adoption Center website.
After seeing the movie The Blind Side—the story of a homeless teen taken in by a family that supported and encouraged him onto an NFL career—Karen Pascucci was inspired to adopt from foster care.
Karen’s husband John immediately agreed. John and Karen have both lived through difficult former marriages and divorces. “We could relate to how a child in foster care must be feeling,” Karen said. “The anxiety. Losing one’s foundation. These are relatable feelings.”
“We have more empathy because we’ve been through hard times,” John added. “We have a lot to offer as parents plus the time, lifestyle and an extra bedroom that felt empty.”
The Process & The Match
John and Karen’s home study took 9-10 months. They were approved by the end of May, attended their first foster-to-adopt match party on June 23, and new son Ethan was in the house by the end of August. The whole process cost the Pascuccis a couple hundred dollars.
It all started at the match party. The Pascuccis were looking for a 10 to 13 year old girl. “Instead, we got a 16 year-old man-boy,” Karen joked.
Despite having no emotional, physical or learning disabilities, Ethan was considered a “special needs” child simply because he was near emancipation age.
During the match meeting, an astute social worker felt Ethan and the Pascuccis would be a perfect fit, and asked them to lunch together. John and Ethan started bonding over sports. Karen jumped in and began teasing John. Ethan enjoyed their lighthearted banter.
The Pascuccis talked about their Friday pizza nights, their annual vacations, love of sports and their desire to support a child with college aspirations. At the end of the meeting, both selected each other as a match.
According to Ethan, it was the Pascucci’s active lifestyle that drew him in. “They travel, go rock climbing, to Phillies games… I could see myself living this kind of lifestyle.”
When Ethan joined the family, he was finally able to tap into his competitive drive and natural athletic abilities. Ethan decided to take advantage of his 6’ 4” tall stature and give rowing a try. Soon thereafter Ethan was fielding rowing scholarship offers from top schools. John, a former accomplished athlete, helped Ethan review the offers. Today Ethan is a sophomore at Syracuse University on a full rowing scholarship.
Not all family and friends were supportive at first. One family member met Ethan and said, “He’s a great kid, shockingly normal. If he is so wonderful, why didn’t anyone else adopt him?”
Another friend tried to discourage the Pascuccis but later said, “I am so glad you didn’t listen to me. Ethan’s a great kid.”
“If something happened to John and me, our biological daughter has a community around her of friends, school and neighbors who would step in to help. The difference is that Ethan never had a community built around him,” Karen observed.
The Pascuccis have children from other marriages with whom their relationships are strained due to contentious divorces. While some have embraced Ethan, some of John’s children decided to cut ties with him once he adopted Ethan.
Why Would a Teenager Wish to be Adopted?
Ethan really wanted a family, and someday wants grandparents for his children. He said his quality of life is dramatically better, and he loves having a home to go to for holidays.
Per Ethan, “Too many older kids aren’t considered for adoption. Everyone needs help whether they are 2 or 15 years old. More often than not, the older child is grateful for the opportunity. The 15 year old needs you as much as the toddler does.”
Advice from the Pascuccis on Adopting an Older Child
“You can take a perfectly normal child with an intact family, and then his world turns on a dime, and he is thrown into foster care. He will have issues to deal with,” Karen said. “If the child is over 10, the issues will be apparent in his behavior. When you actually know what they are, you can better deal with them.”
Teenagers can be reasoned with more than a younger child; they are willing participants in the adoption process.
Don’t forget what you were like as a teenager. All teenagers do knucklehead things. They are figuring things out.
Ethan was never taught how to study. He used to miss 30 days of school at a time. We needed to teach him a work ethic. We needed to find ways to motivate him. We never used “punishment,” it was “you lost a privilege,” but then we’d spin it into a positive.
When you adopt a child, you don’t have to deal with an ex-spouse. If we have to discipline Ethan, we deal with it together as a united front. This isn’t always the case when parenting with an ex.
Above all keep an open mind and remember, if children were perfect and self-supporting, they wouldn’t need parents at all.