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Portland Press Herald: Adopted by a teen: how one Maine family bonded with children at every stage

By February 15, 2024March 4th, 2024News

This story was published by Portland Press Herald. View the story online through the link below or read a snippet copied from the article, below.

Adopted by a teen: how one Maine family bonded with children at every stage

The need for Maine resource homes for older youth in foster care is urgent, but many parents prefer to adopt a younger child or infant. Or at least, that’s what they think they want.

Some parents think there will be fewer challenges with a younger child. While some believe that a bond will develop easier at a younger age.

The truth is, raising any child will be challenging, and as the Watson-Todd family discovered, developing a family bond is possible regardless of age.

Stephanie and Jennie were long-time Maine resource parents when they met 15-year-old Natalie. The couple had already adopted two boys. Kevin came to them at age five and was adopted two years later, and Aspen was five months old when he joined the family and adopted when he was two-and-a-half.

When they decided to add to their family again, they thought it would be best to seek out a younger child. Jennie really liked the idea of a baby, and Stephanie’s ideal age was under five.

“We wanted to adopt that age range because it was where we thought we could make the most impact in the trajectory of a child’s life,” said Jennie.

In the meantime, the couple was still open to respite placements, and that is how they met their daughter.

Natalie had already been through eight homes while in foster care. Her foster home at the time was not working out, and Natalie’s caseworker really wanted permanency for her. But Natalie initially showed little interest in joining the Watson-Todd family.

“I remember the first meeting, she was slouched in her seat with her black hoodie over her head, turned sideways to not appear involved,” Jennie told us.

During their first weekend together, the family visited the Brewer waterfront. It is a popular spot along the Penobscot River with a winding walkway, picnic areas, and a small frog pond (which the kids became very familiar with).

“Natalie and the boys hit it off right away,” Jennie said. “It was so cute watching Natalie catch frogs and give them to the boys. And when Kevin fell in, she jumped right in and scooped him out!”

After that weekend, everyone (including Natalie) knew they felt “the fit” right away. Even though the couple originally thought they wanted a younger child; they knew that Natalie would be a great addition to the family.

Everyone agreed they’d like to spend more time together, so they arranged another respite visit for the following weekend. By Sunday, a collective family decision was made: Natalie would stay.

The instant fit that they all felt quickly grew into a genuine, loving connection. But even with time, Natalie was hesitant to consider adoption. She was afraid of history repeating itself.

“She drove the bus, so to speak,” said Jennie. “We talked often of adoption and said we would adopt if she was interested, but we never pushed it.”

The couple was also realistic.

“We had to adjust our own expectations,” Stephanie explained. “We were not going to change her, but we could give her the tools to make her life what she wanted it to be.”