When Sabreena Boyd was 11, she stood before the congregation at the New Jerusalem Full Gospel Church in Muscatine, Iowa, and asked for a new family. A member of the church's Sunday school, she had recently been placed in a foster home after her mother could no longer care for her. "I gave a speech saying that I wanted to be adopted by a Christian family, a loving family," recalls SaBreena, now 20. Stuart and Tina Juarez, a recently married couple who heard her speak that day, were impressed by SaBreena's maturity and after much soul searching decided to give the girl a home. "We just knew we had to do it," says Stuart. "We saw a child in need, we prayed about it, and everything just fell into place."
But what seemed at first like a storybook ending for a homeless child was actually the prologue to a far more complex tale. SaBreena, a tall, serious girl, had an explosive temper. A few months after her speech, she shoved a classmate's head through a school window and broke another girl's jaw on the bus, all in one week. And after she moved in with the Juarezes in the summer of 1998, she repeatedly ran away. "We did not believe that was the same girl that spoke at the church. It was like, no way," says Stuart. Nevertheless, he and Tina decided to stick with SaBreena and formally adopted her two years later, when she was 14. But things only got worse. SaBreena became pregnant the following year and once took a large Ginsu knife from the kitchen and kept it in her room for days. "She had us all scared for the longest time," says Stuart.
Now married and a mother of two, SaBreena is close to her parents, but as her story shows, adopting a teen can pose all kinds of challenges for the parents and the child. Over the past few years, however, the number of 12- to 18-year-olds adopted out of foster care has risen sharply, from 6,000 in 2000 to 10,000 in 2004. That's thanks, in part, to financial incentives and intensive campaigns to persuade people to take in some of society's most unwanted children. Monthly foster-care subsidies, which used to stop after a child was adopted, now continue typically until age 18 and average about $500 a month. In addition, the federal tax credit for adopting has more than doubled, from $5,000 in 2001 to $10,630 in 2005. And both national and state websites like adoptuskids.org and cominghomekansas.org have launched online photo galleries of older kids available for adoption.
Child-welfare advocates applaud the trend. Young people who "age out" of foster care because they fail to get adopted by the time they turn 18 are especially at risk for homelessness, unemployment and incarceration. "When you grow up in foster care, you just don't get the skills it takes to develop a successful adulthood," says Brenda McCreight, author of Parenting Your Older Adopted Child.