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Commentary: Teenagers need parents to adopt them

Teenagers conjure up all kinds of images in our minds: Strong, energetic, techy, buoyant, independent, impulsive, emotional, adventuresome and ever-changing. They are complex human beings who need care, stability and guidance in their lives to become healthy productive adults.

This is especially true for teens in foster care. They have faced significant trauma in their young lives — more than many of us can imagine. They have often come from neglectful or abusive homes. Many have witnessed their parents abusing drugs. Some have lived in inadequate housing. They may have mental health issues of their own.

They are not equipped to go out into the world and live on their own just yet. They need healthy, stable, nurturing parents.

Right now, 820 Minnesota foster children are waiting for families to adopt them. Thirty-nine percent are 12 to 18 years old. Older adolescents are some of the children most likely to enter the foster care system and most likely to stay there the longest. And, they often have younger siblings who need to be adopted with them.

No one wants children to grow up in foster care. While foster care is critical to providing temporary care to children when their families work through crises, we want them to return safely home or find another permanent home through adoption. That is our responsibility at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, but we need your help to accomplish that.

In 2017, nearly 16,600 Minnesota children were in foster care. Of those who left foster care last year, 64 percent returned safely home and almost 22 percent were adopted or became part of a relative's family through permanent, legal, physical custody.

While I congratulate the families who adopted and applaud the good work of social workers who are finding permanent homes for children, we need to do more.

In Minnesota, thousands of children enter our foster care system every year, and those numbers are climbing. And while our adoption numbers are increasing as well — with families adopting 955 children last year — that is due, in part, to more children entering our system.

Of those 955 children, families adopted:

• 498 (52 percent) children birth to 5 years old

• 321 (34 percent) children 6-11 years old

• 136 (14 percent) youth 12-17 years old.

Our goal is to find safe, nurturing, permanent homes for all foster children available for adoption as quickly as possible so they don't linger in foster care. Our hope is that you can help us and, more importantly, the 820 children, especially adolescents, who are waiting.

For more information, contact your county social services agency or MN ADOPT at, 612-861-7115 or 866-303-6276.

(Emily Piper is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services)