contributed by Abbigail Facey, Program Intern
As the teens enter the room one can feel the excitement building. It takes these thirty young people only a few minutes to gain their composure, survey their surroundings and strike up conversation with neighboring youth; the hum of chatter and laughter quickly begins to fill the room. Amidst this sea of budding friendships, prospective parents and adoptive families offer nervous smiles, and firm handshakes, as they attempt to begin conversation with these lively young people.
“For some prospective parents, this is the first time they have attended a Match Party,” explains Crystal, an adoption coordinator with NAC. “While they are excited to finally meet face-to-face with children, versus reading their bio or viewing their picture—there is a certain level of anxiety that each family faces.”
NAC – which expands adoption opportunities for children living in foster care – has led the way for 25 years in facilitating matching events, designed to introduce prospective parents to older youth who hope to be adopted. By focusing on teenagers, NAC’s goal is to eliminate the sense of competition often present between older youth and younger children at typical matching events.
“When children of all ages attend match parties, families tend to inquire more about the younger kids, those under 10,” says Sheina, an adoption coordinator at NAC. “That wasn’t fair to the older kids.”
For Sheina, the best part about the Teen Match Parties “is seeing families who originally were interested only in children under 8 years old, having great conversation with a 12 year old and completely change their outlook.”
At these parties, the youth spend quality time with their peers who face similar challenges; they are able to express their feelings and show their personalities in a safe and supportive environment. Myenisha, a child who attended a Match Party, said “You get to meet families and other kids in the same situation.” This connection helps children understand that, while they may be experiencing significant transitions within their lives, they are not alone. “The children tend to be relaxed at the event because they have been prepared by their Case Manager or Adoption Recruiter,” says Crystal. “We let them know that they always have support and are not alone.”
NAC’s latest Match Party this past Fall was at The Funplex in East Hanover, New Jersey. After having created 14 similar parties with her team over the past three years, Allen said “We have it down to a science. We were initially worried about there being too many distractions for the kids at the event, but it worked out really well.”
One way NAC's staff prepares teenagers for the Adoption Party event is through two pre-party events, led by a motivational group facilitator. These events assist teens in becoming more comfortable and confident about moving forward with the Match Party.
The process of finding qualified prospective adoptive parents poses a greater challenge for NAC—unfortunately, a smaller percentage of prospective families consider adopting older children. Even with the realities of a smaller pool of families interested in teens, NAC has a long and successful history of success. These are teens who might still be lingering in the foster care system alone, who instead successfully found a forever family.
“The hard work put into the event is well the worth the effort,” Sheina said. “The entire office does a lot to prepare for the event—the paper work, the calls made for monetary donations is all worthwhile to see parents and kids engaged in conversation. The ultimate goal of our efforts is to create a match between prospective parents and children.”
That effort does not go unnoticed by the children attending the event. Thalia who attended described the party as, “awesome… because there’s a lot of people who care about you.”
As NAC approaches its 40th year anniversary, Thalia can be sure that those who care about her and her story will continue to work toward finding the perfect home for her and others who need someone to make a difference in the way they grow up.