adopted teen and mom

January 11, 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Resources for Adopted Teens

Adoption is beautiful—it’s the grafting of a child from different roots to your own family tree. It is a choice; you get to choose your child and, in some cases, your child gets to choose you too. It is love; blood doesn’t make a family, love does.

Despite its many blessings, adoption can also come with some difficulties. Many of those difficulties result from the initial trauma that led to a child being placed for adoption in the first place.

What is Adoption Trauma & Why are Special Resources Needed?

Whether we’re talking about international adoption, infant adoption, foster adoption, or any other form of adoption, there is always the initial separation of the child from their birth parents. Then, there is the assimilation into a new family and, often, the search for identity. Many adoptees will ask, “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, and “Why did they give me up?” With those questions may come feelings of being unloved, frustration, anger, rejection, and hurt.

This trauma can also impact brain development. When a child’s needs aren’t being met (ie. food, comfort and love), they develop strategies to satisfy those needs which, in turn, alter the brain. They’ll develop the behaviors that allow them to implement those strategies and strengthen the parts of their brain that control those behaviors. This is survival mode.

brain picture

According to an article published by the North American Council on Adoptable Children,

“The parts controlling fear and anxiety grow to protect the child, while the parts controlling logical or more critical thinking shrink. These two parts of the brain might be in conflict, too, resulting in flashbacks and difficulty interpreting or identifying emotional responses. Eventually, the neural pathways associated with fear are so chronically activated that the brain develops indelible memories, attitudinal changes, and shifts in perception. This means that long after a child establishes safety, the coping mechanisms used to survive traumatic experiences remain—resulting in unexpected or uncontrollable reactions to certain triggers, issues processing or understanding consequences, and other potentially challenging behaviors like hoarding, yelling, or aggressive outbursts. “Problematic behaviors” are the products of a child’s brain’s best attempts at satisfying their needs in the absence of dependable help.”

This is why many adoptees develop certain issues like

Fact: 20% of adoptees have some form of a learning disability vs less than 10% for non-adoptees.

Now, add some of the normal challenges that come with teen life to that adopted teen experience. Of course, there is the inevitable puberty. There are also the challenges that come with needing to be accepted among peers and figuring out who they are.

All together, this is quite a lot for adopted teens to deal with. It also presents a hefty challenge to parents helping their teens manage and cope.

What Resources are There for Adopted Teens?

a teen, her mom, and her therapist

Parents, we have some good news for you. There is help! In most states, you can find post-adoption services for your child even if you currently live in a different state or country than where you adopted them.

Common services are

  • Support Groups
  • Adoption Education Classes
  • Individual Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Medical Assistance
  • College Assistance
  • Respite Care

To search for these services in your own state, you can search these two databases:

Childwelfare.gov

Adoptuskids.org

While these resources can help your family take a proactive approach to your teen’s adoption issues, there are some educational books and podcasts you might be interested in checking out too.

Books

  • Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge
  • It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, by Mark Wolynn
  • The Connected Child, by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine

Podcasts

Therapy is One of Your Best Resources

One of the most important resources that shouldn’t be overlooked is therapy. It can help you address issues from all angles. The three main types of therapy are

Individual therapy can help your teen have a safe place to express their feelings and learn how to process them appropriately.

Group therapy can help your teen discover that they are not alone in how they feel and find the peer support they may need.

Family therapy can help your family unit learn how to work together to address your teen’s issues, any root causes, and any other issues that might be affecting the functionality of your family.

Because adoption situations can present unique challenges, it might be helpful to work with a licensed therapist who understands the adoption experience. To find a local therapist near you who has worked with adoption, you can check out a database like

Psychology Today – Find an Adoption Therapist

Working with a local therapist can be extremely helpful. However, some situations may be more serious and need more intensive help.

Is Turn-About Ranch the Resource Your Teen Needs?

boy and his horse at Turn-About Ranch

Turn-About Ranch is a residential treatment center for teens and is located in our desert oasis of Escalante, Utah. We are committed to being a valuable resource for troubled teens and their families. We have mountains, horses, and plenty of space for your teen to work through their issues. The average stay in our program is 120 days, and during that time your teen will be lovingly supported by our team as they undergo therapy and participate in various activities designed to teach them life skills and instill good values.

Our Turn-About Ranch team is very experienced with working with adoption issues. In fact, about 20 percent of our students are adoptees—and some of us have had personal experiences with adoption as well. Every one of our programs is designed to help address a variety of teen mental health issues, many of which are common among struggling adoptees.

Our Academics Program

Your teen’s education is very important. Even though they may be away from home, they’ll still be involved in our school. We have an onsite schoolhouse complete with a multi-age classroom, computer room, and library. It’s a small classroom learning environment equipped to meet each teen’s academic needs on an individual level. This is definitely ideal for adopted teens with learning disabilities or who may need a little extra attention than what can be given in the typical public school classroom environment.

The Institute for Family Studies reports that adoptees are “twice as likely to have had their parents contacted in the last year due to schoolwork problems; three times as likely to have had their parents contacted in the last year due to classroom behavior problems; four times more likely to have repeated a grade; and three times more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school.”

The extra attention we’re able to give your teen can help address some of the educational gaps and delays that are prevalent within the adoptee community as well as teach them skills that will benefit them in their academic future.

Our Vocational Program

Our vocational program is designed to help teens develop practical life skills through activities focused on auto mechanics, the culinary arts, and building trades. Whether or not they dream of one day having a trade career, learning such skills can be valuable in helping your teen to become self-sufficient. Our hope is that teens participating in this program develop characteristics such as self worth, confidence, and motivation.

While adoptive parents report that 49% of their children are doing excellent or above average work in school, some adopted youth may struggle with the rigors and expectations that come with a formal education. Thus, a trade school route may be more fulfilling for them than the traditional college path. By taking your teen under our wing and teaching them vocational skills, we strive to show them that they can have a successful future no matter which educational route they choose after high school.

Our Horsemanship Program

In our horsemanship program, teens are assigned to a horse who they will care for and work with during their time on the ranch. They’ll learn the basics of equine care and riding skills they’ll get to practice in the arena and out on the trail horseback riding and herding cattle.

This program also serves to engage our students in equine therapy. Working with horses can provide at-risk teens with the sensory, emotional, and cognitive stimulation they need. While equine therapy can be beneficial to teens living with a wide variety of disorders, it can be especially valuable to adopted youth who have developed attachment disorders. Between 50 and 80 percent of adopted children display symptoms related to attachment disorders—which is why learning to create and maintain healthy bonds can be super important for them.

The bonds created between teens and horses can be quite strong! At Turn-About Ranch, your teen and their horse will be involved in activities designed to help them form a secure attachment and a bond that is reliable, positive, close, and reciprocal. They’ll earn their horse’s trust and may find their horse readily approaching them, vocally greeting them, and even initiating positive physical contact. It can be a really strong bond! Often, graduated students come back to the ranch to find that their horse still remembers them.

The goal of our horsemanship program coupled with our onsite individual, group, and family therapy is to help your teen to feel safer forming healthy attachments and to learn how to trust others.

Our Outdoors Program

You can’t come to Utah and not experience the great outdoors! Our ranch is literally right next to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and National Forest. We’re also a few minutes down the road from Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. In our outdoors program, students will get to explore beautiful sandstone canyons, dinosaur fossil sites, and Native American sites.

Our safe, fun, and sometimes a little challenging hikes and horseback riding adventures give our teens the opportunity to learn teamwork, to follow directions, and to navigate unpredictable circumstances. These can be real teachable moments for any teen but especially for adopted teens who struggle with being led or facing sudden changes.

Talk With Our Team!

We know adoption, and we can help your family! If you feel that you’ve exhausted your local resources and your teen needs more help, let’s talk. You can contact Turn-About Ranch here on our site or give us a call at (800) 842-1165 during normal business hours (8am to 5pm MST). Together, we’ll help get your teen on the path to a brighter future.

Video Testimonials & School Tour

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Turn-About Ranch

280 N 300 E.
Escalante, UT 84726
(800) 842-1165