by Davide Di Giorgio
Main image: Justin Driscoll
10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as Peter Mutabazi was enjoying some relaxation over the holiday season, his son brought up an idea that would challenge him to consider the next steps for him and his family.
At the beginning of the pandemic, after almost a year of waiting, Peter received approval to be a foster dad in the state of North Carolina. By this point, he had already fostered 13 kids in another state and had adopted his oldest, Anthony.
Peter and Anthony could have never expected to receive a placement two weeks into lockdown, but they did.
Read more about how it all happened.
“It’s hard to believe that now, 10-months later, we’re saying goodbye to this 8-year-old who has deeply touched our hearts and changed our lives.”
The little boy was being reunified with his birth parents. So, while it wasn’t easy for Peter and Anthony to say goodbye, they were comforted knowing that he was going back to the mom and dad who love him so much and who worked hard to become a united family once again.
While Anthony, who is 14, did enjoy having a little brother to play with (sometimes), Peter couldn’t believe his ears when, shortly after the little one left, Anthony said, “I think that maybe we should reach out to a teenager and give him a home.”
“I already have a teenager,” Peter thought. But, as he reflected back on 2020 he also remembered how he got the opportunity to advocate for teen fostering and adoption with AdoptUSKids.
Teens Need Us Most
As Peter and Anthony filmed the video for the campaign, the pair learned some shocking statistics about teens in the foster care system:
- Approximately 1 in 5 children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted are teens.
- Of the more than 437,000 youth in the U.S. foster care system, about 125,000 youth under the age of 18 are currently waiting for adoptive families. (AFCARS FY 2018).
- Only 5% of all children adopted in 2018 were between the ages of 15 and 18 years old.
- Teens have lower adoption rates than younger children, and they often wait longer to be adopted.
- Finding families for older teens is especially critical as youth that age out of the foster care system at 18, or 21 depending upon the state, face greater challenges and risks.
Even Anthony was a child who found himself in the foster care system as a pre-teen. So when Peter met Anthony for the first time and he announced “I was told when I was 11 I would get to choose who my dad was, and I choose you” he knew that he’d become his dad.
In 2019 Peter officially adopted Anthony as a teenager.
As Peter considered if he was ready to take in another child, let alone a teen, he also thought back to his own life experience, growing up poor in Africa, running away from an abusive home at 11, becoming a street kid, and later being taken in by a complete stranger as a teen himself.
“I couldn’t ignore my history—the opportunities that had been given to me by strangers...and I know just how many kids out there have no one.”
An Ugly Truth
As a former high school music teacher myself, I know through personal experience what it can look like for a teen to slip through the cracks. I remember one young man in particular. By the time I met him, he and his siblings had already been in and out of the foster care system for most of their lives. In fact, for quite some time, they were placed with the same foster parents who watched their mother when she was a child. For this family, foster care was generational.
He was a sweet kid; smart and eager to learn, talented, funny, and very loving. All of these great qualities were also symptoms–ways to cover up the pain of what he’d experienced in life. Neglect, abuse, exposure to alcohol, drugs, pornography, and even having to check if his own parents were still alive after multiple-day binges.
Several years after we first met, when he was 20 and about to age out of foster care, I had the opportunity to catch up with him. He hadn’t completed high school, had no ID, a bank account that was frozen, never had a job, never learned to drive, and his previous exposure to alcohol, drugs and porn had now become his own addictions causing great impact on his mental and emotional health. At his young age, he’d already experienced living on the streets and had made multiple suicide attempts for which he’d been hospitalized.
This is not an isolated story. It’s the story, in one form or another, of over 100,000 youth in the United States alone. The perceived challenges of teen adoption make it a rare occurrence.
Imagine being a young adult who faces this ugly reality with little to no hope of any future opportunity.
It Only Took One Call
After the conversation Peter had with his son about bringing in a teen, when his social worker called and told him there was a young man who needed a home, he knew that he couldn’t ignore the timing of it all. Through his own life experiences and what he’d been through with Anthony, he knew that no matter what circumstances came with this teen, he would do whatever it takes to give them a home where they could thrive.
“He’s 17—only one year left in foster care so I can help him with whatever life skills he needs, whether it’s to get a driver’s license, to support him with his schooling, or to help guide him into a career.”
While many people focus on what can go wrong, Peter focuses on the benefits and rewards of giving a teen a chance, just like he was given a chance.
“Most of all, I can give him the love and attention he deserves. To let him know he belongs.”
Peter and Anthony recently welcomed the young man into their home.
Peter Mutabazi is not only helping kids in his own home, he founded Now I Am Known to let even more kids and teens feel seen and heard, and that they belong through a unique Plushie modeled after the family dog, Simba, and a bandana with phrases of affirmation that helped him to understand and realize his own full potential.
Visit nowiamknown.com to learn more about Peter and his growing family.
Davide Di Giorgio is a speaker, author, and advocate. His latest project, Now I Am Known is giving vulnerable kids and young people the opportunity to feel seen, heard, and loved. His TED talk, Overcoming Comparanoia® is fueling a mission to empower people, especially young people, to compare less, celebrate more, and to spread kindness to all.