Adopted kids in your youth program

How to offer the “home church” these kids need

By Wendy Kittlitz

Adolescence can be a tumultuous time for teens as they wrestle with many deeply personal issues. For adopted children, this life stage presents even more challenges and stressors.

Understanding their unique needs will help you develop an “adoption-friendly” culture in your youth ministry. Here are some important issues to keep in mind as you minister to adopted teens.


In the teen years, kids begin trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. For the adopted child, questions often arise about their birth family – questions such as Who are they? Should I find them and spend time with them? Can I do so?

Issues of rejection or loss may arise from these questions. Many will wonder what was “wrong” with them that made them unable to be parented by their biological parents.


Separating from parents – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and ultimately physically – is a process that starts in adolescence.

Kids may need guidance to do this in ways that are respectful to their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents may feel even more threatened by their child’s attempts to “leave the nest” than the average parent.

Youth in your program will be looking for others (peers, adults, leaders) to validate this separation process and assist in it. Work at helping them maintain appropriate relational ties while encouraging them to make their own choices – hopefully choices based on the Biblical principles you are communicating to them.


Always remember that an adopted child has experienced a disrupted attachment in his or her early life and that this may make navigating intimate relationships more rocky. Their need to love and be loved is just as great, but their ability to give and receive love may be somewhat impaired.

Encourage them to learn what real intimacy is, first in the context of building great friendships, and later, in romantic relationships. Point them to the importance of receiving the love of God deeply in their hearts and souls before seeking this in human relationships. Knowing God’s love will be foundational to any relationships they develop.


Adopted kids, who may question their lovability, may be more prone to confuse sex with love. Be clear about the difference and talk about it often. Legitimize the need to feel loved, but point out that only loving someone in a committed marriage leads to healthy sexual activity. Challenge assumptions that sexual activity will lead to a loving relationship. It rarely does!

Adopted kids who have little information about their birth father may be realizing, for the first time, that their biological parents’ sexual activity may have been less than ideal. (Rape, incest or premarital sex often lead to a child not being raised in their biological family). This may be a sensitive topic, so be aware of this and be willing to speak to a kid candidly and confidentially about these issues if they need that. Remind them that God redeems human beings’ shortcomings.

“Non-adopted” kids

Teens are often looking for a new paradigm, whether the one they have grown up with is good or not. Youth ministry is an amazing opportunity to invite kids to try on God’s family as the identity they will adopt for life.

Remember that most youth programs include kids who do not come from Christian homes, kids who are neglected and abused (even within Christian homes), and kids who connect with their youth leader but are not connected elsewhere. Although these kids are not “adoptable” physically or socially, they are kids for whom your youth program may become “family.”

This is a great opportunity for a church to “adopt” kids temporarily, if not permanently. They each need to be adopted, for real, into God’s family. Be sure to offer them the opportunity to do so.

Be aware of the presence of these kids and find ways to make them feel welcome in the context of your larger church’s activities and programs. If they can find answers to life’s questions in God’s family, they will be better prepared for all of life.

Finally, pray for all the kids you serve. They will one day form families of their own. Pray that they will create healthy, godly families that will nurture children – their own children, and perhaps adopted kids as well.

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada. She has worked as an adoption professional for 15 years and is also an adoptive mom.