It’s not just newborns and toddlers that need a new place to call home.

A quarter of the youth awaiting adoption in the Garden State are between the ages of 13 and 18, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

This age group, typically overlooked by wannabe adoptive parents, is overrepresented on the state and national level. It’s the focus of a newly-launched campaign by the federal government, AdoptUSKids and the Ad Council.

“I think that most families, when they come forward to adopt, teens don’t even come into their thought process,” said Bob Herne, national project director at AdoptUSKids. “So what we’re trying to do is highlight that teens want families as much as younger children do.”

Nationwide, teenagers represent about 20% of the youth in the foster care system that are waiting to be adopted.

Of the 1,058 children adopted in New Jersey in 2018, just 11% were between the ages of 13 and 18. But they make up 25% of the children waiting for a new family, as of Oct. 26, according to DCF.

“While it can be challenging to connect teens in our system to adoptive homes, families that have taken that step have found it to be a rewarding and fulfilling experience,” said Carmen Diaz-Petti, DCF Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.

Diaz-Petti said the state is first committed to keeping families together, and perhaps reuniting child and family down the line. But when reunification is not possible, the state turns to adoption “to give children a sense of home, family and permanency.”

In New Jersey, children aged 10 and over are required to attend a court hearing during the process, and they can choose whether or not they’d like to be adopted by a specific family.

“Research shows that youth who age out of foster care don’t do very well in terms of completing high school,” Herne said.

While adoptive parents of a teen may not be able to see their new child’s first steps, Herne said, they still have the opportunity to help their child obtain a driver license, prepare for prom, and other milestones.

And paying for college for the teen may not be as heavy of a burden as one may expect. According to AdoptUSKIds, those adopted from foster care at age 13 or older are considered to be an “independent student” and don’t have to count family income when attempting to qualify for financial aid.

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