23-Year-Old Gets Adopted At Last

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True

Adult Sam Ferraro-Hauck, center, with his two fathers and the family dog. Credit: Kevin Davis/CNN

He had given up on ever having parents.

Now, the man formerly known as John celebrates his one-year anniversary this month as Sampsen May Ferraro-Hauck, the son of Mark Hauck and Tim Ferraro of Minnesota. Some things just take time. He was not formally adopted until he was 23.

"To us, Sam was simply our son," Mark Hauck tells CNN. "It didn't matter that we didn't bring him home in a blanket."

Back six years ago when he was still known as John, he wasn't really thinking about finding parents when he left California's foster-care system, after a hard and lonely childhood. He spent his early years abused and neglected, and authorities took him away from his mother -- who would scream his name at him frequently -- when he was 7.

And one thing was for sure. The boy hated his name. "She was always using drugs, always yelling at me," he says. "When you have someone doing that, you grow very tired of your name very quickly," he tells ParentDish.

New life, new name. His adoptive parents, Hauck and Ferraro, helped him pick his new, legal moniker.

"If they had been my parents from birth, they would have been able to choose my first name," the young man says. "I thought they should have that experience. They chose the name, but I wanted to choose the spelling, so we worked on it together."

Adult adoption in the United States is rare. According to government figures, there were fewer than 200 people between the ages of 18 and 20 adopted in 2008. But Ferraro-Hauck is among the small but significant number of older children and adults who are finding families. Michael Oher, the defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens who was adopted by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy of Memphis when he was in high school, is a famous example. His story was the basis for the new movie, "The Blind Side."

By the time he reached high school, John's odds of getting adopted were down to a national average of 7 percent, and his chances were even slimmer since he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, depression and behavioral issues. When he was 21, he was living temporarily with his former high school nurse. That's when he met her next-door neighbors, Hauck and Ferraro. They invited him to dinner and chatted about politics and religion.

A friendship evolved. Hauck and Ferraro loaned him money for doctor visits. They helped him with groceries and hired him for odd jobs around the house. They taught him how to write a resume and track his finances. They also found him a counselor to help with his depression.

The two older men, partners of 20 years, long considered adoption. However, they never considered adopting a grown man. Likewise, Sampsen stopped thinking about having a forever family.

While completing an adoption training program in the summer of 2008, Hauck and Ferraro listened to teens and young adults share their stories. The young people talked about how a permanent home gave them the support and confidence to succeed. Suddenly, they knew who they wanted for their son.

"He needed us. He needed a family," Ferraro says.

Hauck and Ferraro asked the young man to be their son on Sept. 12, 2008. It took him a few days to think it over and he ended up telling them he was tired of spending Christmas and birthdays alone. He realized, even as an adult, he still needs people close by to provide him advice -- and compassion.

"You never outgrow the need for a family," Ferraro says.

To help other young people without families, Hauck now works for Ampersand Families in Minnesota. The organization recruits and supports families for teenagers and young adults. Another Ampersand project is the Minnesota Heart Gallery -- an online collection of professional portraits of young people who need families. The efforts of Ampersand Families and other organizations are helped by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which gives funding incentives to states that promote older adoptions. The act extends the foster-care payment cutoff age from 18 to 21 years of age.

These days, Ferraro-Hauck is writing and recording music. One dad, Hauck, has experience in musical theater while the other, Ferraro, knows computers and the technical side of things.

"That's been a big part of our family bonding," Ferraro says. Some of Sampsen's songs are available on iTunes.

"I need a love song to get me through," he sings in "Only Love," one of the songs he and his parents recorded. "No more people crying in the night. No more children left to face their fright."

He may not be a little boy anymore. But he is someone's child.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.