Older Child Adoption: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Hi Everyone,
My husband and I are considering older child adoption. We'd be able to take one child or a sibling group of two, up to age 7, of any race. (We have a biological son, and I've heard many times over that it's not good to upset the "birth order" so we're looking for a child/children younger than our son).

Having said that, I want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of older child adoption. From what I've heard from people, the reaction tends to be one extreme or the other. It's either: "adopting an older child is the most rewarding and wonderful thing you'll ever do and all you need is love." Or it's along the lines of: "adopting an older child is the worst decision you'll ever make because they all have severe problems and they'll never recover and your life will be ruined."

I'm assuming that it's somewhere between the two. So I'd like to hear from some parents who actually adopted older children. And I want to hear it all. The positives and the negatives. The questions we should ask our case worker. What you would have done differently. What you wish you'd known. All that fun stuff.

Thanks in advance! :love:
Having had horrible experiences with older child adoption; and, knowing a lot of other people who've experienced less than wonderful experiences with older child adoption, I'd have to say this:

The worst part of older child adoption is many, MANY agencies simply won't disclose vital information to the hopeful adoptive parents who are VERY green, VERY generous and VERY hopeful their child will be wonderful in all ways. That's no offense to you, but speaks to agencies who deliberately put 'placing a child anywhere is more important than finding the best home/place for a child'. And don't think this isn't the norm, because it is.

In order to know HOW to parent older children, it would be wise to attend SEVERAL support groups for parents who've adopted older kids. I can't say enough to how these groups will give you full insight into the best and worst parts of older child adoption. Caseworkers will fail to tell the entire stories....parents who are literally living the life, will tell you straight up. And don't think parents who've had their older children for less than a year or two can give you a full scope of what it's like. Talk to those who've been doing this for at least 3-5yrs. They'll be able to tell you how it really is----with the rose-colored glasses removed, KWIM?

Make sure you carefully consider EVERYTHING About any child/ren you're presented. Don't go into this emotionally. Don't think, "If we don't adopt him/her, who will?" Because the truth is, there are many older children for adoption who should never be in a traditional home or with unexperienced parents. I'll enclose a checklist I devised years ago and I've been told it's been very helpful to many.

Additionally, realize that parenting an older child from the system is NOT---is NOT---ANYTHING like parenting a child from birth. Their issues are scarring; their fears are real; their acting out (in some scenarios) will harm other children in your home; their emotional issues can be extremely taxing and sometimes, they will never learn to change---nor, will they WANT to change because, in their mind, it's just too hard---no matter what.

Realize that you'll be learning from them--daily. For some children, you'll need/have to repeat the same directions day after day forever. For others, you'll find incredible joy over simple things and you can rejoice with them. But understand, MANY of these children will never allow you to fully attach to them. Many of them will only allow you to attach to parts of their souls, but never give up the rest because they've just been hurt too much for too long.

Another thing. This may seem offensive to some, but unless you've BTDT, you'd never understand how similar animals are to children. Animals who've been raised in abusive situations and/or situations where they were neglected react very similar to children who've been in abused and neglected situations. The difference is, animals can survive with basic skills---humans have a hard time doing this. It's the person who realizes the child has chosen to live this way for life and parent accordingly. SOOO many parents will literally knock themselves out thinking THEY can change the child---if they JUST Try Hard enough! Bottom line: You can't MAKE anyone do something they don't want to do. Doesn't matter how much you love them, how many sedatives you take in order to cope (and believe me, MANY parents of older adopted children take meds in order to face/cope with their child's behaviors); doesn't matter how much you try...the child's mindset/fears/disappointments and dreams have been altered. You can't change them.

Realize this: The younger the child is when you bring them into your home, the better the chances the child will recover from their hurt condition.
Something like 98% of all children who've been in the system have been sexually abused. That stat was given to us during our classes and I have no doubt it's probably pretty accurate.

This is a hard and sad response to your question, but you asked to hear all sides. I know of very few parents who are having lovely relationships with their older children. There are a few who DO have great relationships/experiences with their older children, but they are few and far between. And, those relationships are truly wonderful and great....so I KNOW it's possible, but it's not the norm.

Educate. Educate and Educate yourselves. Don't stop with the 'classes' the system provides. Keep in mind the system is DESPARATE for foster/adoptive parents and too often, the classes don't give the full truth.

Don't be afraid to say 'this particular child will not work in our home'. Those aren't words from a fearful and inexperienced parent. Those are words from a knowledgeable and excellent parent who knows their limits and best attributes in parenting a specific child and is willing to wait FOR that certain child to be presented to them.

IF...IF you'll go into this with eyes wide open. IF you'll understand exactly what you're up against and know going into this you'll have to roll up your sleeves and break your heart over and over again and maybe---just maybe----you'll be one of the few, you'll do alright.

Lecture over. I hope my words will help.

Best of luck to you....




Questions for parents considering the placement of a special needs child.

1. # of placements child has had; how long they lasted, why they disrupted. (Usually
folks are uneasy to disclose the 'why'....but I'd really try to find out!)
2. Permission (and I've done this w/o permission too) to contact past foster parents. (This
info can prove to be INVALUABLE...and most foster parents will gladly provide info as
to the 'why')
3. "Why" didn't past foster parents adopt this child?
4. At what age was the child 'removed from the home'..what type of pre-natal care
(especially drug use, etc), what's the situation with any sibs (adoption, prenatal drug use,
residential care, etc.?)
5. What kind of medication is the child on NOW....and what types has the child been on
previously? (Also, what types of diagnoses has this child been given in the past, by what
type of professional (psychiatrist,psychologist, or your 'mental health counselor' who
suspects something?)
6. What prompted termination? Did either parent voluntarily surrender and 'why'? Try to
get the psychologicals on the birthparents. (In some places, this is a 'no-no'...but we've
been given these before w/o asking. Many psychological traits have a genetic
7. Where are the biologicals now? Are there relatives in the area near you, and any chance
they'll be a problem?
8. What kinds of hospitalization (especially ER) has this child had? tests, etc. If so, you'd
like the paperwork!
9. What's this child been told about adoption? Does this child lament for his/her
10. What type of relationship did this child have with birthparents? ie, was this child
forced into being the 'parent' because parents were unable to be just that? Did this child
have to take care of younger, older sibs?
11. How does this child perceive him/herself? Is she self-centered? Does she share well?
(And I don't care how old the child is....this may still be a problem.)
12. Has or has this child EVER had a diagnoses of RAD (reactive attachment
disorder)...or ANY type of attachment disorder? How has 'the system' helped this child
deal with this? (Holdings, play therapy, etc.)
13. How long has this child been in therapy, and what types have been used?
14. Does this child act out sexually? If not now, EVER? And IF ever, how and how long
since the last time?
And...one of the most IMPORTANT questions we think you should ask YOURSELF:
"If this child were to get NO better after being in our home, could we handle his/her
behaviors 'just as they are, NOW'......as if there would be NO improvement, etc.
I think this is important, as classes continually say that 'this child just needs some love
and attention and permanancy, and you'll see how much improvement this child will
make!!!" This DOESN'T ALWAYS happen, and is a point to consider when taking on
special needs children.
There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child - and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own. ~Robert Brault

As a preadoptive parent of an 8 year old girl and her almost three year old little brother, your information is spot on.

I went into this rather blindly. None of my previous parenting experience prepared me for this. Its probably good that my husband has never been a parent, as he doesnt compare.

That said, we are making improvements in behavior. We will begin daily in home therapy soon (20 hours a week to start)

Im not sure if knowing what youre getting into changes anything.

God Bless everyone on this journey!
Older Child Adoption-Why Adopt?
Hi all,

I just wanted to respond to Linny's reply. The information is very good and informative. Why would anyone adopt an older child if this statement was a fact. " I know of very few parents who are having lovely relationships with their older children. There are a few who DO have great relationships/experiences with their older children, but they are few and far between".

I am working with a new agency now and they are very positive. They have never placed a child that was in a residential center into an adoptive placement. They also work hard at dispelling the negativity of older child adoption. I know of many families that have adopted older children from other countries and they are very happy. They were also abused and neglected children.

Just throwing out some thoughts here.
I think Linny's info is spot on. I have not adopted an older child, but I know several people who have. She is right on about talking to parents who have been parenting their older children for 4-5 years--not the people who are only 1-2 years into this.

Also, keep in mind that many of your acquaintances are not going to want to disclose all of their trials and heartaches concerning their adopted child with you. So, unless you're very close friends with someone, you can't really say that they're doing great. I am very close friends with a family, and to the general public, it looks like they're doing fantastic, but mom and dad share their real issues with close friends, and they are literally holding on by a thread due to issues with their teen son (who was an older child at adoption).
This is why I think Linny's idea of going to a support group for parents who adopted older children is a better idea, and will give you a better understanding. Parents will be more honest with you if they know you're considering older child adoption, and if you don't run in the same social circles that they do.
Thanks. So are you suggesting to not go older than 4 yrs old or 5yrs old? (of course taken into account dx and background).

One thing I would like to point out. Most people in my town and my church and even my next door neighbor would point to my family and say "Look they adopted an older child and they are happy and he is doing fine". They do not know the whole story. I feel it would violate my child's privacy for people he sees every day to know the truth. The truth is he has been diagnosed with attachment disorder and other things. The truth is he is still not not attached to us after nearly six years. The truth would curl your hair. It's been the hardest thing I have ever done. I do love him, and I won't give up on him. (though his plan right now at age 12 is to leave the second he turns 18 and only come back on his birthday and at Christmas as long as he gets gifts) I have met people who adopted older kids and thought everything was great until they turned 18 and went off in search of their first families (yes, even abusive ones) I have met some whose older children are doing well, but I have met more whose older children struggle and may struggle for life with various things. I cannot count the number of people who were lied to by those involved in the adoptions or at least not given the full story. Finding help and counseling is harder than it seems. I am not saying don't do it, because some kids can and do attach and do well. I am saying listen to those who have gone before and go in with your eyes open. Allow for the possibility that many of these kids are damaged. Very few are in foster care because their parents who loved them died suddenly in a car accident (as seemed to be the case in every 80's sit com that featured a story about a wise beyond their years orphan) Most of these kids have been abused or neglected and many have not ever had a consistent caregiver. Research what this does to a child. Be aware and ready.
My son was placed with me at age 14, and adopted at 15. He is now 18. WE ARE A SUCCESS STORY.

To put it into context: My son had a rough past, though NOT as rough as many. His family couldn't take care of him. He was in a series of not-so-great foster homes. What he went through is unimaginable to me, but honestly it's mild compared to the trauma that many older adoptive children have gone through.

I totally relate to what momraine says:
momraine said...
Most people in my town and my church and even my next door neighbor would point to my family and say "Look they adopted an older child and they are happy and he is doing fine". They do not know the whole story. I feel it would violate my child's privacy for people he sees every day to know the truth.

We have gone through some stuff, and I don't share it even with my closest family and friends because I don't think it's fair to have them judge my son (I'm SO lucky to have my husband to share it with!). I have had minutes where I've thought, "This is NOT going to work, SEND HIM BACK." Minutes. Not hours, not days, just minuets.

But I will tell you: My son is kind. He is bonded. He loves his parent, his grandparents, his aunts/uncles, his cousins, and his pets. He is strong and kind and not-perfect, but trying. I don't know what will happen as he gets older. I know that there's a chance he'll decide we're not his parents, and seek out his birth family.

All I know is:
- My son has so many more opportunities because of me and my husband. We have given him years of happiness and security.
- My husband and I are better people because of him. He has given us the ability to love in a new kind of way.
- My marriage is stronger than ever. To see my husband be an amazing father to our son, in good times and in bad, is a feeling that I can't even describe.

I think I am a minority in that we don't have some of the challenges that a lot of parents who adopt older children face. But I wanted to weigh in, for what it's worth.
Another positive older child adoption story here. Our daughter was placed at age 9 going on 10. We have now been parenting her 7 years. We had some behavioral issues over the first 6 months but nothing we were not able to work through. She did not have trouble attaching to us but I would say she was *appropriately* cautious about attaching given her history. But no question she is firmly bonded to us. She's a great kid and we have a great relationship.

Her biological brother is now living with us also, at 22. (talk about older child adoption!) We're only a few months in with him but so far it has been fairly smooth.

The problem with the advice to go to a support group to get input is that parents like me will not be at a support group, because we aren't having any issues beyond any typical parent of teens/young adults. There are success stories, but at a support group you will hear only the negative.

Don't assume that because a child is young you're "safe" from them having serious problems. And equally, don't assume because they're older that they're a lost cause. Yes, go in with your eyes open. But try to assess each child and their situation as an individual.
Love your feedback!! I used to work with children with emotional issues and we also hosted a Russian orphan for the Summer several yrs ago. She had many behavioral issues (oppositional, hyperactive, impulsive, & so needy for attention etc) but I loved her to death and would have done anything for her. She was still so sweet and loveable and could attach. She had a mom that she loved but could not take care of her and possibly abused her. She was not legally free. We are taking our time and waiting for the right match with our new agency. It is true the forums are sounding boards. We have already declined on 6 or so girls and were selected for 4 single girls but said no because we could not meet their emotional needs. I have the experience and we are somewhat flexible with some behaviors (we don't get too upset) but we want to add to our family so we will will for the right match. I felt like our host daughter would have been the right match--she actually had the "worst" behavior out of the group of kiddos that came that Summer.
kids cant ruin your life... dont adopt an older child, if you already see them as a "problem" and not a child who desperately needs love... its really damaging when adoptive parents are like "wow, this thing is a problem" or "i want a refund" is how it seems... imagine yourself beaten, neglected, raped, or abandoned as a child... would YOU be "defective"? be careful, and buy a "good" one!
I have started this post a couple of times, trying to figure out what to say. My girls were 10, 5, and 2 when they came home 6 years ago. I can't believe it has been that long. I have several friends who have adopted older children also, and we are in supportive relationships where we do talk about the good, the bad and the ugly so to speak.
I won't pretend it is not the hardest thing we ever did. The girls totally changed our lives. Six months after they were home, I didn't even recognize myself. We learned about diagnosises, medications, medical specialists, and IEP's. We learned about therapeutic parenting, and read books. We've fixed broken windows, and replaced damaged door latches knobs have called friends begging for help when all furniture in the living room was literally upside down and I needed to get the other kids out of the house. It is a crazy life.

The thing is, I do it again in a heart beat. It has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Our family, all 5 of us, love each other very much. All three girls are well on their way to being responsible, productive members of society. Maybe because of the craziness, maybe because our kids have seen that we will love them no matter what, the highs seem higher. I smile when they walk downstairs in the morning and see their faces.

The biggest pieces of advice I have is pray, pray, pray. Second, do not try and do it alone. Dh and I really rely on each other to see when a situation is getting the best of one of us. I have strong network of friends who I can call for advice, many of who also have challenging children. I have friends who are willing to rescue us in a moment of crisis, and I have learned to ask for help. Sometimes that means just listening, sometimes that means taking the other two to spend the night while one child is having a crisis. Having that network of support people, people who really get it, has bee indespensible. If you don't have it, find it, because you will need it.

One thing about our girls I always wondered about, and it led me to an interesting conclusion. My oldest daughter is super grounded. She is slow to trust, and learning to let herself be loved has been a challenge. However, she has none of the outlandish behaviors of the younger kids, and is a better behaved kid then most teenagers. I couldn't figure out how a kid with her background could do so well, when so many kids do not. I think the first thing is her faith, and prayer, things that were important to her before she ever came to us. The other thing though, was her bond with her siblings. She was the caregiver. She was very attached. I have come to the conclusion that one protective factor against attachment disorder is a bond with siblings. A child that has a true love, (not trauma bonds) with siblings CAN love another person. That would be something I would look for in the background of an older child. Any true loving relationship they have had in the past, is a clue that they can form an attachment.
illinoisrose said...
...It's either: "adopting an older child is the most rewarding and wonderful thing you'll ever do and all you need is love." Or it's along the lines of: "adopting an older child is the worst decision you'll ever make because they all have severe problems and they'll never recover and your life will be ruined."

I'm assuming that it's somewhere between the two. ...

Or maybe it isn't somewhere between and really is an either/or. :evilgrin:

Seriously, whether it ruins a person's life or is rewarding depends on so many factors, only a few of which we have any control over.

My cousin was adopted from a foreign orphanage and he pretty much ruined the happiness of my aunt/uncle/their other child. My sister was horribly murdered by her brother-in-law's sort-of-foster-son (had aged out), I think that qualifies as ruined.

But I adopted my daughter from foster care (was 7 yrs the first time she was placed with me, and was 8 yrs when she came back as an adoptive placement, finalized when she was 9 yrs), and although we have had a lot of ups and downs (and some of the downs were very far down), things are truly awesome now (she's 16 yrs), she is a way better kid than I was at that age, very kind, considerate, sympathetic, helpful (if it is the kind of chore she likes: she will muck out a horse stall or go to the store, but she is useless if you need the litter box cleaned).

She still has lots of issues, but I have learned not to trigger her issues or to do anything to escalate them, a few times I've actually been helpful at making her feel better and avert problems. I know she is ashamed of herself for the way she behaves sometimes. At all times she has a plan on how to kill herself. I have major worries about what may happen when she meets with her birthmom again someday. The therapist tried to arrange a multi-day multi-appointment between them, but my daughter decided she wasn't ready.

But I am so happy to be her mom, and I feel like I've been of real value to her, and to society who might actually get to benefit from her contributions if everything holds together and she can get through high school and college and overcome the effects of trauma.
I want to thank everyone for taking the time to reply to my OP. I really appreciate all the responses and all the advice. It certainly has been a learning experience, and has given me a lot to think about!
I agree with the above posters.
Our children have been with us for almost six years now. They are 19 and 18, both in their senior year of high school.
We, too, have had many bad times and they outweigh the good.
My kids are totally different from each other. Both have their issues but the difference is my dd has a heart and my ds does not. I know that sounds cruel, but that is the easiest way to put it.
My ds is extremely selfish, self-centered and lazy. Extremely! He is also a pathological liar and we can't trust him at all. If I was laying on the ground bleeding he would probably step over me and keep moving. He will not do anything for anyone. He is completely unmotivated with his life.
My daughter is the exact opposite. I know that she has motives to some of her actions (like offering to do some extra chores) but she has a loving heart and compassion for people and animals. It makes it so much easier to love her which I do with all my heart.
At this point, we are just tolerating my ds. He, hopefully, will graduate high school in June and will turn 20 in July. If things continue the way they do with him, we are seriously thinking of asking him to move out. We cannot live this way any longer.
They are Biological siblings and my dd had it much harder than my ds growing up. She suffered much more abuse and neglect than he did.
I absolutely would do this over again. I hope I have helped my ds in some way and I wouldn't trade anything for my dd. She has turned out to be a beautiful young woman.
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