How to Support Families Who Have Adopted Older Youth from Foster Care

Children adopted at an older age are typical children plus some.

Sarah M. Baker November 15, 2015
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It’s often hard to understand or relate to adoptive families if you have no exposure to a family that is brought together through nontraditional methods. Adopting through foster care adds its own set of challenges that many people do not understand.  If you have a friend or family member who is considering adopting, or has adopted, an older youth from foster care, here are some ways you can support that family.

1. Be patient.

The family who has adopted an older youth from foster care may need alone time to build a close family bond together. It can be very challenging to mesh together a family with people who all have different habits, expectations, and upbringing. It takes time to work through these differences and find a new routine that works for everyone. While you may want to swing by and meet the new addition(s) to the family, it can be very overwhelming to the new child, so allow them to let you know when you can visit, what you can do and how long you can stay.

2. Offer to help.

Taking in and adopting an older child, the new parents may not get a baby shower thrown for them, but that doesn’t change the fact that the child likely came to them with very few belongings. They’ll need new clothes, school supplies, and bedroom décor. And while the family is adjusting to growth, meal planning may be a challenge.  Gift cards, hand-me-downs, meals, or other gestures to help relieve some of the stress can be a huge help!

3. Change your expectations.

Don’t expect the child to feel grateful for their adoption placement. While they may very well be grateful to have found their forever family, they are also experiencing the loss of their birth family and possibly a foster family they grew close to. A new home and environment can be very exciting and overwhelming to a child.

4. Don’t interject your opinions.

Children adopted from foster care often come with challenges that will take time to overcome. Trauma, neglect, abuse, loss— the reason they were placed into foster care will likely have an effect on them. Don’t expect them to be perfect all the time. And don’t make comments to the new parents about negative behavior you deem unacceptable. Trust me, they saw it too and are working on it with the child; they don’t need you to point it out to them. It takes time to unlearn bad habits and adjust to a new set of rules. If you are a person who wears your emotions on your face and you struggle with children who sometimes act out, you may want to just steer clear, for your sake and the new family’s.

5. Get educated.

The best way to support a new family who grew through adoption is to learn more about adoption, and specifically their type of adoption. There will be many dynamics the average person doesn’t understand, and adoptive families understand that. But having to explain things to everyone can be very exhausting and frustrating.  By reading this, you are taking the first step in learning about adoption, but don’t stop here.

Adopting an older youth from foster care can be very challenging, rewarding, emotional and life-changing. Doing your best to understand the unique dynamics of an adoptive family will help you and support the adopting family in their journey.  Be respectful of their new family and realize there will be an adjustment period that has no time limit.

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.

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