My husband and I have had many discussions about adopting older children or teens. My heart is heavy for waiting children because I know the older they get, the less likely they are to be adopted.
When I have mentioned older child adoption to others, I have received some negative responses. I have been told an older child could ruin our lives and that we should at least wait until our children are grown so we don’t ruin their lives, too. I have even been told, by skeptics, that teens who have not been adopted are likely the ones who are troubled.
If everyone believed that way, these children would be throw-a-ways. Like every child, they deserve to have a family with love and stability. Their circumstances are not their fault. They are in foster care because someone else made a bad choice.
A lot of preparation needs to go into the adoption process — no matter the age of the child. Eric Gilmore, executive director of Immerse Arkansas, suggests that adoptive families build a strong network prior to adoption. This network should include people like therapists with adoption knowledge, supportive friends and family and other families who have adopted. It’s also a good idea to read books that will prepare you for adoption. Christie Erwin, executive director of Project Zero in Arkansas suggests reading "The Connected Child" by Dr. Karen Purvis, which addresses some specific parenting needs of older children in foster care.
For Christians, I suggest "Ready or Not: 30 Days of Discovery For Foster & Adoptive Parents" by Pam Parish.
It’s important that we stop discouraging others from adopting older children. Not all teens in foster care are bad kids, just as not all babies will grow up to be well-adjusted, perfect children. You might mean well with your words of caution, but they could disrupt the beautiful placement of a child that completes a family.
If you have considered adopting an older child, I encourage you to continue slowly in that direction, despite negative comments from others.
I am not an expert on adoption, but I have an adopted sister and my husband and I have been considering adoption. I know the ups and downs.
Families should not expect to introduce a child of any age into a family without a big change.
You have to keep an open mind and adjust as needed when your expectations aren’t met. Most importantly, be committed. Don’t adopt unless you are prepared to parent your new child through all of the ups and downs, just as you would a biological child. The greatest tragedy for these children is when they think they have found a forever family, but it turns into a failed adoption, putting them back into the foster care system.
Adopting an older child has its challenges, as all parenting does. But with the right tools and support, it’s worth it to make such a positive impact in the life of a child.
One thing that keeps playing over in my mind is a statement made to me by Christie Erwin. She told me, "to allow [the trauma of their past] to keep us from acting on their behalf is just not acceptable." I could not agree more.