My first response to most people who tell me they are thinking about adopting an older child is, “Maybe you should rethink that.” Don’t get me wrong; I have adopted 3 children at various ages and I have no regrets.
There are over 100,000 children in the United States who are in foster care that need to be adopted. Adoption is a good thing and adopting older children is quite special. However, the process itself can be daunting.
Tough questions to ask yourself when adopting older kids
What’s the best age to adopt a child? Should you adopt an older child? Anyone interested in adopting older children needs to take a moment to understand the reality of what you want to do and how emotionally draining the process is. You don’t just find your perfect fit, meet each other, and live happily ever after. It’s not for anyone expecting to be loved right back with hugs and warm fuzzies.
Plus, the process may take years, or you may have someone placed immediately. It took 3 years from the day I met her to bring my daughter home and only a month for my boys once I met them.
What is an older child?
This varies from state to state. Each state sets its own rules and controls the process. Then it gets down to each county that also sets specific rules. Older children are usually around 12-14 years old and up. At 18, a child “ages out” of the system and is on his or her own.
How many children do you want?
Older children often come in sibling groups. Sometimes the sibling group is 4-6 children together. When I was introduced to my sons, they had never lived together, were 11 years apart, and had only met a few times. However, the judge insisted that the 2 remain together to be adopted. I am forever grateful they came as a pair.
Sometimes keeping the kids together works, sometimes the kids stay stuck in the system. If you bring one home, they will call you to take more. My children’s caseworker called me multiple times asking if I would adopt their younger sisters each time one was born. I even got a call once to take a 10 year old cousin.
How much baggage can you carry?
Let’s look at another reality. Many of the reasons these older kids are still in the system are horrendous. Truly. What older child adoption issues are you willing to bring into your home? You will get asked this when you fill out the extensive paperwork called a home study. Will you take a child who has been physically abused or sexually abused? What about a child who hurts animals? What if he is an arsonist?
These are real questions you will need to answer in the mountain of forms you fill out as part of the process. Then you start looking at the websites, videos, and photo albums of thousands of older kids waiting for their forever home. I knew I could not take someone who was sexually abused. I also had to say no to violence. It’s okay for you to draw a line somewhere.
Think about it. The reason your future child needs to be adopted may be happening to him right now. He is experiencing being homeless, being abused, or neglected. I realized this when I was in the process of adopting my daughter.
Along with that realization came a wave of anger I had never known. Another human being was abusing my child and I was helpless. I didn’t know who she was at the time. We hadn’t even met, but I grieved her suffering in the hands of an adult supposed to take care of her.
As you go through these steps and reactions, you learn more about the realities of adopting a teenager. The emotional toll it has on you can be overwhelming sometimes as well as the never-ending bureaucracy. Once your home study is approved and you’ve checked out the various ways they present the children, you may feel you found a match. If your caseworker agrees with you, she and the child’s caseworker will set up a meeting. These are not always easy, joyful events.
Can you handle their heartbreak?
While I was in the process of searching for siblings for my daughter, I was set to meet two brothers—one was 11 and the other 9. The foster parents sat on a park bench and watched while the boys and I kicked the soccer ball around. Afterward, the boys went to play on their own so the foster parents could speak with me.
The foster father explained that he didn’t think a woman should adopt the boys because the physical abuse they had experienced had been so severe. The oldest boy had extreme emotional issues and was so violent with the foster mother the husband couldn’t take a shower and leave her alone with their children. The younger boy had scars on his back from being shoved into a hot oven.
None of this information was in the file I was given to read prior to meeting the boys. After I said goodbye, I drove a few miles away, pulled over and wept for their grief. And because I knew I was not the one to care for them.
Are you ready?
I hope those boys found someone who could become their forever home. I could see their potential and know they may thrive with the right family, but I knew it couldn’t be me. People who adopt older children are not saints. We just know it’s the right thing to do for us.
I was compelled to bring home my teen son and his baby brother. There’s no other way to describe it. I have never looked back, and the painful process was worth it. There are thousands of these older kids who need homes. They need someone to love them unconditionally, no matter the baggage they may carry. If you think you can do that, get out there and start the process.