In 2002, I began to chronicle my adoption journey and created Forever Parents, a supportive online community for adoptive and waiting parents. Over the next year, we grew our support forums to include an adoption shop and a blog. Forever Parents stayed active, helping thousands of people for over ten years. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog, in the Forever Parents section. This post was originally published on April 26, 2008.
Adopting older children is not for the faint of heart. I have three children that we adopted at the ages of 5, 8 & 11 and if anything, it’s never boring. Sometimes people don’t want to talk about the damage done to children while they wait in foster care. Damage they then bring into their new family.
Here is a list of 15 honest, informative questions to ask before adopting older children through the foster care system. It were lovingly compiled by Linny, the co-administrator at our adoption forums. Following you’ll find additional thoughts on adopting older children from one of our moderators.
“My husband and I have adopted seven children to date. However, our ‘forever family’ has not followed what we are usually taught in adoption circles in terms of ‘forever’. Because of this, I compiled a list of questions I feel are vital in trying to determine if adopting an older child is a good idea for you and your family. We have gone through terrible roads with our children who were adopted as older children and would never do it again. I think had we had this kind of info in the beginning, we would have thought twice about our placements.
In addition to the list, I would also like to add that we could never recommend ‘mixing’ infant adoptions with older child adoptions. For our family, this has been disastrous, to say the least.
Rather, I think that older child adoptions have the greatest chance for success, when the family has ONLY adopted in this way and realizes the continued baggage these children may/will/do bring with them”.
Having adopted three older children through foster myself, I know that her list is an invaluable tool to anyone who may be considering it. Older child adoption is not for the faint of heart and it’s something you must go into with your eyes open.
1. What is the number 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 biological home’..what type of prenatal care (especially drug use, etc), what’s the situation with any siblings (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 birth parents. (In some places, this is a ‘no-no’, but we’ve been given these before w/o asking. Many psychological traits have a genetic predisposition.)
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 biological family?
10. What type of relationship did this child have with birth parents? 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 because this may still be a problem.)
12. Has or has this child EVER had a diagnosis 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?
15. 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 behavior ‘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 permanency, 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.
Use this list if you are in the process of adopting an older child/ren through foster care. Remember, not asking questions, won’t make the issues they struggle with go away. We adopted three children at the age of five, eight and eleven. My oldest is facing a residential facility because he can not function within a family, my middle child has overcome a lot of her issues with help from us and therapy and still has a long road in front of her and my youngest is a very happy and emotionally healthy child.
One of the moderators at Forever Parents had this to add:
My advice would be to realize that love alone does not cure-all. It takes love, perserverence, crying, yelling, laughing, patience, uderstanding, knowledge, strength beyond your wildest dreams. You can never imagine what you are getting yourself into. Seek out others who have done what you are doing.
Normal parenting techniques will not work and don’t listen to ‘oh, my child does that’ from parents who do not have attachment disordered children. Do this from the start. Expect to never be loved by your child, hope that you will be. Expect their uncaring attitude never to change, hope that it will. Expect and be prepared for the worst, hope for the best. The best may never happen though, so don’t put all your effort into the hoping.
It’s OK if it doesn’t, some children may never heal, the damage was done by someone else, not you. Don’t think you’ve failed them, or that your efforts were in vain. You can make a huge impact, and only see a small change, but you’ve done something no one else has, you’ve provided safety and stability.
Our older child adoption has been a success story. It has not been easy, far from it. Our son is resiliant, not all children have that. We have all been very fortunate. At 11 years old I am happy to say he is a normal pre-teen (not that that’s always easy either, lol), he has become ‘respectful, responsible and fun to be around’.
I am very proud of him, and I enjoy the relationship we have. A true connection, a true mother son relationship. He is a great young man, my wonderful son”.