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Adopting an Older Child: The Joys and the Challenges (part 2) . . .

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

With international adoption steadily decreasing over the past decade, more and more couples and individuals in the U.S. are choosing to adopt (or foster-to-adopt) older children from this country. This is a good thing, for as I mentioned in my previous post, there are approximately 125,000 children in the U.S. foster care system who are deemed to be adoptable. The large majority of these children are “older”, meaning 3 years of age and up.

What should couples and individuals know, and be prepared for when adopting an older child domestically? First off, it is critical to understand that these children—even the “younger” ones among them—have typically endured much loss and trauma. It is not uncommon for a 10-year-old child in the foster care system to have lived in a least ten or more foster homes. I worked with a young man, age 17 who had been in thirty different foster homes from the age of five until he was adopted at age 15. You can imagine the ambivalence a child like this may feel when he is finally adopted—on one hand he feels relief that he is finally “home” with a family, but lurking in the back of his mind is the thought that “this may not last either.

Adoptive parents of older children must realize that their newly adopted child may initially not feel as joyous as they do, because his experience of “home” has been one of transience. Therefore, the parents must be extremely patient, giving their child regular messages through their words and actions that he can now indeed call this his “forever home.” Parents should also not be surprised that their child will test his parents’ loyalty to what they claim. These “tests” usually manifest themselves in a variety of negative ways such as lying, verbal and physical outbursts, and manipulation of family members. This testing—although it can be very disturbing--is normal in the sense that the child is looking for the parents’ reaction to see if they will reject him or not. For the child, some of these behaviors were likely “deal breakers” in some of his previous foster placements. Despite his negative behaviors, he needs to find out if his adoptive parents will “stick to their end of the deal”, and this actually is the only way in his own thinking that he can find that out.

In my next post I will share some practical advice for parents who are going through the “testing period” with their older adopted child. Thanks for tuning in!


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