Increasing Success in Older-Child Adoption


Brenda McCreight
Focus on Adoption magazine

by Brenda McCreight, PhD, RSW

Adoption is in transition. It is no longer solely characterized by middle-class married couples adopting healthy infants. Children of all ages and races, from all over the world, are now placed with single parents, physically challenged parents, older parents, unmarried couples, and lesbian or gay singles and couples. A multitude of private agencies place children from dozens of different countries. Children whose ages, needs, or geographic locations had once isolated them from potential adopters, now have their faces posted on the Internet, where they tug at the heartstrings of potential parents.

These changes mean more children over the age of two are finding adoptive homes, and this, in turn, has increased the likelihood that the adoption will break down. Older children often come into a new family with a host of issues that neither the placing agency nor the family fully understand or anticipate.

A child may:

  • have a decreased ability to attach, or bond, with adults.
  • have unresolved grief issues.
  • have pre-natal exposure to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and malnutrition.
  • have a history of physical and/or sexual abuse.
  • come from a different country or culture than the adopting family and experience culture shock and culture loss.
  • experience problems with identity formation in the teen years.

The adopting parents (or family) may:

  • believe that love is enough to heal the child and maintain the family.
  • expect that they can live and function like a family formed through birth.
  • lack support and respite.
  • have not successfully resolved their own issues of grief and loss.
  • have unrealistic expectations about the child's abilities.
  • have unrealistic expectations about how long it will take to feel like "a family" after the new child enters their lives.
  • lack the financial resources to support the needs of the child.

These challenges can become overwhelming to the adoptive family and the child. They can create fears and stumbling blocks that eventually wear down even the most committed of parents and children. But in most cases, these challenges can be overcome.

ABCs of Successful Older Child Adoption:

  • Acquire knowledge about the child's needs.
  • Become skilled in meeting those needs.
  • Create support for the child, siblings living in the home, and the parents.
  • Develop patience and tolerance.
  • Embrace the adoptive relationship as a lifelong commitment.
  • Face the facts and accept the child for the person he or she is now, not for the person you hope he or she will become.

Source: Older Child Adoption: Techniques For Success, by Brenda McCreight. Brenda is an adoptive parent, social worker, child abuse and child protection consultant, author, and long-standing AFABC member.