Many people associate adoption with bringing a brand new baby home from the hospital. But what if the right child for you is actually a grade schooler or teenager? In honor of National Adoption Month this November, read on to find out why adopting an older child into your life could be the best decision for your family.
1. There’s an immediate need
“There’s a real urgency for children in our state,” says Sharon Pierce, President and CEO of The Villages, who believes Indiana currently faces a foster care and adoption crisis. Between August 2014 and August 2015, the number of Children in Need of Services (CHINS) in Indiana increased by nearly 4,000. Typically, well over half of the children available for adoption are between 11 and 17 years old, says Pierce.
A need exists internationally as well, says Karlene Edgemon, M.S., L.S.W., Director of Social Services at MLJ Adoptions International. Her agency works with foreign countries where older children have been unable to find adoptive homes. “Generally, these orphans are waiting patiently for a loving home and wish desperately to become part of a family,” she says.
2. An older child may be the best fit for your family
Rae Hostetler, mom of 16 year-old Tom and 13 year-old Zack, always felt a “tug” to adopt. “Some people call it the ‘red thread’ that pulls you to China,” she says. While she and her husband, Bruce, initially assumed they would adopt an infant or toddler, their plans changed as wait times grew longer. “As our son Tom continued to have birthday after birthday, we started discussing the fact [that] we didn’t want our children’s ages to be so far apart,” she explains. In April 2008, the family traveled to China to adopt then six-year-old Zack. “From the moment Zack walked into our house, he was part of the family.”
Sibling age is just one factor prospective adoptive parents should consider in the process. Edgemon notes that adopting an older child may also be a good choice for adults choosing to start a family later in life. “Children who are considered harder to place, such as older children, are more readily available to older parents who wish to adopt and the adoption process can often occur more quickly,” she says. Whatever your family’s specific circumstances, agencies work very hard to make good matches between parents and children, says Pierce.
3. Older kids offer unique advantages
Not everyone is prepared to care for a newborn. For some, the thought of being responsible for the daily care of a baby can be overwhelming. Feedings, diapers and disrupted sleep schedules may not work for everyone. Adopting an older child has its plusses in this regard.
Edgemon gives another benefit of adopting an older child: “You can immediately begin having fun together – laughing, joking with each other and building rapport.
Diane Stiles, LCSW, Clinical Director at Adoption Support Center, adopted her then 3 year-old and 5 ½ year-old daughters twenty-one years ago. She believes it can be easier to share interests and discover new ones with an older child. “Older children’s personalities are more formed,” she says. “You have more of an insight into the people they are becoming.”
4. You’ll likely have access to helpful information
As a prospective adoptive parent, you’ll have many questions about the child who may come into your life. Fortunately, parents who adopt an older child generally have access to more information about their child’s history, says Edgemon. “Due to [the child’s] time ‘in care’ or ‘in the system’ more records have been accumulated and more data – medical, social, psychological, educational, behavioral – is available to the adoptive parents.” In addition, unlike infants, “Older children can talk and tell you what is on their mind,” says Stiles. “No guess work as to what hurts!”
5. You can have a huge impact
Many children in the foster care system are hungry for a typical family experience, says Pierce. Unfortunately, Edgemon reports, older children in care are less likely to find permanent families and may start to feel “unlovable” as time passes. “You can absolutely change their world by offering them the opportunity to be adopted,” she says.
Your adoption may even have benefits beyond your immediate family. “It is also the opportunity to make a change in the cycle of poverty and impact the next generation,” says Stiles.
If one or more of the listed reasons resonates with you, consider contacting an agency to learn more. Hostetler urges, “If you have the idea that adopting an older child is right for you – do it. Every child deserves a family.”