Should siblings be adopted together?

Some children are adopted with their siblings while others are not. It is highly recommended siblings are adopted together because they help and support each other through difficult changes and maintain family connections for a child who has lost so much. There are instances when it is not in the best interest of siblings to be adopted together, such as in the case of sibling abuse. Adoptive parents must learn all they can about their child’s sibling and sibling-like relationships. If siblings cannot be adopted together or if a child is being separated from a child who is like a sibling, the adoptive family should develop a plan for allowing the children to maintain contact with each other. The parent might plan regularly scheduled visits between siblings when possible or arrange for regular communication via videoconferencing, e-mail or letters.

What can a family expect after their child comes home?

Children react differently to the stress that comes from being adopting into a new family.  Some are very fearful and show great anxiety about the change initially. Anxious children may seem nervous or angry, depending on their temperament. Other children act like everything is fine; they may be afraid to show what they feel or they have learned to survive different situations that they seem to adapt easily but this may just be a period of good-behavior (the “honeymoon”) followed by not-so-good behavior (the honeymoon is over). Some children, due to neglect, start gorging food and hoarding food, valuables or nonsense items like old paper/trash. It is important for a parent to understand what is the typical pattern of their child during times of stress—this information can be obtained from a previous foster parent, adoption worker, teacher, therapist, etc.—and you probably want to get all their perspectives so you can understand whether the behavior you see is typical or unusual for your child. You just need to know that there is a period of adjustment that can be challenging and chaotic as children test the commitment of the parents and try to figure out what it means to live in this family.

What is an attachment problem?

Attachment is a physical, social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive connection one person has with another; typically we think of it as the way a parent and child relate and feel about each other. When there is a problem, one or more of these markers for attachment is not strong or not in a pattern that suggest the person is securely connected to another. Children with a history of trauma—who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, institutionalization—are at increased risk for attachment problems.  They may have distortions about how parents and children related to each other; they may be able to demonstrate physical contact indicating a connection but not have an emotional link to the parent. A secure attachment is one where all these markers are consistent with each other and is the optimal type of attachment. Many children, with consistent & loving caregiving, will begin to change their attachment pattern. However, some children have attachment difficulties that are so severe that they have a diagnosis and need professional intervention.

What are some of the issues and challenges an older adopted child may have?

Adopting an older child has been compared to entering a marriage; both parties come to the relationship with previous experiences, knowledge, values and skills. It takes work to make a marriage successful.  Older children are often survivors of terrible situations; they come to their families with behaviors that worked for them in the situation they were in but are often not as functional in a healthy and positive family environment.

Many children who are adopted when older have suffered trauma in their life. Traumatized children may demonstrate an array of emotional difficulties—fear, withdrawal, anger or depression. They may have behavior difficulties—poor interpersonal boundaries, not telling the truth, hoarding or taking things that don’t belong to them. Often, there are value differences between the adoptive parent and adoptee because both had a life and experiences before they joined together as a family.

Consistent love and commitment go a long way to changing these issues for the older adoptee. Parents will be challenged to figure out what they can accept and what they need to work out to help their child change. Sometimes professional help is needed as the adoptive family works on becoming a blended family.

How do I begin the process of adopting an older child?

Once prospective parents decide to adopt an older child from another country or domestically they should begin contacting prospective agencies. Prospective parents should ask agencies about their parent eligibility requirements, the matching process, and their post-placement services. Families adopting domestically must choose a public or private agency. Even if parents work with a private agency they will interact at some point with the public agency in care of the child. While choosing an agency, prospective parents should also begin speaking with other adoptive parents, joining adoptive parent support groups, and reading books and articles about child trauma. Once parents choose an agency they will have to complete a general application form and other paperwork including a budget worksheet, self-study, family information form, and criminal background check form.

What factors should be considered when deciding whether to adopt an older child from another country or domestically?

A single person or couple must decide what type of adoption is best for them and their family. Prospective adoptive parents vary in their income, ability to travel, interests in adopting children from a specific cultural group, and willingness to maintain contact with biological family members. Parents with lower-incomes many only be able to adopt domestically due to the negligible costs of adopting from the U.S. foster care system. For prospective parents with higher incomes the travel and agency costs of intercountry adoption may not be a barrier. Some people feel a sense of obligation to adopt from their own country since so many children are in need right in their backyards, while others feel more comfortable adopting a foreign child. An important component of many people’s decision is their willingness to have contact with their adoptive child’s biological family. Children adopted domestically will be more likely to have a continuing relationship with biological family members including siblings or grandparents as compared to their internationally adopted counterparts. This is due to the simple fact that they may have preexisting relationships with family members and that these family member may live close by. Children adopted from another country most likely have completely lost contact with their biological family or have never known them, making continuing contact a moot issue. A final factor that contributes to some families’ decisions to adopt from another country is their own ethnic background or familiarity with a country they’ve spent time in which leads them to want to adopt a child from that culture or country. Prospective parents should become family with both types of adoption before making their final decision. An important part of the decision-making process is to speak to adoptive parents about their experience adopting domestically or through a specific country program.

What are the main differences between infant and older child adoption?

The number of infants eligible to be adopted in the U.S. and via intercountry adoption is decreasing due to a number of factors including increased acceptance of single parenthood. Prospective adoptive parents of infants may now wait many years to adopt an infant. More prospective parents of infants, within the U.S., are now working directly with birthparents and lawyers, and foregoing agency involvement. There are more restrictions on who can adopt a healthy infant in the U.S. For example, many agencies require prospective parents be under a certain age, be in a heterosexual marriage. Adopting an infant from another country also has become more difficult as many countries are limiting infant adoptions to prospective parents that are citizens of that country. As noted, older child adoption is open to more prospective parents. Each country has its own guidelines for the age and type of children eligible to be adopted (e.g. some countries restrict non-citizens to adopting children with special needs). Many of the procedures and background checks for adopting infants and older children are the same. With all types of adoption prospective parents will have to undergo background checks and home studies. Adopting a child of any age from the U.S. foster care system is much less expensive than adopting an infant either domestically or though intercountry adoption. Children legally free for adoption through the foster care system generally are older, however, some prospective parents are able to adopt infants through the public system if they first foster an infant who become legally free for adoption. There are emotional risk to “fost-adopt” programs however in that some infants and children are returned to their biological families should they meet the requirements of their case plan.

Who can adopt an older child?

The answer is probably you, if you are a caring mature adult who wants to open your heart and home to a waiting child. The AdoptUsKids public service announcements say it best, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” Adoptive parents of older children, adopted from another country or domestically include people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, single persons, same-sex couples (whether married or un-married), persons and couples over the age of fifty, and lower income singles and couples. Although it is easier to adopt an older child as compared to an infant, there continue to be some barriers to adoption for some people. For example, many countries prohibit foreign same-sex couples from adopting, although the U.S. is not one of them, and some agencies still prohibit same-sex couples from adopting domestically. Transracial adoption, typically involving a white parent adopting a Latino or African-American child, has become more common in the U.S. Prospective parents considering transracial or transcultural (e.g. an older child adopted internationally) adoption should think about the diversity and openness of their community before adopting a child of different race or culture.  It is important prospective parents ask prospective agencies who is eligible to adopt through their program.

In the following video clip, Stephanie and Gloria discuss why many older adults are deciding to adopt older children and whether older child adoption is a good idea for prospective parents interested in skipping the “baby stage.”