Adoptive parents need a strong support system

It is critical that prospective adoptive parents evaluate their formal and informal support systems before adopting an older child. Adoptive parents need the support and understanding of family, friends, community members and professionals. They need to surround themselves with people who understand and support their decision to adopt and who respect their child. Adoptive parents of older children are incredibly resourceful. They find support and understanding in online or in-person adoptive family support groups and develop nurturing relationships with other adoptive families in the community. Adoptive parents of older child automatically become part of a very special community of parents who share many of the same challenges, joys and hopes.

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Why we wrote this book

Over 400,000 children enter the U.S. foster care system each year and about half will not be able to return to their biological families. That means a large number of children each year are eligible to be adopted. Once they turn ten their chances of being adopted decrease significantly. Many older children will linger in the foster care system for many years. Each year about 26,000 youths age out of the foster care system without ever being adopted. By writing this book we wanted to educate the public about the needs of these children and encourage more to consider older child adoption both here and abroad.

Here is a video of Stephanie saying a few words about the needs of older children in the foster care system, how many are eligible to be adopted, and the challenges faced by youth who age of the system without a permanent family.

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.