Adopting the Older Child: Could we be the family a child is waiting for?

Some prospective adoptive parents consider adopting an older child rather than a newborn infant.

There can be many reasons for this if you are considering starting or expanding your family through adoption. Some prospective parents are older themselves and feel that adopting an older child is better suited to their circumstances based on both the ages of the adoptive parents and the child. Other single parents and couples do not possess a strong desire to raise and care for a newborn as that experience is not vital to their plan of parenting. Lastly, there are adoptive parents who recognize there are children who are in need of a stable, permanent home, especially if they are currently in foster care. If adoptive parents already have biological or adopted children, they may be looking to expand their family with children who are closer in age to the children already in their family.

There are a number of things to consider when planning to adopt an older child.

It is important to recognize that older children placed for adoption come to their adoptive families with a past and a history. Everyone is influenced by past experiences, but older adoptive children almost always have experienced loss in their lives, primarily due to the separation from their biological parents. While the loss of a birth family is the same no matter what age you are adopted, older adopted children may have more of a history with their birth families as they may have spent more time with them. In addition, older adopted children, especially those in foster care, may have experienced emotional trauma from abuse and neglect. It is imperative that adoptive parents recognize this and work to bridge the gap between their birth family and their adoptive family. Older adopted children need to work through their feelings of grief and loss as they develop a clear understanding of the permanence of adoption. Being able to experience and express their emotions is key in healing from past hurt. This includes coming to terms with the reasons their birth parents were unable to raise them and to accept the meaning of being adopted.

Children learn certain life lesson through loss…

Some of those lessons are:

  • feelings that nothing in life is permanent
  • it is not easy to depend on life to stay the same
  • you cannot depend on important people to be there for you
  • you cannot trust that people who make promises will keep them

This is why it is essential that adoptive parents provide a loving, nurturing home that is stable, consistent and provides routines and predictability. At-risk youth need to develop strong relationships with caring adults, feel that their life has meaning, their talents are valued by others and that they are provided opportunities to grow and learn.

It often takes older children more time to bond and attach to their adoptive parents as they have difficulty trusting others.

Often their early attachments were disrupted, and they experience difficulty developing a sense of self and relationships with others. Children who have experienced emotional trauma may be withdrawn, aggressive, oppositional or disrespectful. It is important to keep in mind that these children are often testing limits to determine if their adoptive parents are truly going to be there for them. We can’t expect that these children are going to just get over their hurt quickly. The best way to connect and build trust with an older adopted child is to create a safe, secure home environment with routines and consistency. Providing nurturing guidance along with accepting and validating the child’s emotions is very beneficial in developing trust in the relationship. Engaging in family activities in which the child has an interest provides a greater chance for success.

It may take time for older children to attach and bond to their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents who maintain realistic expectations are far more likely to overcome challenges.


There are many support groups, both in person and online, as well as qualified counselors and therapists that specialize in adoption issues, that can assist adoptive parents and older adoptees with the challenges related to being adopted later in life.

Adoption is a life-long journey and parents should expect there will be “bumps in the road” along the way. However, making the commitment to provide a forever family to a child in need of permanency can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life!


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