When a person or couple decides that they want to expand their family by way of adoption, several crucial decisions have to be made. While many seek out babies and small children, the reality is that there are a number of elementary aged to teenage children hoping to find a permanent home and family. However, adopting older children comes with challenges separate and distinct from the challenges of adopting infants and toddlers.
Children come into foster care in various ways. Younger children are generally subjected to some form of abuse and neglect; however, with older children, abuse and neglect may be only one of the means. Older children, because of issues with criminal activity, parental abandonment, or negative behaviors, may be placed in the custody of social services. When a child comes into care under these circumstances, there may be gaps in schooling, medical care, mental health treatment, and even parenting. As such, adopting an older child may bring all these issues into play.
Gaps in Educational Services
Often if there has been a breakdown in supervision or stability in a child’s life, one of the first things that happens is that the child misses school or is not provided educational supports needed. Deficits in reading, basic math, and social skills can result. When this older child is being considered for adoption, a prospective adoptive parent must consider that their child may need tutoring, remedial education services, special education evaluations or even alternative school placements.
While educational interventions may be necessary, the prospective parent should also realize that their child may not want his help. Being given extra attention may make the child feel embarrassed. Foster parents and prospective adoptive parents need to realize that educational neglect cannot be solved instantly and will take patience and persistence.
Inconsistent Medical Care
Another area that foster parents and prospective adoptive parents need to realize that if a child has not received adequate or consistent guidance from a parent, they may have also lacked adequate medical attention. A physical may reveal that a child is malnourished, has vision or hearing problems or even worse metabolic or life threatening health issues.
Prospective parents should be proactive in making sure that they are able to handle a child’s special medical needs. Doctors appointments, therapy and other related services will be necessary to maintain their child’s health. Not every foster or adoptive parent can devote the extra time needed for some strict health or medical regimens. Where a child has developed certain habits, the prospective parent will have to invest the time to reeducate their child about health issues and the importance of following medical advice.
Bonding and Other Emotional Concerns
If a child has faced rejection most of their lives, he or she may have difficulty bonding with new people or parents. Also, the child may have underlying mental health and behavioral issues, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In these cases, prospective adoptive parents must try to break through the emotional shells that the child has created.
Also, if a child still has interests or attachment to their family, regardless of how horrible they were to the child, a prospective parent must teach the child to develop healthy relationships while trying to foster trust.
Expectations and Entitlements
For some older children in foster care, their prior lives included no schedules, no rules, and no parents interfering with their activities. When in foster care, the young girl or boy thinks that the foster parent or interested adoptive parent will allow them to retain these old habits. However, as responsible adults, foster and prospective adoptive parents will lay out house rules and expectations. When these two worlds collide, prospective parents and older foster care children clash.
The happy medium is that the foster child must realize that they are minors and that now, they have mentor and protector, who is there to help them grow into responsible citizens. The foster parents must realize that their job is not easy and that help may be needed to help their prospective adoptive child.
Making the decision to adopt is a major one. While it may be easy for some to want to raise infants, there are older children who need nurturing homes as well. In adopting older children, prospective parents may have some concerns, but should realize that an older child needs love and guidance just as much as infant. And, by giving their hearts and homes to an older child may very well make a big difference.