March 29, 2017

A Case for Older Kids


It is understandable that many families are hesitant to adopt older children.  By “older,” we typically mean children over 6 years of age.  But speaking from my own experience, and our agency’s experience, we know that adoption of older children can be very rewarding and successful.  I adopted a boy when he was 7, and he is now a 23 year old successful and well-adjusted young man.  In the last 20 years, our agency has placed over 1000 children over the age of 6 with families who are thriving.  Let me make a case for the adoption of older children.

#1, Older kids give you the benefit of observed behavior

Many problems that children face that are associated with institutional care begin at a very young age, but are not fully observable until kids get older.  For instance, oppositional defiance disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly impossible to diagnose in a 2 year old.  Autism is also not typically diagnosed before a child is age 4.  But by the time a child is 6, we can observe whether a child has these disorders.  The childcare workers who live and work with those kids can vouch for their behavior and emotional health.  In a sense, you are actually taking on less risk when you adopt a child whose emotional health is observed and whose history is long enough that it can be documented.

#2, Older kids attach differently, not less

A compelling reason that parents want to adopt children as young as possible is that the strength and health of attachment is correlated with age.  People assume that a baby will attach sooner, and have a stronger attachment than an older child would.  But we have a saying, “Older kids don’t attach less, just differently.”  It’s true.  If you adopt a teenager, your relationship will be more akin to being a friend, than to being a care-giver.  It would be a mistake to think older children are any less dependent, however.  They still need love, friendship, direction, modeling and support.  Parents who adopt tweens and teens often express how satisfied they are in the relationship they build with their children.

#3, Older kids are still very young

Every summer when we bring a group of older children to the US for our orphan host program, we are amazed at how young these older kids are!  Age 6 in an orphanage is not equal to age 6 in a healthy home.  Children from institutional care are almost always smaller.  They look younger.  They act younger.  They are socially and academically behind.  They missed out on their infant years, and they long to be held, babied, carried, and make up for the nurture of which they were deprived.

#4, You are a parent for life

Some parents erroneously think that when they adopt, they are counting down the years until the child is 18.  They think they are adopting a remaining number of years, rather than a person who will live along life and be in their family forever, with a legacy lasting generations.  Children nowadays are living with their parents into their late twenties and thirties.  You are not only adopting a child, but the future grand children and great grandchildren.  You are not only making a difference in their childhood, but you will be there for them when they need parenting advise, help transitioning careers, or someone to walk them down the aisle at their wedding.

#5, Older kids need parents too

It’s not all about us, after all.  We are not adopting to fulfill our needs, but to meet the needs of God’s children.  Older children are no less in need of families, and our calling to care for orphaned children extends to all kid who lack a mother or father to care for them.

#6 You will experience plenty of firsts with older children

My child had never been told, “I want you to live with us forever,” or had never had a birthday party, never picked out her own bedspread, never tried almond milk and never had a dog as a pet (viewed them as strays). Sure, we didn’t see her first steps or first tooth loss, but that really pales in comparison with the first she has experienced with a forever family who loves her.

written by Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

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