Myths and Truths about Older Child Adoption

Myth: Older children cannot attach.

Truth: The risk of attachment problems does not rise proportionately with the age of the child at adoption. If an older child formed a strong attachment to a primary caregiver in infancy and/or remained with a caregiver for several years before being adopted, the chance of that child having healthy future attachment greatly increases. Moreover, quality of care in an institution or foster home influences an adoptive child’s ability to carry forward an early attachment. It’s important to get as much information as you can about a child’s early years of care.

Myth: I won’t be able to attach to an older adoptive child.

Truth: Just as a child’s early years influences her/his future attachments, so does yours. An adult’s ability to attach to any person is unlimited – including adoptive children. It is true that you may not feel an immediate connection or bond with any child, regardless of age or how he/she joined your family. Sometimes the bonding process takes time, patience and experiences together.

Myth: Older adoptive children will have insurmountable behavioral and mental health problems.

Truth: Each child has a history that includes a disrupted attachment, regardless of age. For older children that history may include neglect and/or abuse. Some adoptive children will need professional intervention to help them process their history while navigating family, school and community. Some will not. Regardless, the network of support for adoptive families has grown and is available on a local level.

Myth: Older children don’t want to be adopted.

Truth: The vast majority of older adoptive children express a desire for permanence and a family to belong to. Some children have a difficult time trusting adults due to past experience and feel ambiguous or negative about adoption. However this does not mean they do not want a family. And this should not label them unadoptable.

Myth: All an older adoptive child needs is love and a good home.

Truth: They need love, attention and belonging. They also need school, community and relationships with peers. Some will need special accommodations in school, mental health services and/or specialized medical attention. Others will not. It is unrealistic to believe that love alone will “fix” any child whose journey includes adoption. It truly is a “village” effort in the world of adoption to raise a child who may be struggling with fear and/or anger relating to past abandonment and rejection. These feelings often surface during the teen years as adopted children attempt to form an identity and struggle to decide which qualities of past and current families to retain.

Myth: An older adoptive child is already her/his own person and won’t fit in to my family.

Truth: They are children. Researchers state that a person’s brain is not fully developed until age 25. It is true that environmental and genetics play a part in developing the values and character of an older child. But most adoptive children adapt well to a family’s culture who are open to learning and incorporating that child’s history and culture as well.

Myth: Older adoptive children are grateful for their adoption.

Truth: Before adoption comes the loss of a birth family. And for many children an orphanage, abusive family member or foster family is all that child has known and therefor is considered “home.” Your home isn’t immediately viewed as “better,” but instead as “change.” And change is scary. We cannot expect that children will be grateful just because we have met some of their needs. Moreover you can tell a child he or she is safe but until that safety is known through experience we cannot expect children to modify behavior based on what we wish them to believe. It takes time. Rewards may be delayed for years. Your immediate reward may be simply knowing you tried to make a difference.

No child should be considered unadoptable. And no child should age out of foster care/orphanages without the support of a family.

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