Myth Busting: Adopting Older Children

We are often asked similar questions by people who are exploring adopting children over the age of three – with many questions based on misunderstandings or assumptions.

Home for Good is committed to finding a home for every child who needs one. Every 15 minutes in the UK a child will come into care. Many children waiting for an adoptive family in the care system are over the age of three and these children often wait the longest for the right home. We believe there are many people across the UK who could welcome older children into their homes and hearts through adoption, but that you would understandably have many questions about this.

We have gathered some of the most common concerns expressed by those exploring the idea of adopting children over the age of three into the list below. While these questions are completely legitimite, many are based on common misconceptions or assumptions about adopting an older children, so we hope our responses might help to bust some myths and help you deeply consider whether you might be able to step forward to explore meeting this important need.

I will miss out on all their ‘firsts’

It's true that you are unlikely to hear your child's first word or see their first step, but there will still be so many firsts ahead of you - perhaps their first day at school, their first time riding a bike or their first holiday. Children who have had a difficult start in life may not have had a lot of common opportunities like swimming, going on a train, or caring for a pet. While there will always be some firsts that your child has already experienced, there will still be hundreds that are significant because it is their first time with you!

I will miss out on the cuddles and affection I would get with a baby

When you adopt an older child, it is important that you introduce yourself at a pace that suits them and you will usually be introduced to them by their foster carers or social worker in a planned and very gradual way. Every child is unique so for some children this may mean that cuddles are a long time coming, but for others this may not take very long at all. For those who take their time, the first hug or the moment when they reach out for your hand on a walk will be incredibly special. It will not be the same as cuddling a baby, but you will be helping a child learn to trust and feel safe, which can be hugely rewarding.

Older children have experienced more trauma and will find it harder to attach/older children have greater needs than younger children

Every child who is waiting for an adoptive family has experienced trauma, no matter their age. Separation and loss from their birth family and possibly from one or more carers, in-utero experiences and, for some, abuse or neglect in their early years all have an affect on a child's development and how they are able to build attachments in the future. Adopting a child of any age means there are unknowns as to how this may outwork in their life, but with an older child there may actually be a clearer idea of their needs, with input from professionals and foster carers to advise you as to how you can best support a child.

I won’t need to take time off work as an older child will be in education during the day

Every child is different and an introduction plan will be developed for each child being adopted, depending on their needs. This will include an appropriate plan for introducing and settling a child into an education provision, but this may not happen straight away. In some cases, a child might need additional time at home with you to build those all-important attachments and start to feel safe. Even if a child has previously been in full-teim education, some may struggle to maintain this with so much change and it is important that you can be available for whatever they need.

For adopters, wlecoming and supporting a new member of the family can be exhausting and challenging even if they are in education! It is common for agencies/trusts to recommend you take 9-12 months off work, regardless of the age of the child. You could share this adoption leave if you are adopting as a couple, or explore different options with flexible and part-time working, and it is important to discuss with your social worker how you plan to approach this.

There might be missing information about a child because they have experienced so many moves

Sadly, this could be true for any age child that is adopted, but it can be particularly difficult for a child that has experienced multiple moves. However, it can be the case that there is actually more information for older children and you should have the opportunity to gather this from the various professionals who have engaged with the child over the years to help you build up the picture of their needs. Also, many children over the age of three will be able to communicate for themselves about some things, and you will be able to hear from them directly about the things they like and dislike, which can help you welcome them and ensure they feel safe and loved.

Children over four are too old to benefit from adoption

At Home for Good we believe that all children need a safe, stable and loving home where they can thrive, and that no child is too old to benefit from this. This can be achieved in many wonderful ways - in kinship care or a private fostering arrangement, with a special guardian or a long-term foster family. For some, adoption can be a great option to give children the sense of belonging and permanency they need. Social workers will propose what form of care they believe will best meet a child's needs, with the Family Court making the final decision. Where adoption is deemed to be in their best interest, a placement order will be granted to enable social workers to seek an adoptive family for the child.

Every child is unique, with a unique set of experiences. It is vital that this is paramount in deciding what is best for them and whether adoption could enable them to thrive, whatever their age.

I won't have the same level of support around me if I adopt an older child

Your social worker and your child's social worker will help you to learn about your child and should also help to ensure you have any other professional support that your need. In addition, each agency will offer their own package of post-adoption support and training. When adopting an older child there can often be more clarity when it comes to what type of support your child will need, and in some cases this may already be in place for them.

It is vital that every adoptive family also has a great network of support around them through their family and friends. It can be more challenging to develop this with an older child as there may not be the same opportunity for things like toddler groups, or those around you may not have the understanding to recognise that you will need support. Be as open and upfront as you can to equip your support network prior to a child joining you, let them know what might help and be clear about any necessary boundaries. If you are part of a church, Home for Good may be able to help equip them to better understand the potential needs of your family. Home for Good also facilitates a network of peer support groups, where you can connect with others in a similar journey. You don't have to do this on your own!

Older children won’t want to be adopted

When a child is old enough to understand, they should be appropriately involved in discussions about their care plan. If a child felt strongly against adoption, then professionals should discuss this with them and with each other. It may be that additional work can be completed with the child to help them understand adoption, or support may be put in place to help them with their concerns (e.g. around having direct contact with birth family). But it may also be that an alternative care plan is decided upon, such as long term foster care, which will better meet the child's needs.

Want to know more about adoption? Join us online for an information session or speak to a member of our enquiry team.

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