There is an old adage that "the younger the child being adopted, the better." The reasoning is clearly understandable and does not require a degree in sociology or psychology to understand. If a child has been removed from a bad situation, such as parental unfitness (usually drug addition leading to poor parenting, or outright abuse or neglect), the child will likely have suffered trauma that may haunt him or her throughout their childhood and beyond. For the adoptive parents, no matter how well-intentioned, taking over these parental responsibilities for an older child in need of extraordinary parenting, the challenges can be severe. It is due to these concerns that so many adoptive parents seek to adopt newborns via independent or agency adoption, and be the only environment in which the child is raised.
But let's take a second look at adopting the older child before we dismiss that option, and not just for the obvious reason that these children need and deserve homes. First the practical side... Adopting parents hoping to adopt know the odds are not in their favor. There are countless other adoptive parents in the wings, waiting anxiously for a newborn available for adoption. Compare this to older "waiting children," avaliable primarily through county/public adoption agencies (and some private agencies) and adoption exchanges (statewide and nationwide registries of children waiting for adoptive homes). For more on adoption exchanges and the subject of older children available for adoption generally, please read our adoption101.com article "Waiting and Special Needs Children." The situation is completely flipped when looking at older child adoption, in that there are more children waiting to be adopted than there are adoptive families available to adopt them. Approximately half a million children are presentlly in foster care in the United States, with a huge percentage free for adoption.
But the fact that is is easier to accomplish (not to mention usually free as the county or state underwrites the entire process) means nothing if adopting an older child is not right for you. So in plain and simple terms, here's a consideration that many adoptive parents do not think of: The older the child you adopt, the more complete their personality, and the better you know who is is you are adopting.
The more you think about it, the more sense this makes. If you adopt a child that is "old" for adoption, let's say thirteen, you know after repeated contact with that child if he or she is right for your family, and you for them. Are they quiet and shy, or outgoing? Athletic or intellectual? A kind personality or contrary and difficult? Able to adjust and embrace your family life, or inclined to reject it? When adopting an older child, there is normally an initial foster parenting period, giving both parent and child the chance to adjust to each other and make these determinations, before moving to finalizing an adoption.
And be aware of this: just because a child has perhaps endured difficult circumstances in his or her life does not make them unadoptable. The spirit and resilience of people, especially children, is amazingly strong. Many outstanding people have come from very challenging circumstances, and having a positive role model, and the love of a family, can make all the difference.
This is not to sugarcoat the issues inherent in adopting an older child. It should not be considered for those adopting with the wrong reasons, anticipating a "grateful" child (no more likely than a biological child - it is just not the nature of children), or a desire to save the world. Those are self-inflating motivations. To learn more about if this type of adoption is right for you, contact your local public/county adoption agency, which should offer educational classes, and read thoroughly on the subject of adopting an older child. Our bookstore will give you some helpful books, which you can order via your local bookstore, or via our Amazon Affiliate bookstore.
Best wishes from the staff at adoption101.com.