Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adopting an Older Child from Foster Care

People often ask me why I decided to adopt from foster care. As with so many things in life, there is no one simple answer. My husband and I had a desire to grow our family and a vague awareness that there was a need for parents to adopt older children, who are considered difficult to place compared to infants and toddlers. (I'm even more conscious of that need now, having since acquired additional awareness about the challenges faced by teens who age out of foster care without finding permanency with adoptive families.) I thought that my husband and I would be good candidates to parent an older child. Though I had loved parenting my biological daughter Mackenzie when she was an infant, I had also enjoyed moving into later stages of child development. I didn't really want to return to the baby stage. I'm a word person -- I like interacting with children when they have acquired language and I enjoy them even more as their sophistication with language increases; my husband is similar to me in this regard. I have enjoyed every stage of parenting, and I have never wanted to go back to an earlier one. I seem to like each stage better than the one before. (So far, at least. I'm aware that I may feel differently when the teen years arrive.) Adopting a child who was close in age to the one we already had allowed us to stay at the same general stage of development, more or less. (Because of her challenging history, there are some ways that our adopted daughter is developmentally "younger" than her chronological age, but that discrepancy is decreasing already and will likely continue to dissipate.)

Prior to becoming a foster-adopt parent, I had read a lot of books about trauma and attachment issues (including Heather Forbes' Beyond Consequences books, which were especially helpful in increasing my understanding of how problematic behaviors are rooted in fears and anxieties). I believed that I had a pretty good grasp of the challenges we were likely to encounter, and I believed that my husband and I were up to those challenges. I underestimated. I really could not have imagined just how challenging the first year would be. Ashley entered our home with a lot of emotional baggage and behavioral issues. In the beginning, we experienced melt-downs almost daily. She swore at us. She threw things. She destroyed things. She hit.

But after each one of these melt-downs (and she wasn't always the one having the melt-down -- sometimes it was me!), we would find our way back to connection, and she learned that we were going to stick with her no matter what. We weren't going to send her away (as previous foster parents had done) when she "misbehaved." Over time, the difficult behaviors decreased and the good days increased. Eventually, the good days became the norm. Today, she is a different child. The aggressive behaviors are gone, and the truly amazing child that she is has emerged.

Would I go back and do it all again? In a second! Yes, those early months of her placement with us were difficult, but the joyful outcome is worth every one of the challenging moments.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


  1. How wonderful your daughter has parents who understood her anxieties when she came to live with you permanently. I don't think a lot of people understand what children go through when they are in and out of the system. It's heartbreaking to say the least.
    Found your blog through Bloggy Moms

  2. Hi Chelle. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words! It has been said that scared kids do scary things, and I agree. I knew she wasn't "bad" -- she'd just had some bad things happen in her life.

  3. What a beautiful story!! I think it is wonderful that you all found each other! It must have been so difficult and painful for your daughter Ashley to finally trust that someone would love her no matter what. I'm so happy for you!! I'm so glad I stumbled upon your post today on VoiceBoks. I'm now happily following you!

  4. So thankful she found her way to your family :)


  5. I used to work with children in a residential facility. I know all too well the problem older children have with getting adopted. You have pulled a bit on my heart strings. Best wishes!


  6. One of my best friends adopted an older child out of foster care (2 years ago) and is still dealing with these types of issues. I am going to pass along your post as an encouragement for her, for the days are difficult. Praise God for those of you uniquely equipped to love these children the way they need to be loved!

  7. That is so awesome to hear! What a blessing she has in you and your husband! Thanks for sharing!
    Glad to have found you on voiceboks I will be returning and passing you along!

  8. This is honestly and beautifully written. I am wondering if you would allow me to re-post it on an adoption website that I run ( I adopted some of my children when they were older and can relate to much of what you said. If it is okay for me to re-post this, please e-mail me at oursevenblessings(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Thanks!


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