Adopting an Older Child

“As young as possible please”. The exact words I remember saying during our adoption assessments. Like we were putting in an order. It sounds ridiculous now. And very short sighted. But at the time after spending 10 years trying for children, I could only see myself with a baby.

The truth was, we were very blinkered. Too focused on chasing a rainbow that had clearly passed us by. I wish we had been more open. Researched more. That our social workers had talked through more options.

I really don’t like the phrase “children harder to place”. Surely, there is a better way. A more encouraging description. In its very essence, those words could shine a negative light. Perhaps even make prospective adopters reluctant to consider an older child. Just like we were.

But how does your life change when you adopt an older child? Are there different considerations and challenges?

To tell us more about how it is in real life – the true reality – I am so pleased to be able to share with you Kate’s story (Instagram @katemateh)…

I adopted an older child, but the truth is, this wasn’t out of choice initially. I’d been trying to have children for 7 years – first birth children then when this didn’t work out, through adoption. This all started as a couple, but it became clear my husband realised he wasn’t really open to adoption. Wasn’t committed enough to make it work, or to take on the responsibility. This was a very difficult time, and we had a lot to work through. It wasn’t to be though, so in a nutshell – I divorced him, relocated, and had to do the whole process again as a singleton!

It took so long, and I’d been desperate for so many years. Eventually, I was approved for 2 children aged 0-6 years old. After I finally got approved there was a major slump in children available. This seems to happen in cycles, where the balance between children looking for homes and prospective adopters changes. At this time, kinship orders were favoured, and I fell into maybe a bit of depression. I think a lot of people in the same boat probably felt this way. Delay upon delay while children went back and forth through the courts, sadly, many ending up with placement orders to adopt which could have been granted years before.

I then found lots of profiles started asking for couples rather than singles. I didn’t go on link maker and didn’t really actively look. Maybe 8 months after my panel I heard about my daughter. She was 7 and had been removed nearly a year previously. She was one of many siblings, all to be adopted separately as their needs were all pretty extensive. I was asked by my Barnardos social workers to read her profile, which as I had done before – I agreed to do again.

Over the years I’d got my heart set on various children and had ended up mother to none. So, I guess in a way, it felt nice to be approached. I’d put myself through so much to adopt. Starting this chapter in my life happily married, then facing it on my own. But through it all my desire to become a mum stayed strong.

My main thought was I’m not “begging” for a child. Anyone could see I’d do anything to adopt. I wanted someone that needed me like I needed them. I’d seen a couple of other similar aged girls, but one was considered too local, and the other they’d switched and decided she needed two parents. More hurdles. More disappointment.

I heard my girl’s siblings were mostly being adopted by single parents and they wanted a high level of contact. I’d always wanted to have a big family so this seemed desirable. So, plans were put in place for initial meetings to start and I was met by the social worker and the family finder very soon after. I was also given the opportunity to read reports by the fosterers in more detail.

There was no additional training for adopting an older child. Maybe it would have helped. It’s probably fair to say the prep training was more geared around adopting younger children. Of course, my daughter was at an age where she was very aware of her start in life and how it had changed. Her trauma was always going to be easily triggered. Her memories of the neglect firmly on the surface.

Introductions took the same format as with other younger children. She heard about me at the end of May and I met her a week or two later. We kept it pretty brief the first day. Maybe an hour. I spent 6 days near her and the fosterers then they moved up my way for about 6 days before she moved in.

We talk about her birth parents a lot. At first, she made out they were great fun, and everything was fun and frolics. It only took a few weeks for the real tough stuff to be expressed. We were in a car, with her in the back and she broke down and told me all the names they’d called her and how they had wrecked her birthday. Unfortunately, police got involved and as you can imagine, this must have all been very traumatic for her to be part of. It was so hard to hear her and see her crying, but I know she told me when I was driving on purpose – so many children discover this as their safe place.

After all the heart-breaking things she shared, we went to my friend’s house and she ran off to play. But I was all wobbly.  It was so tough to hear and an emotionally draining time. It was clear we had a long road ahead. We used to spend a lot of time doing role play games. These sometimes started quite angry but over time calmed down. We used to play out house moves, and stress play around fulfilling babies needs. With her great imagination we moved on to happier events like going on holiday or pretending to go to the shops. This was great method to help her express her feelings. Helped to regulate her and calm her.

We definitely had a honeymoon period though, and about 5 months in – it ended. She’d started at school, and there was a lot to come to terms with. With hindsight, I would go back and change a number of things. I’ve learnt a lot since then, but we’ve worked through it. The two of us together. This has helped to build our bond and make us stronger.

No one really ‘gets it’. I’ve heard daft comments from people that just don’t understand, but maybe I didn’t know what to say either. I know I often said too much, and maybe some things were best left between just us.

Things are very different now. I didn’t know this adoption community then and didn’t have a point of support in the same way as I have now. These days, I will happily talk to anyone considering adopting older children. Even though there are difficult times – there are so many benefits. We make a great team as mother and daughter. Enjoying all the things we like to do – listening to music, beach trips, board games. She is funny, bright and a little daft…and I wouldn’t change her for the world. I am grateful every day that I get to be her mum. I took a leap of faith, and I am so glad I did.

This guest blog shows that however hard we try, things have a habit of taking a different turn. What I love about this is the strong desire Kate had to be a mum. To give a happy, safe and secure home to a child who really needed it.

It’s awful to think so many children are in care. All need the same things Kate gave, but many are lost in the system – overlooked – simply because they are older.

There is no denying that there may be challenges a plenty, but there always will be of some kind. Parenting in any way, in any form, comes hand in hand with difficult days.

Thank you Kate for sharing your experience and for letting us see a glimpse in to life adopting an older child. I love how you describe yourselves as being part of one big family. Nothing is more wonderful than being able to keep up the sibling contact in the way you do. This really is the wonder of adoption. It’s diversity and acceptance that we may all have different backgrounds or circumstances, but with a good sprinkle of love…anything is possible.