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I want to adopt…now what?

Choosing to add to your family through adoption is a momentous decision in itself, but what comes next? Suddenly, you are faced with the even bigger decision of finding a child you think would be a great addition to your family. The adoption process can be quite daunting and stressful. How do you choose a new family member?

You want to make the best decision for both yourself and the child. There will be a million questions running through your mind in regard to what you would consider an “ideal” child. One of your first questions will be “How old should this child be?”. There is no one right answer to that question, every family and child is different. If you are thinking about adopting, here are some things to consider when choosing which age group to adopt.

What are adoption age groups?

Adoption age groups are typically broken up into categories of older and younger. There is a distinct age difference between the two groups, but the dividing line isn’t where most people would expect. When most people think of older children, their minds tend to conjure up the image of a teen. However, in the realm of adoption, an older child is defined as 5 years old and up. Conversely, anywhere from newborn to 5 years old, the child is still considered younger. This grouping reflects the age when children typically begin attending school.

Adopting a Baby

All adoptive parents have their own concerns regarding the adoption process. When it comes to age, there are significant milestones and care requirements to consider. Most adoptive parents view newborns as blank slates. They are drawn to the idea of being a part of all of the child’s milestones from day one.

Adopting a newborn makes it difficult to determine whether or not the child will have disabilities or developmental problems. If you are not knowledgeable about how to care for a special needs child then you may feel overwhelmed and unprepared to do so. Additionally, there is a chance that you may not have much of a choice in the child’s gender. These potential drawbacks are something to consider when deciding to adopt a newborn. Providing the right care for the child should be paramount, and you should be confident in your ability to do so.

Adopting an Older Child

In the United States, there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted at this very moment. Most people imagine adding a newborn to their family, but in the United States, the average age of children waiting to be adopted is 8 years old. Overwhelmingly, 69% of adoptions occur before the child reaches the age of 8. Children above the age of 8-years- old are disproportionately adopted at lower rates. There are simply more children waiting to be adopted that are older.

Older children come with their own experiences, some of which may include trauma.This can manifest through attachment, behavioral, and developmental issues. However, what these children need most is a loving caring home, if you are considering adoption, consider adopting older. Age plays a huge factor in adoption, but it does not change the fact that there are thousands of children waiting for the perfect home.

Birth Order

Birth order is another important factor to think about when choosing what age to adopt. Most adoption agencies have a policy that requires an adopted child not to disrupt the birth order of the children in the household. For example, if you already have a 3-year-old child living in the home and are looking to adopt, you might be restricted only to children who are younger than the 3-year-old. This can be a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome when adopting an older child.

If you already have children living in the home, you should consider their thoughts on bringing in an older, younger, or same age child. An only child could be overwhelmed by a sudden shift in their role when becoming the oldest or youngest child in the family. While there is no surefire way to know what your child’s reaction would be, taking the time to talk over the decision with them as much as possible is a great way to gauge what they might be feeling.

Age Restriction

Adoptive parents should also take their own ages into account when in the process of adopting a child. A younger child requires significant stamina and constant care, toddlers cannot simply be left to their own devices for long periods of time. An older child does not require the same constant vigilance and stamina that a younger child would need. An older child could be a better fit for older parents or people with reduced mobility.

Some adoption agencies restrict the age difference between adoptive parents and their children. There is typically a limit of a 40-45 year age gap allowed. Additionally, some states require the adoptive parents to provide medical records that state they are sufficiently healthy enough to care for a child.

Financial Assistance

One very important reason to consider adopting an older child is the financial assistance they could receive should they choose to pursue a higher education. If a child is adopted after the age of 13 they are automatically given independent student status. From a financial aid perspective, an independent student has no expectation of parent contribution to their college costs. They are therefore more likely to receive full government education grants such as TAP and Pell. These funds are by no means enough to cover the full costs of college, but they do make a difference.

If a child is adopted before they turn 13, they forfeit this status. If you are financially secure enough to help fund your child’s higher education then this might not be an issue. However, if you do adopt an older child you may not have the time to save up significant funds for their higher education and the grants could be a huge help.

Conclusion

From the moment you make the decision to adopt, you have already begun the process of changing a child’s life for the better. No matter the age of the child you should feel confident in your ability to love and care for the child. Many times parents begin the adoption process and find that what they thought they wanted could not compare to the reality of the amazing child they end up adding to their family. Take time to narrow down your decision based on what is right for you and your growing family.

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