Archive for ‘Adoption Series’

July 27, 2012

Part 4 – New Faces of Int’l Adoption – Adopting Older Children

Things have been very busy and crazy here, but I want to continue the series on special needs and older child adoptions.  Please note the links at the end of this post, and feel free to join our conversation!

What’s So Scary about Older Children?

Many prospective adoptive families automatically assume that younger is always better.  This isn’t always the case.  A child’s background, experiences and personality have a huge impact on their post-adoption adjustment.  I know of families who adopted “young as possible, healthy as possible” children who have had significant post-adoption issues.  I also know of many families who have adopted older “special needs” children who have adjusted beautifully with no or very little post-adoption concerns.   A child who was orphaned at age seven but lived his first seven years with his loving mother could very well have fewer issues than a two year old who was orphaned as an infant, passed among relatives and then placed into an orphanage where she was neglected.

Every child no matter what their age deserves to be in a loving family, and it’s heartening that more families are opening their hearts to older children.  However, children deserve to be adopted into families ready to handle their needs, whatever they are.  Preparation is crucial in every adoption, but never more so than the adoption of older children.

We all remember those very public cases in the last couple of years that showed what can go wrong if parents aren’t prepared before their adoptive children – especially older children – come home.  Along with other adoptive parents, I watched in fascinated horror as the stories unfolded in the national news.  They seemed to dominate all my conversations at the time, but then as the media stories faded, so did those conversations.  I was ready to stop talking & thinking about them for awhile.  But the stories didn’t really stop.  Privately, I started hearing about other adoptions gone wrong. Those type of stories still surface among my acquaintances occasionally, and when they do I keep wondering how I can help adoptive parents avoid getting into the same situations.


I don’t have experience myself adopting older children, but I hope to someday, and want my family to be as prepared as we can be.  We had a prior relationship with my 15 year old sister before my parents adopted her more than two years ago and she blended into our family like a dream – as if she’s always been part of it – but I knew that wasn’t necessarily representative of older child adoptions, so I had to start researching.  I’ve done loads of research over the years; I belong to several related online groups and have walked alongside many who have adopted older children.  I’ve also learned a lot from my position as an adoption coordinator.  The following is what I’ve learned and what I recommend to get families started before beginning their journey:

  • Read as much as you can, of course.  There are quite a few books on the topic of older child adoption, bonding & attachment and the like, but you’ll find much of your best reading material online.
  • Talk to people, online & off, who have adopted older kids.  You’re going to hear all kinds of things.  Keep in mind that those who have had a bad experience are usually the most vocal.  Listen to everyone with an open mind and then try to get background details if you can.  How prepared were these parents before their children came home?  Did the family have correct and detailed information on the child’s background?  What would they have done differently?  What do they feel they did correctly?  What preparations do they recommend?  Don’t miss the online forums devoted to older child adoption!
  • Follow blogs of families who have successfully adopted older kids.  Google’s Blog Search will help you find these.
  • Form relationships with people who have adopted older kids.  Check to see if there is an adoption support group in your area.
  • Before you commit to an agency, research them and their orphan care arrangements thoroughly.  Talk to as many people as possible who have adopted from them to see what kind of care their child received.  Research, research, research!  Find out about sleeping arrangements, caregiver training, caregiver to child ratio, etc.  Don’t be afraid to politely ask tough questions.  The stakes are very high and ethical agencies will have nothing to hide.  Tactfully ask about history of abuse allegations and what kind of safety measures are in place at their orphanages.  If the agency has any sort of gag clause that prevents adoptive parents from speaking about their experience, or if they have restrictive visitation policies, RUN – don’t walk- away from that agency.  Parents must be able to freely inspect the environment in which their children are cared for, and share about their experiences in order to help other children and PAPs.  Secretive policies only encourage abuse and corruption.
  • Research Safety Plans –  Many of the examples you will find online come from foster care/adoption resources.  Blog about A Family Sexual Plan and an example of a Family Sexual Safety Plan can be found here.  After you receive your referral and know more about your child, you can begin to really build your plan, but research should start now.

Again, these are some of the things PAPs going into an older child adoption need to do before committing to the adoption of an older child.  It’s important to point out that although the vast majority of older child adoptions are successful, we still need to be prepared.  – And until we’re able to assess the child in their new family environment for a period of time, we need to make and keep safety measures in place.

What else can families considering an older child do to prepare?

When Placements Fail

Though no one wants to hear the hard stories, hopefully we can learn from others and in turn avoid a tragic outcome.  Here are a few examples of families who, for various reasons, were not prepared for their newly adopted children:

Example #1 is a family who adopted an 8 year old boy.  When this child came home his family his new parents did not implement any safety precautions in their home.  They immediately allowed their new 8 year old son to share a room with their 6 year old biological son.  Several weeks later the 6 year old son reports that his new brother had been sexually molesting him at night. When confronted, the newly adopted child reports he was molested at the orphanage by older boys.  This family decided to disrupt the adoption.

Example #2 is a family who adopted a 12 year old girl and her 7 year old sister.  This family was not prepared for the extreme emotional needs of the oldest child.  This child was very much treated as an adult in her home country.  She resented being parented.   She rebelled and refused to do what her parents asked her to do.  She was overwhelmed and scared because of all the changes in her life and started throwing long, loud tantrums much like a small child.  Quickly these became violent.  She threatened suicide.  She ran away from home.  Her new family was unprepared for these extreme reactions.  They had expected her to be grateful for her new family and opportunities.  When she wasn’t, they started to resent her and the mayhem she caused. They decided to disrupt the adoption.

Example #3 is a family who adopted a 3 and 5 year old sibling set.  They had an infant and a preschool age child already in the home. The orphanage had reported two very typical and healthy children in the paperwork the family received.  When the children came home it was apparent that they had been abused and extremely neglected for years in their home country.  At first, the family thought that love would be enough to heal the children. But the children had extreme behaviors.  They threw hour-long tantrums and would hit, bite, and scratch the other children in the home.  They would soil themselves and smear it on the walls.   The oldest showed sexualized behaviors.  The youngest pulled her hair out in chunks.  They were diagnosed with many different labels and eventually RAD.  The family was exhausted and did not have a strong support network where they lived.  They stated that they felt absolutely no love or attachment to the children and were angry at them for hurting their biological children.  The family chose to disrupt.

Thankfully, the majority of older children who are adopted internationally have what would be considered typical adjustments and the placements are positive.  The above horror stories are rare exceptions. 

Not all disruptions are due to unprepared families. Sometimes it was the agency or other authorities who weren’t prepared.  Missing or fraudulent background information from the home country is a major factor in disruptions.  A few children with extreme, violent or sexualized behavior have been placed in families who had no idea of their backgrounds. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that there are rare instances in which disrupting an adoption is in the best interest of the child.  There have been times when a family was thoroughly prepared but referred a child who simply could not continue living in their home.  Some children have been so badly hurt that even the most prepared and experienced parents may not be able to parent them in a normal family setting.

Are stories like these helpful or do they scare you away from considering an older child?

While They Wait

A child’s early experiences are so vitally important.  I recommend the book, Ghosts from the Nursery by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley, detailing how the first few years of life affect a child’s life-long development.  For prospective adoptive children, how they’re treated during their orphanage stay is also vital.  We get so caught up in how difficult the paperwork or the wait is for the prospective parents that hardly anyone is talking about what’s happening to the children as they wait.  We can’t eliminate abuse within the birth family’s home (meet me here at a later date to discuss family preservation and community support efforts), but we can choose to adopt from agencies/orphanages that provide excellent orphan care.  Yes, they do exist.  Yes, it’s possible for orphanages to create safe, nurturing environments for our children while they wait – if that becomes important to the people we’re paying.  And it will only become important to them if it’s important to us.  We can diligently research agencies & their orphanages and refuse to do business with them unless they’re transparent, forthcoming and honest.  If we insist on accountability and improved standards within our agencies and orphanages, those entities will begin to improve, and so will the care for future children.  This issue is important enough to warrant its own post in the near future.

If PAPs insist on ethical adoption and orphan care practices from our agencies, will our program choices become too severely limited?  Will this be a factor in your decision-making?

More Specific Concerns

I did an informal Facebook poll asking what issues surrounding older child adoptions are most likely to cause concern to prospective adoptive parents.  Here’s what they said:

– Child already has a memory of his/her “history”
-No experience raising older children
-Keeping birth order
-Reactive Attachment Disorder
-Older children may have been abused and in turn might abuse other children in the home

Do you have other concerns not listed here?

In the next few posts I’d like to address these issues, but for now, some examples of what you might hear from real families who have adopted older children:

“Though never diagnosed with RAD, my daughter had most of the symptoms. I say had because of healing but there are times when some pop back up. The crazy lying, lack of eye contact, stealing, food issues, lack of respect for me, lack of bonding with me, incessant talking or gibberish, inability to sit still, huge fear problem (that’s one we still deal with weekly), bossiness, controlling, overbearing, tries to make decisions for others, tries to plan day for me, acted out sexually, damaged toys, low self esteem, disassociation… She has come an amazingly long way (not by my know how but by God!)

I had no idea this was what it was but looking back it fits the label. With all of those above symptoms, it never dawned on us to have A evaluated by a professional. My daughter was born to my husband and his ex wife. The ex/birth mom was an alcoholic and meth addict. A experienced abuse, neglect, deprivation, and lack of love and nurturing for the yr BM had custody until ex/birth mom abandon my daughter and son, D (younger than A and now does not remember anything nor had symptoms of RAD). A was 4 and D was 2 when we got custody. We did not handle our daughter properly at the beginning and just thought she was being bratty. After 2.5 yrs of struggling with only little gains, my husband and I prayed over the situation. The prayer worked and it also opened our eyes. We read some adoptive books and started to implement suggestions from these books, The Connected Child and Beyond Logic, Control, and Consequences. It clicked when we finally recognized that FEAR was the main driving force behind everything. Little by little our responses to A changed and A changed. I truly believe praying started everything and then our commitment to change in our hearts toward A also contributed. I truly did not start to LOVE A until I forced myself. No wonder she didn’t bond with me when I wasn’t with her. We let A know she was afraid even if she didn’t know it and that she cold come to us and talk about her feelings. We also discussed her early life with her and made it clear she was not to blame and that we love her unconditionally, even when she messes up. It was really stressful for years but it also has brought us closer together. A has taught us many things and she is resilient!” – Becky Ryder

“Our son came home at 6 months old out of private foster care in Guatemala. We thought getting him home that young and his having been in a family setting would’ve prevented any attachment issues, but we have come to learn that attachment starts in the womb. He was a difficult to calm baby from the day he came home. He would rage so badly that I would have to put him in his packnplay with blankets all around him just so he wouldn’t hurt himself – he was prone to throwing his head against the hardwood floors. I noticed he never cried the first year or so he was home when I would leave. My presence seemed irrelevant to him – it neither calmed nor irritated him. As he got older his rages got more severe. By the time he was 3 he could rage for an hour or more over seemingly nothing. We kept thinking it was just his personality, he was a strong willed child, and he would grow out of it. Around this time I started researching attachment, and discovered that we had NOT been educated the way we should have by either of our adoption agencies. We had been taught nothing about attachment parenting. We muddled along for a few years doing what we could as we read books and learned from online support groups. When our son was 6 he started having issues in school and we began to see a psychiatrist. They wanted to medicate him for bipolar. It didn’t help. Finally we made our way to an attachment therapist who confirmed what we already knew – that his issues were attachment related. She diagnosed him with RAD, but said like many things it was a continuum and he was not the worst she had seen. She had another client also adopted from Guatemala at the same age who presented with the same issues. She explained to us how even in the womb if the mother is stressed that the baby is bathed in stress hormones which affects brain development. He had a very anxious attachment to us. He was so stressed all the time that much of his therapy resembled what you would do for someone with PTSD. Since that time he has definitely attached to us more strongly – he is loving and affectionate at times, but he still has underlying fears of abandonment and rejection that trigger behaviors to prove that we will leave him or test us. He is also still very manipulative. We have to watch who we allow him to be with as he will work any situation to his advantage if you aren’t aware. He still lies and steals frequently, and destroys property often. I guess the difference lately is that we see genuine remorse afterward. That gives us hope that he is starting to care about us and others in the family. Our other kids have learned to ignore him and walk away when he is disregulated. It has been hard on them, but especially hard on Daniel as the little brother. I so desperately wish I could go back in time and parent him like the traumatized baby he was. I would’ve worn him on me 24/7, and handled things so much differently. I would’ve cocooned him more and not let others care for him until he knew I was his mama. But we just do what we can from where we are now and hope that his heart will soften. Our greatest parenting techniques came from the beyond consequences books by Heather Forbes, and Karyn Purvis’ The Connected Child. I think Purvis has attachment parenting nailed and would recommend her resources to every adoptive parent!! “ – Anonymous

“My husband and I have twelve children. I should probably start by saying that we didn’t set out to become a “mega-family”, we once thought we were “done” with only two children!  Once number four rolled around, having 4 kids under 7 was a little… loud… and we said we were done. Fast forward a few years and there we were, surprised to find ourselves in the middle of our decision to adopt!Now our youngest was 7 and I had been bitten by the baby bug that strikes somewhere around the early thirties, therefore we naturally presumed we would be signing on the dotted line to sit on a waiting list for a while to adopt a baby! But, as International Adoption programs estimates and guidelines change and shift with the winds, by the time our paperwork arrived we were dismayed to see our wait list time had doubled from the time we faxed in the application and when the paperwork arrived to our home. Sadly, I thought “how is this possible? I thought there were children sitting in orphanages waiting for families to find them!?” As it turns out, I was right. However, they weren’t snuggly babies swaddled in fuzzy blankies sleeping three to a crib. They were pre-schoolers up to teenagers who had been waiting far too long. They were siblings who were passed over because of their ages or because of how many came in their “package deal”.They were children who were relinquished without older siblings because they were too young to work, but too old to stay with a nursing mother. They were MY children. Our first three children were on a waiting child listing because they were “special needs”. There they were, three healthy preschoolers (2, 3 and 4 years old) who needed a family! We laid claim to our children, swore to bring them home, and then set about figuring out the details such as social workers, agency approval and the like. 10 months later – they were home at the ripe old ages of 2, 4 and 5 years old. We thought we had hit the adoption lottery! How blessed could one family be?! Well, 11 months after we were home, we were shown a photo of another “special needs” sibling group. This time… there were FIVE waiting children. They had been passed over for months because of the size of the family, and their ages (3, 4, 6, 7, 8 years old). The oldest three were boys with their two little sisters. How could we not love those faces?!? Of course we moved forward and considered them our children and part of our family before we even met them!However, we were now faced with a whole new set of concerns from friends and family members.”But… those are OLDER BOYS!”.”Chrissy, what if one of those boys hurts one of your younger girls?” “No one could possibly watch them all 24 hours a day… you WILL be setting yourselves up for something bad to happen.” ”What about birth order?? Won’t you be doing damage by twinning or bringing in older children??”I suppose these are really REAL concerns in considering older child adoption, but should the fear of the unknown on our part mean that wonderful children sit in orphanages for even longer? Is their age somehow their fault? Just like with birth children, there are no guarantees in adoption. Your sweet adopted-at-birth child may grow up to have horrific attachment difficulties, just as much as a newly adopted teenager may attach without any difficulty and become a fully integrated part of the family! Just as race doesn’t make someone a criminal or not, age doesn’t make a child a predator. We should all examine our motives in adoption if we are only comfortable inside the “as young as possible/as healthy as possible” bubble. There are some amazing children just outside that bubble who would make wonderful sons and daughters! As for us? We wound up artificially twinning two children, disrupting birth order and adopting 4 children over the age of 5… and we’ve lived to enjoy every moment of it! In regards to adopting out of birth order- we considered our kids personalities first, decided we should keep our oldest son the oldest, but knew our 3 &4th born would be flexible. Therefore… Even with the vague birthdates in Ethiopia we could still say YES to our 5 knowing the older boys may come home, start growing, and wind up actually older than our bio kids.  We prepared our kids by letting them know that Mom’s and Dad’s don’t just have a love bank account that gets spent and drained till its done. We have hearts like the baskets of fish and bread in the Bible story where there was always enough for everyone. They don’t need to worry about being loved more or less than another child because we love them all. I think maybe if we had taken one of our kids on the Embassy trip, that may have helped with bonding a bit, but they are all doing great so I can’t pinpoint one particular thing.  How did the kids at home react you might ask? Well, it brought up lots of adoption and birth stories from our first three adopted kiddos. The older 4 needed to be reminded frequently to play and have fun and help teach the new 5, but to leave the correcting and “No!” to us. Overall, things are really good!!!”  – Chrissy Jensen

“Our children: Girl age 7 at adoption from foster care. Suffered multiple abuses and neglect. Low average IQ with a RAD , ADHD, Anxiety, behavioral and emotional disabilities. She would search out people whenever in public and just stare at them. She would walk right up to them, stand in front of them and just stare, not blinking or speaking. When I would steer her away she would be upset and ask what was I doing and try to pull away. With her first teacher I was called into the principles office where I was informed they had called her therapist to let her know we weren’t the right family for this girl. Luckily the therapist her of her RAD status of course and laughed and educated the school principle on this disorder and how to handle my daughter. Her second year was worse!! They teacher would send home mean notes about why I refused to help my daughter with homework, or why I didn’t return paperwork and even accused me of abusing my daughter. I had explained everything to this teacher at the beginning of the year but teachers are trained to listen to the child and Ohhh boy!! Could my daughter tell some stories!! I even sent a book to school for this teacher to read, “When a Stranger Calls You Mom”, she sent it home the same day and said she didn’t need to read it. By the middle of the second semester I had been through enough. The teacher had begun complaining to other teachers and there was talk of calling CPS. I was getting all kind of evil looks from faculty members and I just knew this couldn’t go on. I called up the principal again and she had only been made aware of one instance with the teacher and the principal had informed the teacher to ignore the lies daughter told that she knew the parents and had talked to the child’s therapist. But the principal was not aware of the continuing harassment from the teacher. That teachers name was Mrs. Wheeler and she was “forced” to retire or be terminated at the end of the year. Yes my daughter is a charmer and a liar!!!! It wasn’t until 6 years, a 3 week stay in a mental hospital and 3 therapist later did we finally get through to her!!! Now at 14 she is still emotionally and behaviorally disabled and still a charmer but is learning some restraint at telling perfect strangers about her fantasy life. This is the most difficult type of RAD to me. You just can not trust that they hold your family bond as their own and will do anything to draw attention to themselves even if it means losing the family that is trying so hard to love them.   Girl age 4 at adoption from foster care. Again diagnosed with severe RAD , ADHD, Anxiety Disorder and PICA. This one has been our thief and food hoarder!! Her RAD is somewhat different from our other daughter. Yes she is still sweet and a charmer but her RAD comes out in cruelty. She was cruel to animals and other children often hitting and hurting our other daughter close in age. She also has the inability to feel physical or emotional pain. She never cried. And I mean never!! She ran into a metal pole one day head first and her forehead swelled up the size of a tennis ball no joke and she never even noticed!! We took her to the ER and never once cried or even winced at the pain. Also she never felt love and it breaks my heart to think she will never get to give or receive that feeling with another human being. She is now nearly 11 years old and her issues have not gotten any better and her therapist doesn’t think it ever will. Her lies are truth to her. And although she is not schizophrenic she whole heartily believes herself to be in the right even if she hurts someone else.  Boy age 5 at adoption from foster care. Diagnosed with RAD and ADHD. His is less severe than his 2 sisters and deals mostly with feeling inadequate to accept love. It made him very uncomfortable when hugged or if you tried to hold his hand. He has improved over the years and at 12 he will hug me goodnight but that is the only time. He still does not let me kiss him or hold his hand. He will tell me he loves me and that I’m a great mom (heart melting) and I still think he is improving.   Boy age 3 at adoption from foster care. Originally diagnosed with Austism, low functioning IQ and failure to thrive, was not talking, walking or potty trained.  Now at age 9 does not have Autism, he dies have a very low IQ and RAD, is still unable to read but is thriving in all other areas. He is in special education classes and has a short fuse. His RAD is more of a sensory issue with touch. He does not like to be hugged and will run if someone tries to kiss him. But he loves it when I rub his head and often sits beside me. When I tell him I love him he will reciprocate it although he will blush because it still feels uncomfortable to him. 
There you go!! All four of these are siblings and have survived years of neglect and abuse from family members, foster parents and the system. Their scars are deep and they will never completely get past them. But I am honored to be their mom and have seen them come so far and if they end up never overcoming and cannot function in society I know I have tried my best and they will always have a home and a momma that loves them!!” – Anonymous

“I have three daughters, all adopted as older children, and all blessing our family in their own unique way. Eldest came home from Ethiopia at age 7, Middle came home from Ghana at age 6, and Baby came home from Uganda at age 4 with mild Cerebral Palsy. I won’t lie and say that parenting the older adopted child is the same as parenting a child from birth. Nor will I lie and say that it’s easy. But parenting, even with birth children, isn’t always the same, nor is it easy. Older children come with their memories intact. My eldest remembers taking care of babies in the orphanage, and has been an amazing helper with her baby sister. My Middle remembers her birth family and knows that her birth mother loved her very, very much, so many of the questions adoptees adopted as infants might have are already answered.  Older children have already experienced most “firsts” that parents of babies hope for, yet there are still, so, so many firsts to experience with the older adopted child. The first grocery store, the first video game, the first movie in a theater, the first zoo visit, the first Halloween or Christmas, all firsts that older children can understand and appreciate more than a baby. These firsts are still significant for both parent and child, and no less special than the first haircut or the first tooth cut. I know that people often worry about the transition, the orphanage effect, and past trauma of older children, but from my own experience, the child’s personality has a far greater impact on their ability to transition to their new home. My Eldest had a difficult transition, both of us actually had a difficult transition, after she came home. Yet I know from what she’s told me that she was a difficult child in her orphanage too. Some kids are just harder to parent than others! But I’ve watched her transition from a screaming, spitting 7 year old to a beautiful, thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent 14 year old. Of my three, she is the one I worry least about. She will succeed. Because the same anger at injustice, stubborn attitude, and perseverance that make a tantrum something spectacular to behold are the very things that will carry her through any struggle or trial she encounters as an adult. My Middle and Baby came home with very little adjustments and no tantrums, and again, I attribute that to their personalities. Both are laid back and easy going in every aspect of their lives. They took each new change in stride. Even with birthing a child or adopting an infant, we can’t be sure of the child’s personality until we start parenting!” – Heather Amsbury

“So, you met the most wonderful child in Uganda. You were expecting to fall in love with a baby or toddler but you instead fell in love with an “older child”. You were smitten. She started calling you mom and you felt an instant connection. You head home, sure that it is God’s plan for you to give her a home, a real family. Everything you have read warns you not to do this but you feel you are different. She is different. This situation is not the nightmare you’ve read about on other blogs or books. You make a decision based on emotion and instead of listening to the experts or those who have been there done that, you go with your gut. What you don’t realize is that there is solid evidence that supports what the experts say and you quickly find out, YOUR FAMILY IS NOT THE EXCEPTION. This is the truth. If you adopt an older child from Africa your cultures will clash. Our daughter was not raised in an institution, but rather had a family until AIDS changed her families life. This was a plus! I thought because she was raised in a family environment we were immune to much of the pain others faced. People must realize that there are cultural differences so ingrained in your child that you may never be able to fully relate. Sure, in the beginning they will be perfect. They will manipulate, lie and many other survival type behaviors. Once they realize they are safe, many of the negative cultural norms will star to show their ugly head. My advice: DO NOT CHANGE BIRTH ORDER: YOU ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN ANYONE ELSE AND DON’T THINK YOU ARE ABOVE IT. IF THE CHILD HAS A CHANCE TO STAY IN THEIR COUNTRY SAFELY WITH LOVE AND SUPPORT, DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT OF THEIR CULTURE AND STRIP THEM OF THEIR AFRICAN TRADITIONS. IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG FOR THEM TO FORGET WHERE THEY CAME FROM AND BECOME ENTITLED AMERICAN CHILDREN. THIS IS NOT THEIR FAULT, IT’S THE NATURE OF THE BEAST PUT YOUR MARRIAGE FIRST. YOUR CHILD WILL MOST LIKELY BOND WITH ONE OF YOU. MANIPULATE THE HECK OUT OF YOUR HEARTSTRINGS AND YOU MIGHT BE TEMPTED TO PUT YOUR WHOLE LIFE ON HOLD AND PUT EVERYTHING INTO THIS ONE PERSON. DON’T DO IT. PRESERVE YOUR MARRIAGE.  DON’T PLAY SAVIOR AND THINK YOU ARE SAVING A CHILD.  DON’T PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK AND ESPECIALLY DON’T THINK THEY WILL APPRECIATE YOU FOR “SAVING THEM”. IN THE BEGINNING THEY WILL MOST LIKELY BE WHOEVER YOU WANT THEM TO BE, BUT THAT CAN’T LAST.  So, moral of the story is…………………”  – Anonymous

“ Last summer we adopted a beautiful little girl who became the oldest of our four kids. At the age of 10.5, she was a full seven years older than our oldest biological child. As our court date approached and we prepared to bring her into our family, our excitement was partially replaced by worry, lots of questions and feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of suddenly parenting a preteen. One of our biggest concerns was ensuring that ALL of the children in our family were safe in our home. Though we had no concrete reason to suspect that our oldest daughter had ever been physically or sexually abused, we also had no way of knowing what she’d experienced in those 10.5 years of life (7 of them spent in an orphanage). After consulting with several social workers, child therapists and other adoptive parents of older children, I felt even more overwhelmed but also much more educated about what to expect and my husband and I sat down and devised a safety plan for our family (our kids are now ages 11, 4 and we have two 2 year olds). First, our children rarely play unsupervised. If an adult is not in the same room with them or if they aren’t directly in our view, one of us goes in to check on them very, very frequently. If I am trying to get something done and I can’t directly supervise (i.e.-make dinner), we sit all of them at the table with homework, workbooks, coloring books or a small snack so we know where they are and what they’re doing or we’ll turn on a brief TV program for them to watch since the living room is within view of our kitchen. When our daughter first joined our family we put a long, pretty ribbon with bells on it on the door of her bedroom. She thought it was a nice decoration. We kept her bedroom door almost closed at night (per her request) and the bells provided reassurance that we would hear her if she got up and left her room during the night. If I heard those bells jingling, I’d always get up to make sure that she was going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water and that no one was wandering from room to room. Our girls now share a bedroom but it is within close proximity to our bedroom and we all sleep with bedroom doors wide open (and this step of room-sharing only came after almost 9 months had passed with no significant safety concerns). We don’t allow any two of our kids in the bathroom together. As a parent, this is easy to implement without feeling awkward since it’s easy to explain that your oldest child needs their privacy (and that two 2 year old boys don’t need to be in the bathroom together since that’s just a recipe for mischief!). Soon after our daughters’ arrival we had an informal chat with all four of our kids about appropriate and inappropriate touch and told them that, if anyone other than mom, dad or the doctor (if they are being examined or if they need help wiping) touches them or otherwise makes them feel uncomfortable that they need to tell us. We figured it was a good safety precaution for our preteen daughter and also good for our younger children to hear it directly from us and to make sure that the lines of communication are wide open. Friends and family have asked if it’s tiring to take all of these extra precautions. In the beginning it was since it is a different style of parenting than what we were used to. However, now that we have been doing it for almost a year it feels like second nature. Honestly, I feel like we are more involved, attuned and attentive parents for it too. So many times we take safety for granted with biological children or kids that we feel like we “know” but how many stories have we heard about kids who were sexually molested by their friend’s big brother while playing at their house or stories about kids who were seriously injured when an adult turned their back for “just a minute”? Being a vigilant parent takes work and effort but it is a great way to get to know your children better while also keeping them safe. We tell all our kids (and any kids who are over playing at our house) that we check on them to make sure that they’re all having fun and because WE ENJOY BEING WITH THEM! We really try to focus on the overall well-being of our entire family instead of supervising or worrying about just our older adopted child.” – Ashlee Andrews

What can we do to prepare families who are considering an older child? If you adopted an older child with other children in the home, how did you prepare?


I would like to recommend the “Why Love Isn’t Enough – series. You can download it HERE

What is RAD?

RAD Checklist

Welcome to My Brain (therapeutic parenting)

Traditional Therapy vs. Attachment Therapy

Empowered to Connect

Fostering Children who are at Risk of Sexual Acting Out

Books for Parents of Sexually Reactive Children

Blog about A Family Sexual Plan and an example of a Family Sexual Safety Plan

Google Searches:  “Older Child Adoption Blog”  “Adopting Older Children”  “Preparations for adopting older children.” “adopting school age children”

Books about Older Child Adoption

Articles on Adopting Older Children

Fasten Your Sweet Belt 

New Faces of International Adoption Blog Series Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

May 30, 2012

Part 3 – New Faces of Int’l Adoption – Finances

Most families I know are shocked when they first hear what it costs to adopt a child.  It isn’t cheap.  In case you didn’t know, it can cost anywhere from $15,000 – $50,000 to adopt a child.  Domestic adoptions can run higher if PAPs are paying for the birthmother’s expenses.  (Exception: adopting through the US foster care system is almost always free.)

I would guess that many families considering adoption see those numbers and initially abandon the idea. The amounts seem overwhelming. They certainly did to us. But don’t let the fear of financing an adoption stand in the way of providing a family for a child in need.

Funding an adoption isn’t easy, but it is possible –even for middle class, pay-check to pay-check families (like ours). When my husband and I first started the process to adopt we had almost no savings to pay for an adoption. I heard people who had done it say, “Just move forward, the money will come.” That sounded good, but I was pretty nervous about putting it to the test.  I’m not proud to admit that even though we’re Christians, and deep-down believed the funds would come, I still tended to worry and fret about finances during our first adoption.  Every time a payment was coming up I would lay awake at night freaking out because we didn’t have the money in the bank.

It took me a while (a long while!) but finally I started to see what was happening – we were praying and asking God to provide the funds for this adoption, and each step of the way, He was providing it!  I learned that He wasn’t always just going to drop the money into our laps (though sometimes He did).  He wanted us to do our part to work for it.  But what we couldn’t come up with, He sent.  Sometimes it didn’t come in until the very last second, and it often came in ways we weren’t expecting, but by the time every deadline arrived, so did the money.

We knew God wanted effort and sacrifice from us to come up with the extra money, so there were no extras purchased during that time period.  We saved as much as possible from each paycheck.  No movies, fewer dinners out, no extra shopping, etc.  I took on a second part-time job.  It didn’t pay a lot, but the money went straight into our adoption fund.  My husband started doing some extra projects at work.  We borrowed money from a family member which we later repaid on a monthly basis after we got home with our son.  We found and were given a small adoption grant.  We started selling t-shirts I designed (that part was fun!), friends and family handed us checks at church and in the grocery store and we found money in our mailbox.  We got two no-interest adoption loans, one we paid back with our tax refund and one we’re still paying on monthly.

Some people wouldn’t blink an eye at going into debt for a house or vehicle, but refuse to consider an adoption loan.  For us, getting our child home was so much more important than a new house or car.

In a one-year period we were able to come up with about $20,000 to adopt our first son. At the end, when we were home and looked back on it all, we could hardly believe how miraculously it all came together, just like people assured us it would!

Our next two adoptions were mostly paid for out of our adoption tax refund (see the link on that below), fee reductions due to SN, and a large grant that was given because of the kids’ SN.   Though I still had some occasional bouts with worry about funding, I was more relaxed throughout the process because I had learned that that God would provide.  As someone said to encourage us during our time of fundraising – God funds what he favors. And He certainly did fund our adoptions.

There are so many resources and ideas for funding an adoption.  Don’t think because you don’t have $20,000 sitting in the bank that you can’t do it.  You can!  Look for resources listed at the end of the post.

Ongoing costs of parenting our special needs children:

We’re parenting two SN children.  Thankfully, we have fairly good insurance.  Our daughter has a significant physical disability and while she hasn’t had a lot of medical costs (doctors visits, hospitalizations, etc) we have the cost of PT/OT, adaptive equipment and modifications of our home/cars, etc to accommodate her.  These things haven’t been much of a burden thanks to some creativity and amazingly generous people.  Her wheelchair (specially designed & outrageously expensive) was paid for mostly by insurance.  We were faced with a $3,000 co-pay that the mobility store graciously waived because “they heard her story and know that adoption is expensive.”  Amazing!  PT/OT is covered by insurance, ramp modifications to our house are being done by family and friends so we don’t have to pay anyone to do them, and we’re regularly given gas cards to help with the cost of getting to appointments.  I know people find it surprising but we’ve really had very little extra out of pocket costs due to Jovia’s special needs.

Our little boy has different SN that require many doctors’ appointments and other services.  His care costs more right now simply because his primary nutrition source is Pediasure and wow, is that stuff expensive!  Thankfully, insurance has been paying for it.  There are programs that would pay for his food if we couldn’t afford it and were willing to accept their assistance.  His therapies and doctor visits are almost completely paid for by insurance.  His medical needs have not been a financial burden for our family.

There are many services and help available for families parenting SN children.  Advocacy and networking are key to tapping into these resources.  Birth-to-three programs are wonderful (and free) for those with little ones.  Early Intervention is free here.  Our local EI has been great to work with and has loaned our family equipment so that we don’t have to purchase several very expensive items (SN stroller, standing frame, walker, etc).  For families that can’t afford co-pays there are, in most states, assistance programs to help those with SN children afford medical care (for example, BCMH in Ohio).  There is the Ryan White program for HIV+ children and prescription cards for medicines.  PT/OT/Speech is provided in many (all?) public schools to children once they hit school age.  There are many programs and resources available to help families with the financial aspect of caring for their special needs child.   Examples of these resources are listed below.

Some families I know would like to share how they afford and parent their special needs children. I hope they’re an encouragement to you:

I was in line for a domestic adoption and SPECIFICALLY told my agency I couldn’t (wouldn’t) do special needs. (My son) was born perfect appearing and came home at 2 days old. But at two months old, I knew something wasn’t right. To cut a longer story short, he has Septo Optic Dysplasia. He had to see four medical specialists (above and beyond his pediatrician) for his first three years. We started Early Intervention when he was just 18 months old and he had four therapies a week until he was three. I also see two separate alternative medicine docs who are not covered by insurance. Then there is (my daughter). She has HIV but no other real services at this point. She has four appts a year at the PID and then her usual pediatrician appts. All of that is pretty covered by insurance, other than the copays (normal) or out of pocket maximums. The good news is that (early intervention) (for the kids) is severely reduced thru the state. It is a sliding scale based on income, the MAX of which is $200 a month, even if you’re a millionaire. So some people pay nothing and the most is $200 for TONS of services. As you know, people have to ADVOCATE for their children to get into these things. (My son) wasn’t so far behind when I started screaming, but my mama’s intuition told me he wasn’t right. I pushed until they said yes and then I pushed some more. Those first three years are critical — particularly because it’s free but also because their brain is developing so fast.”

we are moving forward with our special needs adoption with faith that God will provide. It’s more a concern for the actual adoption process than anything else. We feel confident that our insurance will cover his needed surgeries…then Shriner’s hospital where we will go frequently has a habit of writing off the excess so there is no burden to families. Still there will be the cost of flights and such, but we trust God for all things, why not this too? he is calling us to this child, we believe He will provide!!”

I will share briefly…about our experience with the financial aspect of SN adoptions. We have been blessed in this area. Our first two adoptions, were domestic, and they both had medical cards (through their birthmother) until our adoption was finalized. They have prenatal drug/alcohol Exposure, but nothing long term. Our 3rd adoption was also domestic, and had a medical Card until finalized, but he has sickle cell disease, which can be expensive, when he has pain crisis. We have decent insurance, but still the co-pays and deductibles can add up quickly. We did not know he had sickle cell when we adopted him. Our goal is prevention, and so far it is working well. He has only about 1 hospitalization per year. It is fairly financially manageable. Our 4th adoption, was a domestic with limb differences. We did apply, and were granted, a non-ward IL state adoption subsidy for his medical expenses. He had several surgeries and therapies the first few years of his life, but there is nothing more that can be done for him at this point.
Our 5th adoption was our daughter from China, with Beta Thalassemia. We thought we knew all about this disease, but were shocked when she came home to us in heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, and unable to walk more than a few feet. She spent 3 days in the ICU on her homecoming, and was transfused every 5-7 days for months after coming home. This was a HUGE financial burden, but God totally took care of it. We applied for assistance, through the hospital, and it was granted. Shortly afterward, we found out about a Research project thought St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and our daughter qualified. So, for now, St. Jude provides all of her Beta Thal related medical expenses, and settles for what our insurance pays. This has truly been a gift from God! What a blessing!
Our 6th adoption is our most challenging. She was a domestic disruption, at 4 months. She has hydrocephaly, cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment, severe cognitive delays, epilepsy, and so on! She is basically about a 2-3 month old in a 3 year old’s body. Our atty insisted that if we pursued her adoption, we had to apply for the non-ward IL state subsidy for her care as well, which we did. We were approved for this subsidy,and it therefore provides for her medical Care. Our 7, 8, & 9th adoptions are a sibling group, that we took legal guardianship of in Feb. They have medical cards at this point, until our adoption is final, which should be in December. The 2 oldest are fine, no SN, the youngest has MR, Autism, ADHD, and PTSD. Still trying to decide if we should apply for the subsidy for him or not. He does require some meds, but nothing to crazy.
So……bottom line for us…..we would not have been able to afford to continue to add to our family without some assistance. Many people are against any form of assistance. We were at the beginning. But, several of our children would have ended up in life-long residential programs, had we declined their adoptions for financial reasons.
We feel God has put these children in our lives, and we feel he has provided a way to help with their care, through the various programs mentioned above. We are a one-income family, and there are months that we are VERY stretched, but He has always provided. All of our adoptions were between $5000-32,000, and we have never had to borrow money to pay for them. He provides, sometimes in very miraculous ways!”

…We’ve done 7 international adoptions, so you can imagine the amount of “ransom” money, as we like to call it, that has been paid out to bring our children home. If you were to look at a ledger of our finances, our income and amount spent on adoption does work out in an accounting sense. But that is because that is not how God works. We have learned to trust him more and more with each adoption as we have experienced his faithfulness to us. We have seen and know that when He calls you to serve Him, He provides the means….There have been many times when we were in the middle of an adoption and had no idea where we’d get the money to finish paying for it. Every time, God has provided through things like unexpected work bonuses or anonymous donations.”

Finances have always been a concern when it comes to adopting, but we have never allowed money to stand in the way of adopting a child. It is no secret to those that know us that our faith in God has moved mountains when it comes to financing an adoption. We have began each of our adoptions with very little money but by the time our fees are due the money comes together. Through much prayer and faith God provides….We have never ask for help from others until this adoption, we were first only adopting one little girl but we lost her referral. (The agency) called us about 2 little boys needing a family quickly, although we didn’t have the money for two we felt they were our boys. That was our first leap of faith, the money was provided. Then God put it upon our hearts strongly that we were to adopt (another special needs little girl), we had not a penny and owed 5000 on the boys but we said yes. Praise God families have stepped forward and we now only need another 2500 to have our country fees all paid. Our hearts are with special needs, and older children, ones that might be looked over by others, it has been for many years. Our first adoption we wanted a healthy girl from Korea, we received our referral of a healthy beautiful little girl only to learn a few months later she had CP. The agency tried to get us to not move forward but to accept another referral, how very sad of this agency that they felt she was not worthy of a family. That beautiful little girl is now a healthy 22 year old whom graduated with honors from Mount Vernon Nazarene this past week-end and now headed to grad school to be a physicans assistant where God has called her to practice medicine in Africa. Had we given up on her who knows where she would have spent her life, 22 years ago special needs adoptions were unheard of.”


Abba Fund
Lifesong for Orphans
A Child Waits
Gift of Adoption
Katelyns Fund
Lydia Fund
Pathways for Little Feet 
Room for One More Child
Help Us Adopt
Show Hope
Ava’s Hope
Golden Dawn
National Adoption Foundation
Orphans Impact
Orphans Ransom
Sea of Faces
OATH Fair Hope
Eliya’s Heart
Sophie’s Foundation
Grace Hands of Hope
MICAH Fund (African American infants only)
JSC Foundation
Salvation International 

2012 Adoption Tax Credit Explained

Blogs are a wonderful resource for ideas on fundraising for an adoption.   Google Blog Search 

Reece’s Rainbow  (grants on special needs children)
Project Hopeful (photolisting, grants on some children)
The Morgan Project (grants & equipment swap)
By State Listing of Early Interventional/Birth to Three Programs
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (State resource sheets to help you find programs in your State.)
The Special Parent (resource blog from a mom of special needs children)

What questions do you still have about financing your adoption?  
Do you have any resources to add to our list above?