Older or younger? What age would you choose?

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When we decided that adoption was the way we were going to create our family, one of the things we had to consider was the age of the child we wanted to be matched with. I always wanted as young as possible. My husband didn’t. He wanted a child that was old enough to have a conversation with. This dilemma led to a lot of discussion and soul searching before we came to a decision we were both happy with.

It sounds very cold and calculated choosing the age of your child. Why should we get to pick and choose the type of child we’d like to parent? When you have a birth child, you don’t choose. You deal with whatever issues and obstacles come along in terms of your child’s health and behaviour. Why should it be any different with adoption? Why don’t you just accept whatever child is next in line?

It’s different because adoption is about so much more than just becoming a parent to a child. A child who is waiting to be adopted has already suffered unimaginable loss and trauma in their short lives, even if they aren’t aware of it yet. Best case scenario for a child is that they go from hospital when they are born into a foster placement with approved adopters and stay with them forever. This happens more than it did but not that often. The reality is some time spent with birth family, and then a move into foster care. And then possibly a move to another foster placement, and then a move to adoptive parents.

Even the most resilient child is going to struggle with that number of moves. They have to learn to endure loss so that they can then learn to attach to their new primary carer. Add into that neglect or abuse and you have a child who needs a more specialist kind of parenting.

Amongst other things, you have to be a therapist, a doctor a social worker, a pragmatist, a peace maker, a punch bag as well as a parent. A lot of people aren’t cut out for that level of demand. I knew that I wasn’t.

Children of all ages are waiting to be adopted. The sad reality is that children waiting who are older than 5 or 6 years old probably won’t find a forever family. The level of trauma they have suffered means that not many adopters feel able to provide them with the level of care they need to thrive. I feel very, very guilty that we didn’t feel we could.

It isn’t the child’s fault they are the way they are. They are the last ones who should be in line for any type of blame. However, they are the ones that pay the ultimate price because they aren’t able to move into a forever family. Long term foster care can’t give the same level of security and feeling of belonging that an adoptive placement can.

Adopting an older child means that a lot of issues, behaviours and conditions will be known about. This means that to a certain extent, you have an understanding of the issues you’re going to be dealing with.

When you adopt a young child, you don’t have that. Educated guesses can be made based on family history. Clearly that can’t be done if the identity of birth father isn’t known. He could have all sorts of issues or conditions which are hereditary. A lot of issues manifest themselves as the child develops and grows. Autism, for example, can’t be diagnosed until a child is at least 2 years old. There are therefore a lot of uncertainties with adopting a young child.

In the end we decided that we wanted to be considered for as young a child as possible. We felt that was going to be the best fit for our family. We knew that meant a lot of uncertainty in terms of development but we were prepared for that. Our social worker went to great lengths to make sure we understood this. I can’t really explain why but I felt that dealing with things as they happened felt more manageable than knowing about them from the start.

There was a lot of uncertainty about our daughter’s development. The placement order was granted when she was about 4 months old, but we didn’t find out about her for another 2 months because of the level of concern about her development. In the end, her 6 month review showed she was thriving and developing as she should.

The early signs of delay and other issues were down to family traits and probably the lack of bond between her and her birth mother which she sensed during contact and therefore withdrew from interacting with it. It makes me sad to think of what we all missed out on in those 2 months.

Despite all of the uncertainty, I’m very glad we came to the decision we did about adopting a younger child. We wouldn’t have met our daughter if we hadn’t.

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