Older Child

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older child

Generally, school-age children are considered SPECIAL NEEDS children by virtue of their age alone. The age threshold at which a child is considered hard to place varies according to the state and may be six or eight years-or older or younger.

Older children are usually known to and listed by the state social services department, and sometimes their adoptions are arranged through adoption agencies. Attorneys and other intermediaries are rarely involved with adoptions of children who are not infants.

Most older children have entered the child welfare system as foster children and were removed from their parents' homes due to ABUSE, NEGLECT or ABANDONMENT. When attempts by a social worker to reunite the family fail, the worker ultimately will request the court to terminate parental rights and place the child in an adoptive home or will find a group home for the child if adoption doesn't seem likely or feasible.

In the recent past, the prevailing feeling among many in society was that adoptive families for older children could not be found; however, many adoption professionals and adoptive parent groups believe today that older children can and should be adopted. But the older the child is, the more difficult it is to identify a suitable family.

The adoption of older children, including teenagers, is supported today because every child deserves a family to love and one to whom the young adult can return for holidays, in crises and at other times.

Many older children are a part of a sibling group, and if the sibling group is large (three or more children), placement is further complicated. Most adoptions of older children are successful, according to adoption experts and researchers although they do have a higher rate of problems than infant adoptions. (See DISRUPTION.)

The older adopted child may show some initial negative reactions, and possible behavior should be discussed with adopting parents. Psychologist Earl Braxton says a newly adopted older child who immediately expresses anger and rejection may be exhibiting such behavior because of a fear of rejection or because of a misguided attempt to "connect" with the adoptive parent. (See ADJUSTMENT; BONDING AND ATTACHMENT.)

Braxton advises adoptive parents to reassure the child and "try to discover what the fear is underneath."

It is also very common for children to test parents, whether they are biological parents or adoptive parents. A newly adopted child is often in a honeymoon phase and strives mightily to please the adoptive parents and be a perfect child, but after the honeymoon period may come a very trying time for the adoptive parents-extensive testing by the child of the limits of what is accepted behavior.

Ann Hartman also describes the period after the honeymoon stage and says a minor altercation can be exaggerated in the child's mind as a fear of being sent away, driving the child to even further negative actions. She says the adoptive parent needs to know that such behavior is not a negative sign but actually symbolic of the beginnings of the attachment of the child to the family.

A 1989 doctoral dissertation at Yeshiva University studied factors related to success in the adoption of older children. Researcher Eve Pearlman Smith defined "success" in terms of parental satisfaction and kinship behavior of the child.

Studying 69 families who had adopted 98 children, Smith found the following predictors of success: "discussion of parents' expectations with the child"; "contact during the homestudy process with parents who had already adopted older children"; and a provision for agency services after finalization (also known as post-legal services).

Demographic predictors for success were "parent over age 40"; "non-professional father"; "child had no or mild emotional disability at placement"; and "child is a girl." (See also GENDER PREFERENCES; PREPARING A CHILD FOR ADOPTION; SIBLINGS; SPECIAL NEEDS.)

Earl T. Braxton, Ph.D, "Parental Management of Anger and Emotional Anxiety in the Adopted Child," in Adoption Resources for Mental Health Professionals (Butler, Pa: Mental Health Association, 1985).

Ann Hartmann, "Practice in Adoption," in A Handbook of Child Welfare: Context, Knowledge, and Practice (New York: Free Press, 1985).

Eve Pearlman Smith, "The Relationship of Services to Success in Older Child Adoption," D.S.W. diss., Yeshiva University, 1989.

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