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Adopting an Older Child - Unique Challenges to Keep in Mind

By Tolison & Williams / July 21, 2020

Some older child adoptions occur naturally when families are blended. In these cases, the challenges may be fewer, because the child continues to live with one parent to whom he has bonded over the years.

But what happens when a couple decides to adopt an older child who has been in foster care, has been taken away from his natural parents, or who has been raised in an orphanage? In these situations, there can be unique challenges, some of which are related to early trauma, neglect, and, often, the lack of early bonding. Other difficulties may come from the legal standpoint. In this article, we address both matters you will want to keep in mind as you consider adopting an older child. 

3 Common Challenges in an Older Child Adoption

Early experiences have fostered a lot of unresolved emotions in older children, and they often manifest as anger, disrespect, and mistrust. These emotions will be taken out on the only people who are now close to the adopted child – the adoptive parents. Below are some common scenarios that are important to keep in mind so you can offer the right support to a child when it is needed. 

1. The Child May Come from a Chaotic or Unstructured Environment

This is often the case when children have been removed from a dangerous environment and biological parents have relinquished parenthood to the state. Post-adoption the child ends up in an environment with structure, boundaries, and some routines they may not be used to. While this is something they subconsciously desire, their initial response may be anger, resentment, and even rebellion. Adoptive parents will have to address such behaviors. 

2. The Child May Lack Early Bonding with an Adult

Children who have been in an orphanage since birth may have had their physical needs taken care of but may not have had a nurturing, loving adult with whom they have bonded. They have not developed the emotional attachment that is critical to normal psychological development. Such a condition is known as “reactive attachment disorder”  – a state when the child doesn’t know how to develop an emotional attachment. As a result, they may be “distant” and resist emotional bonding with their adoptive parents. Further, they may rebel against normal family values and even engage in behaviors to “sabotage” relationships with their adoptive parents. 

3. Previous Insecurities May Manifest in Inappropriate Behaviors

If a child has experienced food insecurity, for example, parents may find that the adopted child steals and/or hoards food, or gorges himself at mealtimes. These behaviors usually dissipate over time, as he realizes that he will not want for food.

One more serious insecurity is that of being abandoned. Children who have been removed from their parents or who have had a series of foster home placements, will not feel secure in their new adopted home either. The adopted child will "test" the adoptive parents with bad behavior to see if they, too, will abandon them.

Overcoming these challenges may not be easy at first. However, when you treat the newest member of your household with love, respect, and great care, they will eventually give you the biggest reward you can hope for – that spontaneous hug that comes without any forewarning!

Legal Requirements of Older Child Adoption

In Colorado, requirements for parents wishing to adopt a child are clear. They must be 21 and free from felony convictions, but they don't necessarily need to be married. 

However, Colorado is also one of only a handful of states that require an approved agency to be involved in any adoption. Private adoptions are forbidden. Prospective parents must also undergo a background check, a rigorous home and lifestyle investigation, and state-approved training. Adopting a child from another state or country involves even more complications.

Probably the best method for navigating the adoption process in Colorado is to consult with a family lawyer – one who has the experience to navigate the "system" for you and to provide the advice and counsel you will need. The Tolison and Williams team stands ready to answer any and all questions you have about the process!

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Tags: Family Law Adoption

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