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Adopting Older Children(31 Posts)
So, we're going through the adoption process and are hoping to adopt a sibling group up to the age of 9yrs.
I wondered if anyone could offer any advice on what to expect with older children. I know every child will be different but with things like our books we do to give to them, do we call ourselves mum and dad? Was there any resentment towards you? What are the introductions like?
Any advice or stories of adopting older children would be grateful accepted. We have said we will adopt from 3yrs and older but we're really hoping for older children.
My 7 y/o has been with us for 4 days.
Our introductions went well - FC called us mum and dad.
LO alternates between first names some times, and M&D other times.
We call ourselves M&D.
Our intro book was basically a large photo/scrapbook.
My son was 3, nearly 4 when he came.
In the book I said I'm Italiangreyhound, I'm your new mummy."
Dh called me mummy or mum and I called him daddy or dad.
I've not had any personal experience of it but I know of one set of older siblings who were supposed to be adopted as a group but the eldest child decided they couldn't do it and asked to be taken back to FCs which is what happened.
I know of another child adopted in the age range you're looking at who really struggled because he'd been with the same foster family for years and had fully integrated with them only to be uprooted 150 miles away to live with his new family.
Each age comes with it's own set of challenges.
My son was nearly 8 and had been with his FC for 4 years. We are 7 years on and doing just fine.
I was introduced as mummyted27 but he dropped the ted27 bit himself after 2 days.Intros were 8 days which was enough for us.
We have had challenges along the way. He is a very complex young man who presents a very cheerful face to the world. He doesn't resent me at all. We had therapeutic life story work and he developed quite a sophisticated understanding of his situation. To be blunt he knows which side his bread is buttered. He knows he would never have the opportunities he has with me with his birth dad. And he wants those opportunities.
As with all adopted children, think younger. He needed a lot of babying and nurturing. Don't underestimate the time you need at the beginning because they are in school. I had13 months off, and needed every last day of it
Thanks so much for the advice and information. It's good to hear the good and some of the challenges ahead. My husband is taking adoption leave as I work part time anyway and have every school holiday off so I'm hoping we'll be ok with that but we will re-evaluate it with our social worker as we get closer to panel.
It seems like the older age range have some very different challenges to younger children but we're determined to do our best. I remember very early on being told that our local authority won't look for adoptive families for children 9yr and over due to the high level of adoption breakdowns as children get older. It's absolutely heart breaking but maybe in the long term understandable?
My friends have just formally adopted a 14 year old, she's has a familial connection but not that close, thus a bit different but they talked a lot online prior, they asked her opinion on lots of things eg she was allowed to choose the paint colour for her room, she picked a duvet cover, and crucially she was asked what she felt comfortable calling them - she asked to use their first names but within 3 months changed her mind to mum and dad. She's really lovely, but she did understand why it was happening and seems so far (2 years) to have settled and is very appreciative of the sacrifices they made. Older kids do come with more problems often but they can come with more understanding.
I don't think older children necessarily do come with more problems, but their problems are known. I know plenty of adopted kids adopted much younger than mine who are way more challenging
I completely agree with Ted27. There is so much developmental uncertainty with very little ones and you don’t know how early life experiences will effect them yet. Older ones are a known entity.
I adopted 4 and 6 year old siblings, i think there are different challenges with older children which do really need consideration.
My two have strong memories of their foster carers, who they were with for nearly 3 years and they really felt that loss. They both also have memories of life with their birth mum, good and bad, which cause them both difficulties at times.
A significant challenge for older kids comes around attachment patterns, which are often insecure and well established. There good opportunity in teenage years to work towards secure attachment but it’s very hard work. Also at intros and in early days you’re trying to parent children that you literally have no relationship with, while they are scared, masking their feelings etc. It’s very different to parenting younger children because the children are very aware of you in a way that babies simply aren’t.
There are also good reasons for kids not usually being placed over 8/9 - they often have been with birth parents for much longer, may have had several placement moves, may have been bounced between birth family and placement repeatedly all of which can have massive impact on them adjusting to family life.
If you’re looking for siblings, I’d be asking for a clear assessment as to why workers think they are ok to be placed together. Too often the presumption is towards keeping siblings together which, for older kids can be very damaging as they play out birth family dynamics all over again.
In saying all of that, my two are the absolute joy of my life, watching them grow together is such a privilege - there’s nothing like it.
Thanks so much for your advice. The attachment to the foster carers is more of a worry for me than the attachment (or lack of) to birth mum. We actually know the siblings we're hoping to adopt (It's a bit complicated and I can't share any more on here) so know some about their background and are really familiar with their current situation. It doesn't actually make things any easier.
@jellycatspyjamas did it take long for your two to settle? Adoption is just the great unknown for me i do really appreciate hearing other people's stories.
We adopted siblings aged (nearly) 8 and 2.5. They settled pretty well and the first 8 years was pretty smooth. However:
Honestly? I have always struggled to bond with DD1 as solidly as with DD2.
- I got very little time just me and DD1 due to DD2 always being around and being quite needy.
- DD1 was very attached to BM, so I felt second best, DH didn't have the same competition.
- I think I held something back because I always knew/know that at some point DD will want to rebuild a relationship with her BM.
- When they get to 10/11 children start to naturally pull away from parents. Usually you will have had 10 years to build a bond, but we didn't have that.
- When she got to 16 DD got very serious very quickly with a boyfriend. At which point she stopped communicating honestly with us and college work went downhill. A lot of this is due to her background, wanting to have her own 'perfect family' and be all 'grown up' even though she isn't really ready. 4 years on we have a sort of truce, but I have had to withdraw to preserve my own sanity.
- She has dyspraxia which was only formally diagnosed when she was 15. This impacts her common sense and problem solving and risk analysis and organisation. Sometimes she plays on it, putting down laziness or hiding the truth down to her dyspraxia.
I have been the best Mum I could be to her, and we have helped set her up with a lot of skills and experiences. And given her love and stability. But emotionally I'm not sure I have been what she needed.
Our 3 LOs are now 5, 6 and nearly 8 and came to us around a year ago. In our intro book we called ourselves Mummy Charlie and Daddy Charlie's Husband, the foster carers called us mummy and daddy to them and when we met them the kids greeted us at the door shouting "mummy and Daddy are here". They've never deviated from that yet.
All 3 have missed their foster carers very much and we have had to work hard to help them work through that loss, our oldest 2 also remember birth family and alternate between feeling scared of them and wanting to be with them. We talk about foster and birth family regularly to normalise it...honestly, it's very hard, makes us sad at times but has to be done. In some ways I think it's a benefit that we have to talk about their earlier life, it means that we can't shy away from it and there's no doubt it's best for the kids.
Kids are settling well, it helps that being 3 they have always had 'their' family with them, their fears can be shared and they talk among themselves to work things out. The most important thing we find we have to consider is that although they are keeping up with their peers at school, emotionally they are all very much behind. You could roughly half all of their ages to find what age they are emotionally operating at. Essentially we've had 3 toddlers in the house acting out all their fears and frustrations, it has been extremely hard work. However, every success they have, no matter how small is an achievement and we couldn't be prouder of them. Our love for them is growing all the time.
Good luck 👍
I think that when you adopt an older child, you are adopting a small person who is more developed than a very young child (sorry for stating the obvious) and how that child has experienced life already, what their thoughts and feelings are and how good they are at expressing them will vary hugely. Some will have clear ideas about their past and some won't. Some will want to call you mummy and daddy straight away and others may never want to.
I think that your priority is to get to know them, really well, inside out, and to work out how to meet their needs. It may be really difficult to do this if they cannot express themselves with words or if they have such low self awareness (if no one has paid them enough attention before) they really aren't sure, or they don't say or they say things they don't mean.
But I think that if you can build a relationship based on meeting their needs, then the attachments will be based on the same and therefore healthy - and hopefully love will grow.
Incidentally, if children are not being honest about anything then I think that this has to be sorted out as an absolute priority, and there are various things you can do and it may be necessary to get professional help, because until they know themselves and until they are being honest then they cannot mature and develop properly, or form relationships. I hear people say that lying is normal and usual in these circumstances and I very strongly disagree there - it is most certainly not inevitable, it can be turned around.
And I think it is important to get to grips with their past as fully as possible, and a lot of effort may be needed here as it is reasonably likely that the information you get from SWs will not be complete or even entirely accurate - because of error or overwork or other.
We adopted two siblings aged 3 and 7 last year, their older brother was in foster care with them and adopted separately at the same time.
We used mummy and daddy in our intro books and kept both books consistent. The foster carers had done a great job preparing them so intros were quite good, although tiring at 2 weeks long!!
They both have their challenges in different ways.
After an 18 month foster placement our youngest was very attached to the foster carers and struggled more with that, but is starting to ask questions about her past and make sense of things.
Our oldest definitely is struggling more now, partly due to the things her sister wants to talk about that she just isn't ready to yet! Due to her history she has definitely attached to my husband more but I am slowly chipping away and we celebrate any little bit of progress. I don't think it's necessarily resentment, just that she isn't sure she can trust me fully yet.
One of the biggest things we have found is to try and give them their own space to be able to talk about whatever may be in their head, although ours prefer to write/draw.
Even with all their peculiarities it has been amazing having them for the past 18 months and even though we are never sure what tomorrow will bring, we will never regret adopting them together 😀
DS was 5 and a half when he came to us, and is now 10. He had been with his foster carers for a year and a half, and they had a really good relationship, which was good for him but meant that he mourned them more than BM when placed. We saw FCs three days after placement, at the suggestion of SWs, so that DS could see that not all adults disappeared from his life. We carried on meeting up with them several times a year, usually at a neutral location, and now they are a just another set of friends.
To be honest, the first three months were hell, but OH and I seemed to have bad days on different days, so we got through, one day at a time. I started thinking about one thing that had gone well each day when I got into bed at night, and still continue with that now (feels like a nice way to end the day). Things got better with time, and about 6 months in he started calling us mummy and daddy (we were introduced as jings and jingsOH, which is what he called us initially). He came up with his own terms for me and BM - for a while we were old mummy and new mummy.
One of the hardest things is becoming a parent under the eyes of a very critical audience, who didn't pull any punches when pointing out out shortcomings, but in a funny way I grew to be proud of his ability to construct an argument to tell me what I'd done wrong! I'd second Ted's post about needing every minute of adoption leave even if DC is at school - it's exhausting and demanding, and it was important to always be there at pick-up time so he knew he could rely on me. We also had some regression, and a need for us to 'claim' him, so developed a game after bathtime 'you're my baby now!' (think League of gentlemen, papa lazarou - creepy but DS loved it). On one memorable occasion he asked to be tied to my stomach with my dressing gown cord, like he was simulating a pregnancy.
Almost 5 years on, things are great, just gearing up for what the teenage years might bring
@jellycatspyjamas did it take long for your two to settle? Adoption is just the great unknown for me i do really appreciate hearing other people's stories.
It depends what you mean by settle. It took a good while for them to feel at home - it was a full 9 months before they moved any toys from the playroom to their bedroom, for example, it took a year for them to ask for favourite foods or things they liked to eat, it’s only in the past couple of months that they’ll go and get a snack from the kitchen without asking. We’re two years in and I feel they’re settling well but it’s been a slow road.
In terms of relationship they were both very very clingy, they were literally attached to me for the first 6 months - if I was in the room with them, they would be hugging me, sitting on my knee etc and would ask wheee I was going and what I was doing if I crossed the room. They both are much more confident in their relationship with my husband and I, but if they’re anxious or unsettled in any way they can question when they’re going to be moved on etc.
They both also have really awful flashbacks, often they don’t know what’s triggered it or even what it relates to - in your shoes I’d do a lot of reading about complex trauma as well as the usual material on therapeutic parenting, it’ll make a world of difference in how you understand your child’s emotional reactions.
2 years sounds familiar to me. A friend of mine adopted older siblings and this fits with the timeline she gives. It took them 18 months to build up to having friends over and it still triggered survival mode for one of theirs.
We are 2 years in with a much younger child and the second has been very different. Their confidence has grown to the extent that we only had to come back one day from our summer holiday and I managed to leave them in a busy place they'd never been before with my BIL, someone they had met a handful of times and someone they had only really started to get to know the day before.
Some people say they feel their child doesn't settle fully until they've been there longer than they've lived anywhere else. So for a 5 year d that will be 10.
There's is s great book called the body keeps score that I really recommend you read.
Thanks again for the stories and the book recommendation. I'm trying to do as much research, including reading as I can while we wait for things to progress.
Just one more question....My big worry about the attachment to the FC comes from her deciding not to tell the siblings that they weren't staying with her permanently when they were first placed with her. They have only recently (after 12 months with her) been told they will be moving somewhere else and unsurprisingly the youngest has really struggled with this. Is this normal?
It’s very normal - the younger one will have been there for a bigger proportion of their life, and will have less memory of “before”. My older child treated moving like s great big adventure (massively masking how scared she was), my youngest mourned his foster carers for a good year or more.
If you think about it, if you had been taken from your home, sent to live with other people who cared for you and then once you’d started to let your guard down you were told you were going to move again, how would you be feeling?
I'd more worried if they didn't feel this way or manage to completely hide how they were feeling because of the implications for their attachment and trauma issues.
Did your social worker or the training cover the trauma of leaving the foster carers? So far we've discissed lots about the trauma of neglect etc from the BM but not leaving foster care.
I've been studying and working in an area based on attachment theory for a few years now and I remember discussing with a colleague very early in to my training what happens with foster care and how do they combat the childs additional loss. Little did I realise at the time that I would be finding out first hand.
No, there seems to be very little around moving from foster care - I know we were basically left to figure it out for ourselves. So much also depends on how the foster carers prepare the children for moving - good ones will really support the transition, others not so much.
What you have described with the foster parents sounds really difficult for the dc and adds another layer of difficult experiences for them to deal with. I am guessing that the foster parents' reasoning was that they didn't know how long the dc would be with them, and they wanted them to try to be as settled as possible.
I think that if the dc can talk about things then you are half way there, as you can talk about their feelings about what has happened and talk about their fears and other emotions, and so on, to help them. But if they are too affected by trauma to be able to do this, then to the best of my knowledge the other therapies which need to be done first are more sensory, and physical, and to do with reconnecting mind with body, so that the brain can reach the point where cognitive skills (such as talking about it) can be used.
With my dc that took about a year but during that time we were able to talk gently about things too.
Incidentally, the book mentioned above (body keeps the score) is by Van den Kolk and below is one of his lectures - it covers current thinking (at 2013) and therapies:
I think that it is also really useful to read up on evidence based "normal" parenting skills if you haven't already - so that you have a frame of reference and also because this knowledge base will help so much with much of the parenting you do, alongside awareness of trauma and attachment - ahaparenting.com is a website written by a child psychologist, and her advice is tailored for each age group - it is "therapeutic" in a really helpful way and also practical and realistic and child focused.
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