Adoption of Older Children

I’ve been asked a lot recently how I feel about the growing number of adoption pleas we see for kids who are almost turning 14 and aging out of the international adoption process. Some people have written me that they feel it is wrong to make a child start over at age 13 or 14, having to learn a new language and not really understanding what it means to live in a family. Many have expressed concern that the kids will be leaving the friends they have had their whole lives, while of course others spread the news far and wide that a child is about ready to age out, wanting to help them find a permanent home.

After working with teens in China for the last 7 years, I advocate for older child adoption for many reasons. While it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations since every orphanage is different, here are some of my reasons for believing every child, regardless of age, deserves a chance at a family to love them:

1) Many people do not realize the deep and ingrained stigma that an orphaned child often faces in Chinese society. Orphans are often felt to be unlucky or even “cursed,” and so they often have many strikes against them when it comes time to go to school or find a job. There are many different levels of schools in China; many orphaned children are only able to attend the lowest level schools, as parents who are paying higher fees for the better schools don’t want their children to have to attend with “unlucky” orphans. Education is so important in Chinese society, and parents often push their children to try harder and work longer on their homework. Orphaned children rarely have anyone pushing them or encouraging them, and so we frequently work with young teens who only have rudimentary educations and who have trouble believing their lives will ever be better. The few dozen children in orphanages whom we have been honored to sponsor for college are the exception. To actually make it to university as an orphaned child is a true achievement. And even after graduating, jobs are often very difficult to come by due to businesses again not wanting to employ people who might bring bad luck to the company. Many of you might remember the young lady we helped earn an accounting degree in college a few years ago. She was unable to find a job in her hometown because of her orphan status. She was finally hired by the local government when no private company would agree to hire her.

2) Some people might ask how anyone would know you were an orphan after you left the institution. Couldn’t you just keep it quiet? There are several factors that make it hard to ever lose your “orphan” status. The first is your hukou, the formal registration status that every individual in China has. Your hukou is family-based in your home city, and orphaned children often have a “group” hukou that clearly identifies them as not having a family. In addition, in the past it was very common for orphanages to use “created” surnames for the children in their care. For example, many orphanages used the last name of “Fu,” which directly implies an orphan, or else they used the first syllable of the town or district, such as Shan or Mei. These “created” surnames often immediately identify a child as not having a real family. Because of this, and knowing the trouble that orphaned children often have assimilating into Chinese society, the government has recently been giving children more common last names, such as Li or Chang.

3) Almost everything in Chinese society revolves around the family, and great reverence is giving to one’s ancestors and lineage. During major holidays, if at all possible, you return to your family. For orphaned children who age out of the social welfare system, they often find life very difficult with no family ties, and they frequently live on the margins of society.

4) Many people worry that the older children being adopted don’t really want to leave their home country. At least in the orphanages where we work, the children are always asked, and, in many cases, they have to pass a provincial interview before they can be registered for adoption. Many provinces require the child to sign papers that they want to be adopted. As a mom of teens myself, I really admire the kids who find the courage to overcome their fears in order to have a chance at a family, a real education, and a fresh start, but it does raise the question of whether a 12 or 13 year old should be left on their own to make such a life-impacting decision. I wouldn’t allow my 13 year old to decide their entire future on their own, and so adoptive parents need to understand the great fear and “cold feet” that can come on adoption day. We need to remember that there are often cases where the older kids in orphanages who have already aged out of adoption will tell the younger children scary stories about foreign parents, since they were unable to have the same opportunity. Aunties will often tell a child that they can never do anything wrong or they will be returned. There is indeed deep pressure put on children who agree to adoption at an older age to “be good,” and it is understandable why there is so much anxiety, fear, and tears on adoption day since very few aunties or children really have a clear understanding of what life will be like for a child outside of China. One mom told me how incredibly hard it was to see her new daughter crying on the phone to her orphanage a few days post-adoption. She said it was easy to think, “Am I really doing the right thing taking her away from all she has known?” Many older kids have told me how scared they were to even consider adoption, but the desire for a family is something that many of them carry deeply in their hearts.

5) Another question that is frequently asked is why are we hearing about so many kids about ready to age out now when there were so few over the last ten years? After speaking with dozens of orphanage directors, it is clear that the majority of them truly believed that Westerners only wanted babies to adopt, and I think for many years that was a fair assumption, since many families put “as young as possible” on their home studies. Many of us know people who even requested that they wanted a 3-5 year old child and yet were referred a baby. Even in 2007 and 2008, when LWB was conducting provincial trainings on special needs adoptions, the audience, filled with aunties and directors, would shake their heads as if they couldn’t believe us when we said people were willing to adopt children who were 11, 12, and 13. Many orphanages would start out by agreeing to submit paperwork on one or two older orphaned children, and then as they saw those children be adopted, they would agree to send more files. The CCAA also started new initiatives, matching agencies with orphanages to see if families could be found for the older children. It has been a slow and steady process for orphanages to realize that older children most definitely can find families through the adoption process. It has been wonderful for us at LWB to see the older children in the orphanages where we have worked for five years or longer finally get a chance at a permanent home.

How do you feel about older child adoption? Have you ever considered it or have you personally adopted a child older than 10? LWB has several volunteers who have adopted teens who are more than willing to discuss both pre- and post-adoption issues with families. You can always contact us at [email protected] for more information!

Amy Eldridge is the Executive Director of LWB and the mom to seven wonderful kids (2 from China).

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22 Comments to “Adoption of Older Children”

  1. suznews40 2 March 2010 at 11:18 am #

    I am one of the moms that Amy mentioned, who volunteers for LWB (Orphanage Assistance Director) and I have adopted 3 times from China. Our first was almost 9, our second was 9 3/4, and our third was in January 2010, a girl who turned 14 the day after we adopted her. She misses China, but she is doing well and is a joy. There are challenges with Older Child adotpion, but there are also joys. Reading literature to prepare is crucial and having support of others who’ve done this is great as well. I will talk to anyone and adovocate strongly for these children. In fact, I even know of 3 older children right now whose files have been put in and I am trying to find homes for. Contact me anytime…[email protected]

  2. Jan J. 4 March 2010 at 3:05 am #

    My daughter was nearly 7 at adoption, not the “older” you are talking about, but she was vehemently unhappy about leaving her beloved “sisters” at the orphanage. She was used to being cared for by a 15-yo girl who she loved very much and resented my authority. She was one unhappy girl for a long time. But now she is thriving and very happy at 13, and has been so for some time. But I have followed one family who adopted one of those children, 13 and ready to age out, and he has adjusted without so much as a wrinkle! I am amazed at how he took in stride going right to school when he got home and has had no acting out at all. It depends on the child, and if I could do it again – single and not allowed sadly – I would do an older child adoption. The joys were so much harder won than with my baby who was adopted, and therefore so special and beautiful. You have to allow a lot more time for this fully-formed personality to adapt to this wholly new situation, but it is worth the wait!

  3. a_marvin 4 March 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    China seems committed to making sure these kids age out of their system. Older couples and singles generally adopt older children and teens. Younger couples generally adopt babies and younger children. So, China got the bright idea to end older parent and single parent adoption. This guarantees they can put more kids out on the street every year. I thought one parent was better than zero parents. As a single I certainly was better than no one for the two older kids I adopted.

  4. chinalwb 5 March 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Thank you for your comments. We all hope that someday singles will be allowed to adopt again from China as there are so many children needing homes.

  5. dbracker 8 March 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    We are first time parents of a wonderful teen from China who was adopted at the age of 13-3/4 years old. We’ve been a family for 2-1/2 years now and can’t believe how our lives were changed for the better through the adoption of an older kiddo. Yes, we’ve had ups and downs and pretty much everywhere in between, but would not change one second of it.

    We’d be more than happy to chat with anyone considering older child adoption. We are not experts by any means, but have ‘been there, done that’ for many things over the past 2-1/2 years. If interested, please visit our blog at . You can email us through a link on the right hand side of the blog.

    Best Wishes,
    Debbi, Kevin and Sarah

  6. roomforatleastonemore 8 March 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    We are adopting an older child. He turned 10 years old in December, and we hope to be traveling in April to bring him home. Just two more steps to go: Article 5 and TA.

    Thank you for a wonderful, informative post for those who may not understand older child adoption and the need for some to consider it.

  7. Sammy 21 March 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    We adopted a girl that was almost 12 y.o. Arden. It is a very harsh life for orphans. They don’t have enough food, love, medical care etc… They are second class people there. Arden will now tell you “I not the same girl.” She is so wonderful we are on our way back to adopt two more older orphans. We thank God and China for these wonderful kids in our lives.

  8. karen in mt 7 August 2010 at 9:04 am #

    We adopted a 6 1/2 yr old, 17 months ago. It has been nothing short of amazing. She has done very well. A few minor melt downs when she did not get her way, but that is all. We will soon be adopting an almost 12 yr old. [email protected] if you have any questions.

  9. kydamans 21 August 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    We brought our second Chinese daughter home last September (2009). Her birth certificate claimed that she was 8, but dental and bone scans placed her at 6-6 1/2 years old. Of course we expected the typical challenges that come with an older child adoption, but I can honestly say that Nina’s adjustment has been nothing short of miraculous! We adopted our Emma as a baby, and it was a wonderful, amazing experience. But there is something so blessed when the child is able to anticipate and understand the exciting changes that are going to happen in his/her life. I would do it again 100 time over! Please feel free to review our blog if you are thinking about bringing an older child into your family.

  10. PandaMommium 7 September 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Thank you for posting this Amy! We are about to start the adventure of older child adoption. There were many things you mentioned I didn’t know.

  11. Bev 14 April 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    It’s heartening to hear positive stories of older child adoption but it’s not always a bed of roses and doesn’t always have a happy ending. Many children who have been in long term foster care do not want to be adopted.
    If you are considering adopting a child over 10 years of age consider all possible outcomes, ask as many people as you can about their experience; no matter how prepared you are you don’t know the child you are adopting and the paperwork may not be accurate. I would hate to put anyone off adopting any child: I adopted two and had two very different experiences: a child who had spent her life in the orphanage was a breeze in every way compared to her sister who had been in foster care. But I found the negatives were brushed under the carpet by all I spoke to and it was easy to believe that ‘you can do it if your heart is in it’. This is not always true of anyone.
    I have nothing but admiration for those who adopt teenagers from any country but thank goodness it happens.

  12. Twilla Eden 28 October 2011 at 10:03 am #

    We have adopted three children in the last three yrs. Five mo. ago we brought home a little 8yr. old girl and one and a half yrs. ago, we brought home an 11yr. old boy both from China. Our first was a little boy nearly 2yrs. old from Vietnam! Our experience has been very POSITIVE with each child and we can’t imagine our lives without any of them. Our most challenging has been our little 8yr. old girl. She has mild CP. She is just a sweetheart. She was never in school because of her abnormal gait. She is in PT, OT, and Speech Therapy, which keeps mamma very busy. We started her in the first grade and she was elated to go to school and is learning to read and her English is amazing as it was for all the children. Our 12yr. old son is in the 7th grade. He is the BEST big brother, an A&B student, plays trumpet and tuba, is a boy scout, an avid reader and a natural at sports. He just finished football and started basketball last wk. Our youngest is 5, very smart and creative and musical as well. They are very thoughtful and loving. We highly advocate for older children adoption!! I would love to encourage or visit with any one contemplating an older child adoption.

  13. […] LWB Older Child Adoption […]

  14. K 9 March 2012 at 1:20 am #

    I adopted my daughter in China nearly one year ago, when she’d just turned 7. Our adjustment has been super easy. Truly, miraculously easy. I am currently in process to adopt a 13 1/2 year old from China. I am single. Singles are now allowed to adopt from China, but under very specific conditions. I am very, very grateful for the opportunity to bring my next daughter home.

  15. Alison highton 18 April 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Thank you so much for your post.
    We are waiting to adopt an ageing out child and
    I found your post very encouraging and helpful.
    We have a daughter adopted at nearly nine so we have some idea of how hard it can be at first for child and parents!
    With love and blessings

  16. 1edieb 4 May 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Our daughter was 6 years and 2 months the day she stepped foot in the US. She tells me how hard things were for her and also says she is now someone else. She was labeled “developmentally delayed”…her teachers here remark how I must have my hands full cause she is “scary smart”.
    She took our hands walking out of the Civil Affairs building and never looked back. Kisses and hugs abound in our house and she always reminds us how we are the “best mommy and daddy” she ever had. I can’t begin to describe what a wonderful experience this has been for us. We are “older” first time parents and would love to answer any questions you may have!

  17. CarolynPruett 21 July 2012 at 1:15 am #

    Amy, thank you for all your blog posts. I have poured over them ALL. We are hoping to bring home a boy who will turn 14 in September. It’s a race against time.

  18. Lois 9 September 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I want to do this but do not have any funding. I m a single mom to two daughters adopted from china and would love to bring an older child home. However, I do not have the funds. I am a nurse and working full time to support my family. I just wish there were financial resources available to people who want to do this.

  19. Carolyn 1 December 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Responding to my own post from 5 months ago…. We did bring home that 14 yo bo from Guangdong. He is wonderful. He was a very social child in China with many friends at the orphanage. He really blossomed once he started school (4 hours/day in public 8th grade – 2 hrs ELL, advanced art and math which is a struggle but they’re *socially promoting* him). He is a tiny peanut at 5′ tall and 80# so we started him in tumbling last week which he loves.

    Our only real struggle is language. He learned to sign/pantomime because his cleft palate wsn’t fixed until he was almost 4, so he’s not terribly verbal in ANY language… but between his miming and his drawing capability, he can show us what he needs.

  20. Amber 13 March 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    We are mid adoption of an 11 year old Henan boy who, in fact, spent some years as a LWB child. It’s been truly astonishing to see the way people react, even in the adoption community. People just can’t believe that we WANT an older child and decidedly do NOT want a baby. There’s definitely some preconceived notions that need to be overcome. But it’s lovely to see it happening more and more every day!

  21. chinalwb 14 March 2014 at 7:04 am #

    Congratulations, Amber! We would love to know which Henan boy you are working to bring home if you are interested in sharing with us. We probably have some photos and reports we can share with you once your adoption is complete!

  22. Amy 15 July 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Hi. We just returned from China with an 8-year-old, which I consider an older child. She is grieving terribly, especially for her best friend, who she left behind. Can anyone offer some advice on how to help my daughter through her grief, especially this soon home when the language barrier is so great?

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