Factors to consider
Everyone starting the adoption or fostering process will do so with some understandable preconceptions about what they hope their family will look like as a result. However, reality rarely matches fantasy and it’s worth considering a range of factors to help you become more pragmatic in the process.
You may start the process hoping to be linked with a younger child. That’s not always the right choice for you or the child. Firstly the child’s medical history can be uncertain. Were they exposed to alcohol, drugs or smoking during pregnancy leading to developmental and behavioural problems later in life? Some of the issues that can occur as a result will only be known over time – which can be challenging for some adopters and foster carers to accommodate. Similarly, hereditary conditions, allergies or illnesses may not be immediately obvious, or known about by the birth parents or the child’s social worker.
Prospective parents also need to balance their own ages compared to the child. Can you realistically provide the physical support your child will need until they reach independence? Will you have sufficient emotional energy and stamina to guide them through puberty?
With older children many issues will be identified as they grow up. Most developmental delays will be known, any pregnancy, allergy and illnesses should have been identified too. However, older children may struggle to quickly develop a shared language and understanding of family norms as they are likely to have experienced a number of households with different routines.
Sadly most looked after children experience trauma or neglect with their birth parents. This will instinctively guide many of their interactions with you in the early days. For example, they may struggle to express themselves verbally and lash out or seem to overreact to the slightest stimulation. Whether you adopt or foster a younger or older child the early days of your placement are key to developing trust and a healthy attachment with the child. Regardless of age, the child’s behaviour may be an effort by them to move your parenting to an environment they recognise and derive comfort from – even if it’s not a healthy situation for them.
Ultimately your social worker will help you identify the best age range you should consider as a potential adopter or foster carer. In some instances their opinion and your hopes will match. In other cases your particular experiences may be better suited to a child or sibling group you’ve not considered. The more you’re able to be flexible in your approach and open to feedback the more likely you’ll identify a successful match.
Snapshot research with LGBT+ adopters shows that they are more likely to consider adopting children often viewed as ‘harder to place’; such as those who are older, or who are in a sibling group or who have additional needs. The more pragmatic about the needs you and your family can meet – and those you can’t – the easier locating a suitable match becomes.
Most adopters and foster carers consider children in age ranges rather than having a fixed age they want to parent
Balance your age to that of a child. Will you have the stamina and emotional energy to support them through puberty?
Medical and developmental issues are more likely to be known if you parent an older child
The more you're open to consider ‘harder-to-place’ children, the more you increase your likelihood of finding a match more quickly