Barriers to “Claiming” an Older Child in Adoption.

Photo by: Luann Johnson Our culture seems to have strong social messages that work against an unconditional commitment of adopting older children. People talk about “molding” a child and it’s a generally accepted attitude that the younger a child is when placed for adoption the better. Parents have more control and influence over such things as personality development, moral and social values, and behavior norms. Developmentally this is a good argument and a valid point of view, however, this social message becomes dangerous to the claiming process when parents are encouraged to see the older child as somehow alien, not part of themselves, and different then the family.

It is a sad truth that many parents adopting an older child enter the placement with a tentative quality and a, “lets’ wait and see if this works out” attitude. Our society seems to believe that adoption of an older child is not an acceptable way to build a family but an act of sainthood instead. Adoptive parents of older children are often told they have done, “…such a wonderful thing to give this child a chance.” Society often fails to recognize that many parents adopt an older child for the same reason other parents have a baby. To build our families and have children.

Most of the claiming in a biological family happens before the baby is even born. Family and neighbors see a pregnant mother and do not feel she is doing something wonderful for a poor abused child. They see a woman who will soon become a mother. When this mother gives birth with complications or the baby is born with a defect her family and friends are supportive, compassionate and understanding.

Adoptive parents who accept a placement of an older child and later learn the child has a disability or defect are often ask, “Didn’t anyone tell you about this problem before you took him? Now what you going to do?” For many adoptive parents the implication of this question is very clear: This is not the child you asked for, so you would be justified if you send him back.

The things adoptive parents of older children hear said to them harm the parents’ ability to claim their child as their own. Even during the actual process of finalization, social workers and other people might feel free to say, “It is so nice to see this placement is working out.” Biological parents and parents who adopt newborns are never likely to have anyone suggest to them that their child would “Not Work Out.”

When an adoptive family accepts the placement of an older child and things start to get rough, parents may ask each other, “Do you think this child is going to fit into this family?” or “Is this the kind of kid we want to live with the rest of our lives?” The majority of adoption disruptions of older children are documented to be based on the child’s behaviors. The report might say, “This adoption placement of “the child” failed due to inappropriate behaviors of the child in the adoptive home.”

The system and process of adoption itself also sets up barriers for adoptive families to claim their child and is the topic of the Next Blog.

Photo for this blog entry by: Luann Johnson sxc (notice of use 3/3/06)

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