One of the first things you are asked when you are applying to become an adopter is:
What age and how many children do you want to adopt?
It usually has the caveat that what you say now is not set in stone and that you can change your mind later.
Our original answer was:
One or two children aged between 2 and 4.
Our logic, such as it was, was that under 2 years old then there would be a huge number of people wanting to adopt them already, so the competition of prospective adopters would be fierce, and there would be little point even asking. The upper age limit of 4 was because we thought it’d be best to adopt them before they started school to avoid disruption. It didn’t really occur to us at the time that putting those limits in severely limited the pool of children that we could be matched to.
I suspect if we hadn’t have said we were willing to adopt 2 children then we may not even have progressed any further, as the age children we said is the most popular age for adoptions.
Admittedly, at the time, we wanted to adopt a child or children as young as we could. That is a thought that occurs to many, if not the majority, of people looking to adopt. The thinking behind that is that if they are younger then they will be less damaged, have fewer problems in the future, and settle more easily into a new family.
The assumption that is made is that emotional damage is the only lasting kind that a child in care has; that the younger they are the less likely they are to have lasting emotional damage.
As time went on through our adoption process, we spent more time with children that were outside of our stated age range, some adopted, some not. We spoke to adoptive parents and in the end altered our age range to be from 0 to 8 years old. At approval panel, it was questioned why we did that, and we explained about our experiences and how we had altered our thinking towards adopting older children, how we saw no reason not to include the 0 to 2 year-olds in there even though we had been told it was highly unlikely we would be able to adopt a child that age (due to a lack of children needing adopting). Ultimately we were approved to adopt one or two children aged between zero and eight years old.
As it turned out the children we ended up adopting were 2 and 1 at the time of placement, not quite within our original age range, and actually far younger than we had ever anticipated being able adopt.
It is now that we start to question that assumption above. There is far more lasting damage that can be done to a child than only emotional damage. Much of which doesn’t show itself until they are older. So you could adopt a baby, fully anticipating having no health or developmental problems only to find that the total opposite is true.
When adopting older child you know more about their health history, how they have developed both physically and mentally. You know, in advance, some of the challenges your children might face going forward, and can better prepare for them. Potentially even getting post-adoption support set up prior to the Adoption Order being made official.
For younger children you always have question marks over how they will develop. You rarely will know the health history of the family, whether there were any mental illnesses, hereditary illnesses or other factors that might affect your child’s development. As a consequence there are a huge number of unknowns.
A condition which affects many adopted children is FASD. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. In short, a condition caused by the biological mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The form and severity it takes varies depending on how much alcohol was consumed and at what stage of the pregnancy.
It can affect many aspects of neurological, mental, and physical development. The neurological and mental development in particular is difficult to spot until your child is a bit older. It can also be extremely difficult to get a diagnosis as it is often misdiagnosed as Autism or ADHD, and while it does share symptoms with both of those, the underlying causes are different.
So, is adopting a younger child better than adopting an older one? There is no answer to that question. Each comes with its own challenges and benefits.
A young child may not have been in a bad environment for very long, but may have unknown health issues which you will not find out about until much later on. Issues which you won’t necessarily have any support with because the adopting authority also will not know about them at the time of adoption. You also may find unknown inherited health issues crop up, as birth families are not always very cooperative with social care about family histories.
An older child may suffer incredible emotional harm, and also may have health issues. The difference is that you will know about a lot more of them. You will know about any developmental delays they may have had. Most importantly if an older child is diagnosed with a condition whilst in the care of the Local Authority then you will be able to ask for post-adoption support BEFORE you apply for the adoption order, sometimes you might even get it.
Knowledge is power. The more you know the better you can prepare for the future. Younger children have more unknowns than older children. As an adopter of two very young children I can say that those unknowns are a constant worry. Always in the back of your mind you question whether a certain behaviour is within the norms for a child that age, or is it that little bit more extreme than it should be? Is it a sign of an underlying condition?
On the flip side, my youngest son only ever remembers living with us as his parents. He may be aware of people who previously looked after him, but to him our home has always been his home. We have a list as long as our arm of things that we don’t know about him, that we can only guess at for now. Even a paediatrician appointment we had came up with the answer of “we don’t really know yet as he’s too young”. We are living it now though and wouldn’t change our family for the world.
So, the decision is yours. What age children do you want to adopt?