What I Want You to Know About Older Child Adoption

My husband and I adopted our daughter a little over two years ago.  She came to us at age nine.   She was abused, neglected, homeless and abandoned during her first four years with her biological family.  Then she bounced around foster care for the next five years.   She had a dozen sets of “Mom and Dad” before us.   We reassure her all the time that we are her Last Mom and Last Dad.

It took six months from being chosen as her parents to bringing her home.   She was a straight adoptive placement through the foster care system, but we were in Florida and she was in Texas.  ICPC and other aspects of the process took forever.  We weren’t allowed any contact with her during those six months.   She was actually in a group home during that time.  She was moved there just a couple weeks after we were matched because her foster family was no longer willing to work with her aggression and tantrums.   She was clearly a child in pain.   We knew it and agreed to the match.   We felt strongly that her behavior was situational and that she needed the right environment and help to sort it out.  We thought we could give it to her.

Being approved to be the parents of a child that is so obviously hurting and in need of your support, but having to wait for six months of paperwork is torture.   Our home and hearts were ready for her, but she was placed in a group home and didn’t even know we existed.  

Once ICPC cleared, we were finally allowed to send her a photo book and she was told that she was going to be adopted.   We flew to Texas two weeks later.  We met her on a Monday and visited with her for a couple hours after school each day that week.  On Friday she was ours forever.   Within a few short weeks, she found out she was going to be adopted and moved to another state with people she had met just days before. 

No amount of research, adoption classes or book reading can prepare you for life with a traumatized child.  They call older child adoption “special needs” adoption for a reason.   Her special needs are real and they are vast.   Fear, anxiety, anger, grief, shame and confusion are swirling around inside her all the time.   It is not uncommon for her behavior to reflect all the pain she has inside.   We get it.  We understand.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or that we don’t get overwhelmed, exhausted or lose our cool sometimes.  

One of the hardest parts is the isolation.  It is very difficult for people to understand all that you’re going through.   A loving home is not enough.  Your child doesn’t just need “time to settle in”.  Traditional discipline structure or parenting styles are usually ineffective with traumatized children.   People become uncomfortable with the truth about how things are really going at home, so you stop sharing.  Traumatized children often act very differently when they are around others than they do at home.   You may start to get the feeling that people think you’re the source of the problem.  

Parents of kids with trauma and attachment issues need to be seen as the authority figures all the time.  An attaching child needs to learn to depend on their parents to meet their needs, comfort them, keep them safe and give them affection.   We have had to cut people out of our lives who refused to accept and respect our roles as parents of a hurt child.   

It can even be difficult to find professionals that get it.    Teachers, pediatricians and mental health providers might not take your concerns seriously because your child doesn’t show them the pain.  They save that just for you.   Our daughter is on the honor roll at school and has won awards for her positive behavior choices.   The school wants to drop the IEP for emotional disability that we carried over from her last school in Texas.   The month before they brought this up, we had to call 911 because she was having such an epic meltdown due to big feelings brought on by Mother’s Day that weren’t sure of our ability to keep her safe.  All three of us wound up with bruises, scrapes and scratches.  She caved in the roof of my car.   She may not show it at school right now, but her emotional needs are high.

We have had no luck in finding a therapist in our area that understands trauma and attachment.  We are on our third try.  Bad therapy is worse than no therapy.  We work hard on our own at helping our daughter process her past and her feelings.    Therapeutic parenting has been very effective and she has made great progress.   Her current therapist is not helpful.  In fact, we have to do a lot of work to keep her from being harmful.  Unfortunately, the only way to get medication prescribed for her anxiety is to meet with the therapist weekly.   Her pediatrician won’t prescribe anxiety medication, resources are extremely scarce and we’ve exhausted all other options.

Older child adoption is doable.  It’s worth it.   Progress, hope and healing are attainable.   Our daughter shows us this every day.   We have not regretted becoming her parents for a moment.  I think it is important that people understand this journey is difficult, will change your life in every way and that you will likely have to face it on your own.  

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