Adopting Older Children? The Ultimate Guide to Giving Older Kids a Forever Home

Have you ever considered adopting an older child? The thought of adopting an older child may seem daunting at first, but there are so many excellent resources offered by Christian Family Care to help you not only through the process of adopting an older child, but also in life long after the adoption process is completed.

What is considered an older child adoption?

Most people may not realize an “older child” in the foster care system is considered between the ages of seven and 17 years old. It’s tragic to think so many kids will age out of the foster care system without ever being in a permanent home.

Older Child Adoption Statistics

According to the Department of Child Safety, in 2020, over 700 kids in Arizona aged out of the foster care system without a permanent home.

  • Once a child turns seven years old they are seven times more likely to be placed into a group home when you’re removed from your birth family.
  • For children between seven and 10 years old, they are 11 times more likely to be placed into a group home and it just gets worse from there.
  • By the time a child reaches 15 years old, about 50 percent are going to go into a group home.
  • Only three to four percent of youth who age out of foster care earn a college degree.
  • Over 70 percent of girls who age out of foster care become pregnant by 21 years old.
  • One in five youth who age out of foster care become homeless after turning 18.
  • And, only half of youth who age out of foster care have a job by 24 years old.
  • Of the over 200 families in Arizona certified to adopt, there is less than 40 that want to adopt a child 12 years old and older.

Christian Family Care is working to break down these heartbreaking statistics

Christian Family Care is looking to place 131 kids in Arizona into permanent, Christ-centered homes. Meet our adoptable youth here.

Christian Family Care is making an annual impact with 228 adoptions last year!

55 percent of families we certified between 2016 and 2020 have finalized an adoption, or are awaiting finalization through Christian Family Care.

40 percent of the kids were over six years old.

We only have six waiting families currently. Those families have been waiting an average of ninth months. We have 10 families placed with kids, awaiting finalization.

How many kids want a forever home in Arizona?

According to the Department of Child Safety, there are 13,581 children in the foster care system.

Number of older kids adopted each year in Arizona

In 2020, only 2,727 children in total were adopted.

Who should adopt an older child?

A good candidate for someone to adopt would be someone with good stress management skills and an awareness of how their own struggles can play into the dynamics of adoption.

Parents who can clearly articulate and remember their calling are able to provide more of what their children need because they have a great perspective to keep in mind when times are hard.

Good conflict resolution skills are also helpful. The goal is not to parent perfectly, but to repair the relationship after rupture so that the relationship can keep building.

Having outside perspectives from other parents and mental health professionals can help parents with this. Maintaining healthy relationships at all levels (parent to parent, parents and children, sibling to sibling, family to professionals), etc. is key to success.

Trauma happens in relationships, and it heals in relationships. Adoption is intended to be a healing relationship. 

Parents need lots of co-regulation and support as they adopt children. Through Christian Family Care’s adoption and foster care specialists and through our ministry, Arizona Family Counseling, we can help support you throughout the entire adoption process and afterwards throughout the rest of that child’s life.

The number of teens in foster care

There are currently 3,303 teens between 13 and 17 years old in the foster care system in the state of Arizona.

There are currently 7,428 “older children” between six and 17 years old in the foster care system in the state of Arizona.

Adopting a five year old from foster care

Children who come from previous hardships are often times all over the place developmentally. Depending on the age of the child you adopt, there may be different needs that specific child has.

Littler kids may have preverbal trauma that they store in their bodies and act on. For example, children around the age of five may one minute be acting more like a toddler; kicking, screaming, and throwing themselves on the floor to get their needs met. The next minute, they could be acting like they are 18 years old getting everything for themselves and wanting control over everything they do.

The child might even tell you they don’t need parents and can take care of themselves. Or, they may never be able to explain why they are doing the things they do, but these young kiddos can benefit from steady, secure caregiving and co-regulation.

As soon as you address the age they are acting, they return to behaving, playing, and acting like a five year old. This is often because children who did not have their needs met early on in life, use behaviors to express those needs.

This is why we often see older children behaving like toddlers. They missed out on having a healthy connection with a caregiver when they were younger and struggle to regulate themselves when they feel their needs are not being met. This is similar to what a toddler does when they want something, and they don’t see their parents immediately answering their request.

When we often see children acting beyond their years, we call these kiddos parentified. Parentified behaviors are often also seen when children did not have adults meeting their needs, so they needed to meet them for themselves.

Much of this content comes from the team of therapists at Christian Family Care’s ministry, Arizona Family Counseling. AFC is always here to help families with children no matter their age. The services and team of experts specialize in traumas that children from the foster care system may have experienced.

Our therapists work one on one with a child and parents to help strengthen the family unit and ensure the child has a good foundation to help them grow to be a successful adult.

Christian Family Care also has a variety of helpful online parenting classes available through the Family Care Learning ministry.

See a list of classes here.

Adopting a 10 year old from foster care

Parents adopting a 10 year old need to be aware that they aren’t simply adopting an average 10 year old.

We often see older kids going to and from acting in various ages due to their needs not being met when they were younger. Parents who are wanting to adopt older children so they do not have to deal with toddler like behaviors need to recognize that they WILL be adopting a young child regardless of age, due to the lack of development early on in life.

Parents also need to consider that children at this age are going through added stress of having to fit in socially at school with their peers and do well academically. Children who have experienced hardship often struggle in school because they maybe missed some grades, had stressors at home, were behind in school because of moving from placement to placement, etc. Parents need to be aware of the challenges our school kiddos often face and be open to school not being the number one priority for the kids, being okay with poor grades, and needing to do school differently.  

Parents of older children may also need to understand that some older children have memories of their biological parents and may not want “replacement” parents. They may not call adoptive parents Mom or Dad, even if they have a relationship with those people. Relationships can be good, just different.

Older kids remember things that have happened to them and experience the world differently. It benefits them to have the chance to have parents who love them and can let them be kids, but sometimes they struggle with that.

Adopting a teenager from foster care

The ages adopted teenagers often show are also all over the place. Just like what has been mentioned above. In addition to needs not being met early in life, to the potential struggles in school, we have hormones being added to the mix.

Research tells us the brain does a re-wire in the teenager years. Parents need to be open to considering all that has been mentioned above in addition to knowing that a teenager’s logical brain still has over 10 additional years to develop.

If that teenager has experienced hardship and started life surrounded by trauma, it can take even longer for their thinking brain to develop.

When we ask our teens what they were thinking when they did something wrong or unsafe, we could argue they weren’t really thinking because their logical brain was not fully developed and possibly underdeveloped.

Adoptive parents may need to consider forming a team of people to address the child’s specific needs related to their behaviors including, but not limited to primary and specialty care doctors, mental health professionals, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and educational advocates. (Watch our Family Care Learning Podcast Episode 10 on this topic here). 

Parents also need to recognize that it is not a matter of if but when their adoptive child searches and tries to have contact with their biological family.

It is often too easy with social media for our teens to make contact. It is important parents are willing to have open conversations with their children about their biological family and even have contact if appropriate. This way our teens are not searching alone for their biological family, but we are supporting and processing this longing to know their family together.

How long does an older child adoption take?

The process can take time. It depends a lot on what child you’re equipped to parent as well. The more open you are in the age range of children, the behaviors you can parent through, and the needs of children who have experienced neglect, abuse, and other trauma, the more likely we are to match you to a waiting child.

The Department of Child Safety Specialist ultimately decides which family is selected to adopt a child. They are looking for which family can best meet the child’s emotional, social, physical, intellectual, safety, and mental health needs.

Some families are matched within a few weeks of being certified and others wait years.

What does it cost to adopt an older child?

Adoption costs vary depending on how you go about adopting and which agency you choose. There are some ways that you can help fund your adoption. Adopting an infant can cost up to $24,000. However, adopting a child from the foster care system costs nothing. There is an $800 home study fee that you will get refunded when the adoption is finalized. Other than that additional costs would consist of food and clothes for the child, medical expenses, insurance, etc.

Adoption Tax Credit

You may qualify for the adoption tax credit if you adopted a child and paid out-of-pocket expenses relating to the adoption or if you adopted a child with special needs.

The federal adoption credit provides significant and important savings for all but the wealthiest families. While it’s not refundable, the credit can be carried forward for up to five years, too—which may significantly reduce your tax burden over time.

There’s also an Arizona Adoption Expense Deduction that you may qualify for based on your adoption expenses.

In either case, you will need to speak with your tax professional.* To learn more, please visit the North American Council on Adoptable Children’s tax credit page.

Adoption Subsidy

A combination of state and federal funds of $2,000 may be available to families who adopt a child with unique needs. Additional longterm benefits may be available if you adopt a child with special needs.

Services available to older adopted kids

Employee Benefits Programs for Adoptive Families

Many companies offer adoption benefits to their employees. These often include unpaid leave and direct reimbursement up to a certain amount upon placement.

If your employer does not currently offer adoption benefits, ask about their availability: You may be able to convince your company to offer them. Your employer may also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This benefit helps employees deal with unusual personal situations or problems.

Adoption Loans and Grants

The National Adoption Foundation distributes grants to adoptive parents four times a year.

They also provide adoption loans. While it’s not ideal to borrow money, adoptive families may find a loan necessary—especially if they’re waiting on a tax credit or employer reimbursement to make ends meet.

Additionally, some banks offer low-interest loans or credit lines for adoptive parents.

If you have further questions, please contact CFC here.

* Disclaimer: The above information is meant to serve as a basic understanding of the federal adoption tax credit and Arizona adoption expense deduction. This summary does not constitute personal tax advice to the reader and is only offering general information. You should seek professional advice for your own situation as the most appropriate tax planning depends on your personal circumstances.

Challenges adoptive parents face when adopting an older child and helpful tips to navigate those challenges

Forming a bond with an older adopted child is different than forming a bond with a biological child. The biological bond starts in the womb. The adoptive bond starts on the day parents meet a child. This is not to say that parents and older adopted children cannot bond with their families, but that families need to moderate their expectations, or perhaps grieve and let go of their expectations so that they can form the relationship with the child that God has designed for them to have.

Many parents want younger children because they feel they have experienced less trauma and will have fewer behaviors. However, trauma impacts everyone differently.

Bruce Perry has done research to show otherwise. He learned that a child who experienced trauma in their first 2 months of life, but then lived in a stable environment from 2 months to 18 years of age, had more trauma than a child who lived in a stable environment for their first 2 months and then experienced trauma from 2 months to 18 years of age.

Age is not a factor in whether or not our children will have less trauma or overcome their trauma. Younger children who had pre-verbal trauma often have a harder time healing from it.

In regards to our older children, they may have more memories of their trauma. Maybe they were in multiple placements and have a negative belief system that all adults are bad and don’t meet their needs.

Our older children may be longing to return to their biological family and may not want to be adopted.

Adoptive parents often have to grieve the child’s past with them. Leaving biological parents is a huge loss for children. Whether or not the biological parents cared for their children well, many children still want and crave a relationship with them.

Adoptive parents who can understand this and accept it have better success forming a relationship with the child currently in their home. 

As adoptive parents, are you willing to adopt an older child who may not want to be adopted and may never show their appreciation or love towards you?

Parents regardless of age, must consider that adopting a child is like Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. He did it because he loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He wanted to give us the chance to live for eternity with him. But he did this knowing we could continue to sin, that would deny knowing him, and some would walk away and turn on him.

As parents, are you willing to die on the cross knowing that by doing so, you are giving someone the opportunity to be forever changed, whether they want it or not? Can you love them anyway? 

Want to learn more about how to adopt an older child?

Visit one of our “Understanding Adoption: The School Age Child” Orientation sessions.

During this free 90-minute orientation to adoption through the foster care system, we’ll unpack the myths behind adopting children over six years old, explore the need for adoptive families for this age group, and review the requirements to become an adoptive family. There will be Q&A time available and information on how to start your journey.

Click the button below to see upcoming sessions.

Also, you can attend one of our upcoming info sessions on fostering and adopting. Click here to see when the next info session will be.

And, for more questions, please reach out to our recruitment coordinator, Julie Mohline at jmohline@cfcare.org. You can also call CFC at (800) 939-5432.

Visit our adoption page on our CFC website here.

Check out our adoptable youth here!

Read our Youth Adoption booklet by clicking on the image below.

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