More than 120,000 children in the United States were waiting to be adopted through the foster care system in 2019, according to the United States Children’s Bureau (USCB). Nearly 60% of those children were 6 to 17 years old. But children in this age range accounted for only 44% of adoptions through child welfare agencies. This imbalance indicates how much less frequently an older child adoption takes place.
Because many families hope to adopt an infant or young child, some older children spend more time in the foster care system. In fact, USCB data shows that 87 percent of children in foster care wait more than a year before they are adopted.
Misconceptions may play into a parent’s decision not to consider an older child adoption. However, social workers can help dispel those misconceptions — and place more children with loving families — by articulating the fulfillment of adopting older children.
Nearly 60% of children in foster care were 6 to 17 years old in 2019. But children in this age range accounted for only 44% of adoptions through child welfare agencies.
Ways for Social Workers to Address Misconceptions About Adopting Older Children
As social workers support prospective parents, they may encounter misconceptions about adopting an older child. Although these misconceptions stem from generalizations, they also shed light on a lack of confidence that a parent is experiencing. Therefore, social workers should remain sensitive when parents express these types of sentiments:
“I Won’t Be The Child’s Parent for Long”
Adoptive parents may worry that an older child will cut off contact when they turn 18 years old. To address this concern, social workers can assure parents that older children still need love and support after entering adulthood. These assurances include reminding parents that adopting an older child is not necessarily temporary. Instead, parents should plan — and expect — to become stable presences in the child’s life.
“I’ll Fall Short as a Parent”
A parent may have concerns that a child’s negative experiences create trust issues for them to overcome. Children and Youth Services Review gives credence to this concern, writing that many children who spend time in foster care may have “social, emotional, health and mental health challenges.” However, social workers can prepare adoptive parents to help children overcome these challenges. For instance, they can connect parents with the resources to:
- Create life stability that instills confidence and resilience.
- Establish a healthy home that centers on trust.
- Offer independence while meeting the child’s needs.
“They Don’t Want Me to Adopt Them”
While finalizing an adoption is not guaranteed, USCB data shows a significant share of foster children — 1 in 4 — want to be adopted. Therefore, it’s important for social workers to get to know their adoptive parents and set realistic expectations for their adoption experience. From there, social workers can help people understand the older child adoption process, along with why it’s so rewarding.
Helping Parents Learn the Rewards of Adopting an Older Child
Parents may need to learn more about the older child adoption process to understand why it’s so rewarding. When working with new parents, social workers can explore how adopting older children gives them the opportunity to:
- Provide support when it’s needed.
Older children, especially teenagers, are experiencing biological, emotional and intellectual changes that they may struggle to understand. By adopting an older child, parents can provide immediate guidance about these changes to support healthy development followed by success in adulthood.
- Share personal interests immediately.
Unlike infants and small children, older children have the ability to discuss their experiences and interests. As a result, parents can learn about the things that the child enjoys and bond with them through activities.
- Get assistance for health care costs.
In many cases, children adopted from foster care are eligible for Medicaid. They may also qualify for federal or state assistance that helps pay for their health care expenses. This support lets parents focus on their child’s well-being with fewer concerns about covering health care costs.
- Help their child earn a college degree.
The North American Council on Adoptable Children outlines ways for children adopted from foster care to get help paying for college. For instance, children adopted at age 13 or older can claim themselves as independent when they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This option helps children access more financial aid options. What’s more, some states offer tuition waivers and scholarships to children who were in foster care.
Of course, social workers do more than help parents understand the rewards of older child adoption. They also offer key services to make these adoptions possible.
How Social Workers Support the Older Child Adoption Process
Social workers engage in many activities to bring together families and older children in need of a permanent home. Examples include:
Interacting with children and adoptive parents
During the adoption process, a social worker may conduct interviews and interact extensively with the child and prospective parents. These interactions provide opportunities to help families equip themselves with the tools and support systems needed to care for a child.
Identifying a safe home environment
USCB outlines how social workers conduct home visits to help parents understand the adoption process and verify they can care for a child. These visits involve several interviews that allow social workers to identify parenting or social skills that clients must develop before adopting an older child. In these situations, social workers can connect prospective parents with training opportunities to help them create a safe and nurturing home environment.
Building competencies to support each child
Unique experiences shape each child’s needs, and adoptive parents may seek assistance to mend well-being impacted by trauma and societal stressors. Clinical social workers with adoption competencies help by working closely with children to tailor guidance around their specific needs, according to Social Work Today. Success in this area requires practitioners to put the child’s needs first throughout the adoption process. It also requires social workers to commit to ongoing education that prepares them to personalize their support for older children joining a family.
The ideal starting point for acquiring a social work education is a bachelor’s degree program that provides a firm foundation of the theory and principles related to this field. If you’re ready to begin developing the competencies needed to succeed as a social worker, consider Campbellsville University’s online bachelor’s in social work degree. The program is designed for working adults with six start dates and a flexible format that blends the online classes into busy schedules. You can graduate in as little as two years if you transfer credits to the program. Plus, engage in real-world learning experiences through supervised field hours that you complete in your community.
If you already have your bachelor’s degree, you can continue your education through Campbellsville University’s online master of social work program. This program instills an advanced understanding of social work theory, enabling you to advance beyond entry-level positions. You can also choose an area of focus to align the online MSW program with your career goals. Both programs are among the most affordable in the U.S., allowing you to gain in-demand career skills without a significant financial burden.