When many people first think about adoption and the children looking for permanent homes, a very young child might come to mind. However, many of the children in Scotland who are currently looking for permanent placements are older children who are four years and over. In fact, this age group made up 32% of the referrals to Scotland’s Adoption Register in 2020. Despite this, there has consistently been a mismatch between the ages of children who require adoption and the ages that prospective adopters are willing to consider. This ultimately means that many children do not go on to find permanent homes.
Individuals and couples find their way towards adoption for a variety of different reasons and for some, the desire to parent a baby or very young child is strongly felt. The reality, however, is that infant adoptions are no longer common in Scotland and children are now going forward for adoption at a later stage. There may have been attempts to reunify them with their birth family, but during this time they will have spent long periods in foster care. While there may be an assumption that younger children are easier to care for and bond with, this may not always be the case. Even very young children will have experienced significant loss in their lives, and this will undoubtedly affect them even if there is no clear memory of this loss.
Older children have a lot to offer a family who can support them to thrive. They are old enough to take part in shared family hobbies, can communicate their wants and needs and are old enough to have developed their personalities for you to connect with. Social workers who have worked to place older children say they are often more aware of what adoption means and therefore feel included in the family finding process. There may also be a clearer understanding of an older child’s developmental needs so that any extra support can be sought for them and families who have adopted older children report that there were fewer unknowns when it came to their child’s medical issues.
Ultimately, older children require the same amount of love, support and nurturing as younger children do, but children in Scotland aged 4 years and over are often left to wait for adoptive placements, and some never find them at all. This outcome could be avoided if prospective adopters were willing to consider children in this age range who are more accurately representative of the children seeking permanence in Scotland.
“The positive aspects of adopting children older than 4 were that we had a lot of knowledge about what had happened to them, what their personalities were and what some of their issues were likely to be. They had clear memories of what living within their birth family had been like and had been involved in the decision to be adopted so they understood what was going on and were very positive about it. They were also able to talk to us about their likes and dislikes, worries and memories. It removed a lot of the guess work. We hit the ground running with 2 walking, talking, flying, children – it was exhausting, but a lot of fun.” Alison-adopted mum to a sibling group