Are you considering adopting an 11 year old child, and you are wondering what you need to know to help him or her feel welcome in your home? Are you concerned about how to take the next right steps, and what are the warning signs to watch out for? Read on for everything you need to know.
- What Do I Need to Know About Adopting an Older Child?
- Pros & Cons of Adopting an Older Child
- Before You Adopt
- How Can I Help an 11 year Old Transition to a New Family?
- What are the Warning Signs for Adoption of a Pre-Teen?
- How to Help an Older Child Feel Welcome & Accepted
- Things to Know about Adopting 11 Year Old Boys or Girls
- What If the Adoption Doesn't Work Out?
What Do I Need to Know About Adopting an Older Child?
Adopting a middle schooler is completely different from adopting an infant or toddler. An 11 year old will be in 5th or 6th grade, which is the start of middle school in the United States.
Pre-teens are gangly, awkward, and just starting puberty. They are developing new thoughts about romance and dating.
In addition to these hormonal changes, this is a child who has experienced trauma and loss. All adopted children have experienced loss, and all children in the foster care system have experienced trauma. Children from international adoption have trauma and loss, plus must learn a whole new culture.
Adoption does not fix these issues, and love is not enough to heal these deep wounds.
The need for adoptive parents for older children is high. Most people want to adopt babies, especially while newborn babies. I commend you for your willingness to consider adopting an older child. But I also want you to be realistic and go into the situation fully informed about what’s ahead for you.
Adopting an older, traumatized child is not like caring for a biological child. It’s important that you understand this, because an adoption disruption will be one more trauma for a child who has already experienced deep loss.
You may be in a situation where you are taking legal guardianship of a family member, such as a niece or nephew. Keep reading, as much of the information below will be helpful for you as well.
Pros & Cons of Adopting an Older Child
Here are positives and negatives for adopting an eleven-year-old.
Pros of Adopting a Middle Schooler (11 years old)
- You will be meeting a real need. Many foster children who are older are never adopted and age out of the foster care system without a family to nurture and love them in adulthood. (See more here on creating a family by adopting an older child.)
- Adopting a middle schooler gives your family time to adjust before they become a teenager.
- Middle schoolers are still open to spending time with adults ways that teenagers might not be.
Cons of Adopting a 6th Grader (eleven-year old)
- An 11 year old may have clear memories of their biological parents and not welcome having new parents.
- If the child had early trauma or neglect, or has had multiple moves, they may have attachment issues or Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). You may have heard adoption horror stories and wonder if you can safely adopt an older child. While extreme situations are rare, most older child will have significant trauma and loss that must be addressed.
- Older children have learned that they must care for themselves and go it alone, so they do not trust adults. They may be parentified, meaning they have taken on caring for themselves or younger siblings in a way that is unhealthy.
Before You Adopt
Before you begin the adoption process, consider the following.
Life with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Assume that the child you will be bringing into your home has PTSD. Whether they’ve officially been diagnosed with it or not, the child has been traumatized, and likely this is a complex trauma with many situations layered on top of one another.
Imagine you are bringing a war veteran into your home, and use this mental lens as you view the new child’s behaviors.
There may be a honeymoon.
You may experience delightful visits and a relatively easy time of settling in with your pre-adoptive eleven-year old, but this may be a honeymoon. Often children will “be good” when they don’t know you, but as time goes on, their difficulties and challenges emerge.
The adoption honeymoon phase can vary greatly, but it’s often a few days or weeks. Occasionally, the honeymoon period can last up to a couple months.
You may be pressured to bring the child into your home quickly. Resist. Do not rush the transition. Adopting an older kid is hard enough. Don’t make it worse by transitioning too quickly.
Start with visits if at all possible. Visits might feel awkward or uncomfortable, and this is to be expected. You are strangers getting to know each other.
Plan outings and events in the community. These help break the ice and also provide a neutral space for both of you. Activities like bowling, movies, hiking, going to a ball game, malls and museums are all age-appropriate options.
If you are meeting in a home or visit center, bring a basketball, craft, playing cards, or board games so you have an activity to do together.
Resist the urge to shower the child with gifts. While it’s tempting provide items as a way to show that you care, this can be confusing for the pre-teen. They may feel like you are trying to buy their approval, or they may come to expect this type of treatment and be confused when you eventually stop.
After you’ve had several community visits, then you can consider a short visit in your home. Visits might become longer and eventually lead to an overnight or weekend stay. Once those are going well, then it’s time to discuss the child moving into your home permanently.
Get the information.
As a pre-adoptive family, you have the right to review all information about a child before you adopt, which includes:
- A summary of the child’s time in foster care.
- Information about the birth family, including reasons for removal from the home, and past abuse or neglect.
- Medical records, including medical family history of birth parents, if known.
- Any and all diagnosis, both medical and mental health.
- Documented behavior issues.
- School records, including an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or 504 plan (disability plan).
- If the adoption will be open or closed as far as relationship with the biological family, along with a complete explanation of what that requires in your state.
Protect younger children and pets.
Until you know otherwise, assume that the child has the capacity to abuse younger children or pets. This isn’t meant to be harsh or judgmental, but simply realistic.
Children who are traumatized at an early age are at risk for developing attachment issues or RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), which affects the ability to develop a conscious.
Common behaviors for children with attachment problems include:
- hoarding or sneaking food
- raging and violence
- sexually inappropriate or aggressive behavior
- triangulation and manipulation
You may have the right to an adoption subsidy.
Children adopted from the foster care system may qualify for an adoption subsidy, which is a monthly stipend for their care related to their special needs. These payments remain in place until the child turns 18 years old. The adoption subsidy typically includes Medicaid as medical insurance.
Most court costs are also covered for foster care adoptions, so the adoption may be free for you. You may have some personal fees such as fingerprinting or home study fees, depending on the regulations in your state.
How Can I Help an 11 year Old Transition to a New Family?
Here are some helpful tips for helping a pre-teen adjust to a new home.
- When possible, have a gradual transition. You may be inpatient for your new son or daughter to join your family, but remember that this a total life change for him or her. Start slowly with short visits that gradually become longer.
- Don’t force them to call you Mom or Dad.
- If possible, allow them to attend the same school. If they cannot attend the same school, think about ways to help them get to know their peers, like having kids from their class over to hang out, extra-curricular activities, or community events.
- Allow them to choose items for their room, but don’t go overboard. You may be tempted to flood the child with stuff in an effort to make them feel welcome. Resist the urge. Many children with trauma history do not do well with too many physical things. Less is more.
- Structure, routine, and consistence are key. Keep things simple as you all adjust to your new family dynamic. Stick to a familiar routine and don’t try to do too many outside activities.
- Don’t expect to instantly bond. Just like any other relationship, this one is going to take time.
- Stock the kitchen with some familiar foods, especially if your family eats a different menu than what they are used to eating.
What are the Warning Signs for Adoption of a Pre-Teen?
Here are warning signs to look out for during the early adoption process:
- Immediately calling you mom and dad. This is NOT sweet. This is a sign of attachment problems.
- Overly affectionate, wanting to move in to your home right away, seemingly instant bonding with you
- Obsession with gifts, constantly asking for new things or activities
- Unusual speech patterns
- Talking very softly so adults often have to ask, “What did you say?”
- Wanting to be in control of the conversation
- Wanting control of where you go and what you do
- Non-stop talking (this can also be a sign of anxiety, neurodivergence such as autism, or ADHD)
- Lack of eye contact
- Hyperactivity (this can also be a symptom of ADHD)
- Tempter tantrums. It’s not normal for an 11 year old to throw themselves on the ground in a fit if they don’t get their way.
- Running away
- Lack of friends
- Interest in gore or violence
- Hoarding food
- Lying, especially nonsensical lying
- Lack of boundaries, including with strangers (for example, calling a stranger “Mommy” or hugging her)
- Avoidance or lack of interest in primary caregiver
- Bladder and bowel accidents, smearing
- Sexualized behavior
- Lack of concern when others are hurt
- Lack of remorse
- Little sense of time
- Little sense of the value of money
- You can’t put your finger on it, but you have a gut sense that something is off.
How to Help an Older Child Feel Welcome & Accepted
Here are some ways to help an older child feel accepted with a new family:
- Adjust your expectations. Children who have experienced loss and trauma have deep wounds. They will not (and should not be expected to) bond with you immediately. They might not ever bond with you.
- Don’t expect them to call you mom and dad. This is the decision of the child. They might come to this later or may never want to call you by those terms.
- Have clear rules, schedules, and expectations. Everything will be new for them, from what time they get up in the morning to what snacks are allowed before bed. Clearly define the rules, expectations, and what’s typical in your family.
- Prepare your home. Prepare their room, kitchen, and common family areas. Don’t be tempted to go overboard with too many things at first. Where will they sit at the kitchen table or when your family is watching TV? Think about outside activities and bikes, storage space, towels, and bathroom use, too.
- Keep connections with their past. When safely possible, do all in your power to keep connections with former foster families, relatives, teachers, or friends.
- Don’t change their name. Unless the child requests it, keep their name the same.
- Connect to culture. Honor your child’s culture. This includes race, ethnicity, religion, and more, like favorite foods and how holidays are celebrated.
Things to Know about Adopting 11 Year Old Boys or Girls
Kids who have lived through trauma tend to be overly mature in some ways, but very immature in others. Instead of their emotional growth following a typical curve upwards, they tend to have peaks and valleys.
This child may have adult knowledge of TV shows, books and movies. They may use sexual language or have sexually provocative behavior. They may be well-versed in information about guns, gangs, or violence.
Yet they may have temper tantrums that you would expect from a toddler or preschooler. They may have poor sense of time, personal space, or money.
Plan that they will test you with their behavior. After an initials honeymoon where it seems like everything is going smoothly, there may be a time of behavior problems at home and school. This is normal as the young teen challenges the boundaries.
You will be pushed and pulled emotionally. The child may engage with you in a healthy way sometimes, but then lash out with words or behavior later.
Take care of yourself, your marriage, and other relationships. This will be an exciting yet challenging time, so it’s important that you prevent parent burnout, so you can be at your best.
What If the Adoption Doesn’t Work Out?
When a child is removed from an adoptive or pre-adoptive home, this is highly traumatic. Moving out of a home creates more loss, and further damages their already poor self-esteem.
This is why slow transitions are best whenever possible.
If you have not yet adopted and the child is in foster care, you legally have the right to request that they be moved after you give notice. (Notice is typically between 7-30 days, depending on the county.)
After you have adopted, the situation is much more difficult. If you want to terminate the adoption, you will need to seek the help of an attorney. You will go to court and request a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) from a judge.
You will be responsible for your court and legal fees, and the judge may be hesitant to grant a termination. If the child is taken into foster care, you may be required to pay child support for their care.
In some states, judges will not grant TPR until there is another adoptive family willing to take the child. If you feel you cannot safely keep the child in your home until another family is found, you may need to seek residential treatment for him or her.
This is why adoption education and a slow transition are vital to the process of adopting older children and teens.
Are you considering adopting an 11 year old? What questions do you have? Share in the comments below.
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