Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Knowing the Signs

Every child deserves a loving and stable home, regardless of age. In New Mexico alone, over 2,000 children are waiting, right now, for a chance to experience just that. 

Despite settling a landmark civil rights lawsuit in 2020 with the promise of expanding the state’s infrastructure for foster children, New Mexico has yet to meet the outcome goals outlined by the court. This leaves thousands of foster children without the structure and safety they need to develop into thriving adults, with older children and teens being disproportionately affected. 

As foster kids grow and age, their chances of being placed in a permanent home drops dramatically, and more than 23,000 age out of foster care every year in America. Many of these young people face immediate homelessness at 18, and very few are able to escape the cyclical nature of poverty on their own.

Could your family provide the life-changing opportunity these children deserve? If you’ve considered adopting an older child or teen, know that your love, support, and care is still needed despite recent legislative efforts. 

Keep reading to learn the benefits, basics of preparation, and best practices for adopting an older child. 

What are the benefits of adopting an older child or teen? 

Often, when parents think of adopting, their initial thought is of an infant and all the “firsts” of the early years. While older children and teens in the foster care system may have already taken their first steps, adolescence is rich with milestones to be shared with loving parents. 

If adoption has been top of mind in your home, consider these additional benefits to adopting an older child and supporting them through their development:

  • Self-sufficiency – older children require less assistance with basic tasks and learning, so more focus can be put on emotional development and bonding. 
  • More direct communication – parents can speak openly with their teens and older kids about their experiences, making it easier to get them the support they need. 
  • Memorable moments – parents can share the excitement of learning to drive and applying for colleges, and teens need not navigate the trials and triumphs of puberty alone.

How can families prepare for the adoption process? 

Adopting a child can be a lengthy legal process, even for adults who are related to the child they’re looking to adopt. Experienced legal teams can help prospective parents navigate the intricacies of adoption like home studies, parental training, and additional vetting processes. 

Children 5 years old and above are considered older children, according to New Mexico’s adoption guidelines. Among the many key details prospective parents should know, age requirements and adoptee consent are two of the most important, but many adults considering adoption may wonder if older children want to be adopted in the first place. 

The answer is yes: over 90% of older children feel positively about their adoption.  

While preparing for the legal aspects of your adoption is a vital facet of the process, preparing your household emotionally and making the transition as smooth as possible are just as important. Start learning how to anticipate the needs of your adoptive older child with the 5 tips outlined below. 

1. Don’t wait to start building trust. 

Teens and older children are more cognitively developed than infants and toddlers, so most understand the basics of the adoption process as it’s happening. 

Even so, older foster kids may struggle with protective behaviors due to past trauma, and will require demonstrated commitment to begin building trust. Before your adoptive child moves into your home, offer them creative ways to familiarize themselves with their new lives. 

Some prospective parents give their soon-to-be adoptive child photo books of their home, with details about family members, daily schedules, and expectations. Others spend time learning about the history and culture of their adoptive child’s birth family, and weave in familiar foods, routines, and activities to help the child feel safe. 

However you begin to strengthen your relationship with your adoptive child, be sure to do it as soon as possible. Moving into a new home, starting at a new school, and joining a new family are all difficult transitions alone trust and love can make navigating each hurdle a little bit easier for your adoptive child. 

2. Understand adoptee consent laws in New Mexico.

Building trust before your adoption finalizes is crucial both emotionally and legally. Older children and teens are cognizant of their adoption, and so they play an active role in the process. 

In New Mexico, children over the age of 14 have the option to consent to or reject their adoptions. This is referred to as adoptee consent, and every prospective parent should work with a legal team experienced in adoptions to meet consent and screening requirements. 

This legality protects the rights and wishes of older children, but it also offers a hidden benefit for parents: your child gets to choose you, too.

3. Make structure and gather resources ahead of time. 

A number of state-organized and privately-sponsored resources exist for parents of adopted children, from healthcare support to emergency respite care. These resources exist for good reason adopting an older child or teenager requires dedicated effort even for parents with higher levels of accessibility. 

Before your adoptive child moves into their forever home, prepare for their medical needs, mental health care, and educational advancement utilizing the resources available. 

Many foster kids have been shuffled from families to group homes and even shelters, so introducing them to stability is crucial. By creating structure ahead of time, you demonstrate commitment to your adoptive child and help to craft a safe, responsible environment they can thrive in. 

4. Anticipate culture shock and past trauma. 

Adopting children from outside of the U.S. presents unique challenges that prospective parents should be prepared to face, but many of those challenges are present for domestic adoptions as well. 

Whether your child was born in another family or another country, they will often have habits, coping mechanisms, beliefs, and ideas about the world that may be very different from yours. Understand that adjusting to a new family culture is a massive undertaking for a child, and approach these differences with compassion and openness. 

Older foster children will likely have adapted to survive their circumstances, which can range from mildly neglectful to heinously abusive. Some may struggle with communicating their feelings, and others may communicate it quite openly through their behavior. Be prepared for all potentialities of emotional expression, from acting out to shutting down. 

5. Be patient and willing to learn. 

Adopting a child is a decision that changes your life forever. While you might be emotionally available and ready to offer your love, remember the section above on past trauma and avoid putting unrealistic expectations on your adoptive child. 

Be patient as you learn more about who your child is as a person, and what they need to grow. Some adoptive children may need additional support in school, while others may excel academically yet require more one-on-one care.

The practices and structures you implement before your adoptive child moves in may need to be adjusted to fit their specific needs. Understanding developmental concepts such as the distinction between emotional and physical age or attachment issues can make all the difference in your child’s experience. 

When you’re ready to adopt an older child or teen, work with an esteemed family law practice to simplify the legal side of this major transition and change a child’s life for the better.