I really want to advocate for the adoption of older children. In some circles that means any child over about 3!! In other contexts "older" seems to mean boys and girls 8 years or older. But what's the big deal about adopting older children?
I know EVERY child needs a family--even healthy, white infants. But there seem to be long, long lines of eager couples drooling (and practically dueling) over those babies . . . while other children, equally created in the image of Almighty God, wait and wait and wait to be matched. These kiddos who wait are more-often-than-not non-white, non-baby, non-"typical" and/or non-single (meaning they are part of a sibling group)--or sometimes just non-female.
Now I personally am no longer seriously interested in parenting a baby. Puh-leez! I am 51 after all. I have done puke and pee and poo-poo, thank you very much. But I still tend to be more drawn to the children who are 8 or less. The older kids scare me. I'm afraid of their baggage. I'm scared they won't like me. I'm afraid they're too bossy, too mean, too damaged, too stuck in their ways, or even dangerous to my other kids. But that ain't necessarily so.
So what's the big deal about adopting an older child--or adopting any child, for that matter? I remember when we were adopting Caleb with Down syndrome. One of our relatives (who was very concerned that we were making a big mistake) asked, "What's wrong with where he is?" And in Caleb's case, he was obviously in a place that kept him fed and clothed and apparently even brushed his teeth. The facility did not stink, there were bright colors on the walls, the worker who presented him to us clearly enjoyed him. (Believe me, not all toddlers are so blessed.)
BUT the big deal was that he was already 3 1/2. In some eastern European countries, kids with special needs like Down syndrome are routinely scheduled for transfer out of the baby house at/around age 4. And the next stage of housing can be everywhere from fairly decent to unspeakably awful; I've only heard of a handful of orphans with Ds in those countries who have had the opportunity to attend school. Many, many kids with disabilities regress developmentally after transfer--they may lose their ability to speak, decrease in physical skills, and even lose the light of hope in their beautiful eyes. Children who are lower functioning mentally or who can't walk independently tend to be transferred to worse facilities. Kiddos who can't get around on their own may remain bedridden in cage-like cribs for the remainder of their existence. And yes, children do die in these holes.
Our Steven who also has Ds was already 5 when we met him. He was higher functioning and had been blessed to be transferred from the baby house to a decent facility for older children. The building smelled clean, had big windows and lovely plants in the hallways. I met two nice care-givers. We were there in December and got to attend three different seasonal programs in which various orphanage residents participated. Steven greeted people with a threatening fist. Yet in spite of his bravado, he seemed emotionally fragile and skinny to me. He wore some outfits with pretty wild color combinations and I saw other children sporting the same outfits on other days. The few toys out in the living area (I only recall 2 or 3) were definitely the worse for wear. When we gave the boys markers to draw with, more than one little guy immediately bit the end off. When Steven was given pieces of candy at the Christmas program, he clenched them with a death grip and would have eaten right through the paper had Kevin not intervened. When we returned in sunny June, I witnessed the boys in his group all holding hands and going outside. But they didn't play. They just sat in the sandbox with their caps on. I didn't see them digging or scooping or making paths or piles or even mischievously throwing sand on each other. (Steven was not sitting--he was running around like a wild man--maybe because we were there and he finally had permission NOT to sit?) There was a small selection of playground equipment with chipping paint--but I never saw any children using it. In fact, when we let Steven climb one of the ladders, I was sure we were going to get in trouble at any moment. I saw children sitting on the bench in a gazebo-like building. I saw older children sitting on benches around the grounds. I did see maybe 3 or 4 older boys randomly kicking a soccer ball but there was no organized game.
I have friends who have adopted children from living hells and I don't use the h-word lightly. These are children who were literally so near death they had to be hospitalized immediately upon arrival in the U.S. (At least one had to be hospitalized in-country before he could even be granted permission to GO to the U.S.) Other children were so sedated in their orphanages that they went into withdrawals once in their new parents' care. One recently-adopted older child had spent the majority of his days sitting with his group-mates in a shed.
Our Abby, with mild cerebral palsy, was 9 1/2 when we met her a year ago. If I recall correctly, she was already in her 5th placement--and this was not technically an orphanage but a "family-type home." She too was very blessed--she had already had surgery on her leg, she was attending the local school, she was taking some kind of music or dance lessons. Staff members truly loved her. There were only 8 or 9 kids that lived there. She had been given a very nice good-bye send-off with lovely parting gifts.
So what's the big deal? After all, our 3 internationally-adopted children were in decent places. Well first off, kids in orphanages--even if the facility could be described as good--have no permanency. They do not have a mom and a dad consistently looking out for them. Caregivers change as the child moves from one age group to another; caregivers move on to other jobs. I asked our attorney what Abby's future would have held had she not been adopted and received a couple different scenarios in reply: (1) her birth parents could have un-surrendered their parental rights and sold her as a bride as young as age 13 or 14; or (2) she could possibly have been able to get a job at a sheltered workshop-type of place when she aged-out of the system (in a country with very few opportunities for people with disabilities.)
And what would probably have been the future for Caleb and Steven? At some point they would have been transferred to an actual mental institution for the rest of their lives--a warehouse for human beings. Probably to sit from one meaningless day to the next.
And what about the relatively-typical orphans--even those healthy, white babies who for some reason never got chosen by an adoptive family? If adoption papers are not signed by their 16th birthday, they are not available for international adoption. Period. When they age out of the orphanage system (I've heard it can be as young as 15 or 16 but I'm not sure about that), they are--very literally-- turned out onto the streets. (This is really hitting home with me because we have 2 fifteen-year-old daughters.) They have no family to turn to, an incomplete education, no real job skills. And with their orphan status they have a very difficult time getting a job. It's no wonder that so many end up in alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, crime and suicide.
So for these orphans it seems the end of the story is all-too-often death in a mental institution or death on the streets. This breaks my heart. This should not be. Please, please consider the adoption option. You may well be saving a life.