Adopting Out of Birth Order, Two Unrelated Children, or an Older Child

This information was originally included with my series on choosing an adoption agency.  I am now making this information and resources on these three special adoption situations its own separate post.

IMG_0549You might assume that if China allows a practice, such as adopting two unrelated children at once, then your agency will allow you to do so. This is not the case. All placing agencies determine their own guidelines for adoptive families. Sometimes even when a placing agency will allow something, the social worker who writes your homestudy might not approve your family for that situation. For example, a placing agency might not have a problem with you adopting an aging out child who is older than your oldest child but your social worker opposes disrupting birth order and she refuses to approve you for a teenager in your homestudy.

You mean agencies or social workers think their rules are more important than finding these kids a family!? I’m going to choose an agency that understands that each family knows what is best and what they can handle!

Before I discuss these situations, we need to understand the reason behind these rules. Generally, the older the agency the more likely they are to stick with what are called “best social work practices.”  These are things such as only adopting one unrelated child at a time, keeping birth order, avoiding “artificial twinning” (ending up with two children of the same age), etc. In most other countries these practices are not allowed but our American independent streak rebels at those sort of absolute guidelines. However, many agencies now are allowing these practices, at least in some situations.

Why any agencies not allow these things? Because agencies which have been around for decades have seen a lot of failed adoptions. I spoke with a representative of an agency often characterized as being “conservative” and “having a lot of rules.” I was told that their top priority was finding the right family for a child. They wanted to make sure that the adoption was successful and they didn’t want to risk the child’s placement by matching them with a family with the potential for disruption.  Please take the time to read my post on adoption disruption for a longer discussion on why you need to keep this possibility in mind as you decide whether or not these special adoption situations are right for your family.

I see people asking about these three situations extremely often in online adoption related groups.  As I mentioned in my post on When You’re Asking the Internet About Adoption, please remember that these groups are full of people who are happy with their experience, and so you will most likely not hear from people who would tell you that they adopted and had a bad experience.  You can hear from many people who disrupted birth order in their family, adopted two unrelated children at the same time, or adopted an older child who was aging out and tell you how amazing it was for their family but that does not help you to know what YOUR families experience will be like.  You are a different family, adopting a different child or children.  That doesn’t mean I’m trying to talk you out of it, I’m trying to make sure that you’ve seriously considered all aspects of the situation.  Thinking about the hard aspects of adoption will only give you more tools to succeed.  Educated and informed families are the best families for children.  

Let’s look at the three most common issues where parents clash with agencies.

The first is adopting out of birth order. Best social work practice would say that you shouldIMG_0584 adopt a child who is at least 9 months younger than your youngest child on the theory that this would be the closest naturally occurring spacing between siblings. Someone who adopted at the same time as I did spent several months convincing her agency that it would be acceptable for their family to adopt a child who was a mere 8.5 months younger than their youngest so some agencies hold very strictly to these guidelines.

If this is something you want to do, you will need to discuss it with your social worker and placing agency. They will probably want you to consider your family dynamics. How would you handle it if you had an extended period of conflict between the adopted child and the child who was upset from their place in the family? Also, a child who was more recently adopted into a family will not necessarily be as set in his place as a child who has been the oldest for his entire life. Much of the success will be determined by the personalities of the children involved but unfortunately you won’t know your new child’s personality when you are making the decision.

Resources on adopting out of birth order:

Nine Rules For Adopting Out of Birth Order
Creating A Family podcast on Adopting Out of Birth Order
Negative experience- Disruption: A failed mom’s look back
At No Hands But Ours a parent shares the unexpected difficulties they encountered when they adopted a toddler 6 months older than their biological son already at home.

Positive experience- Googling “adopting out of birth order” will bring you to many blogs where parents share that they adopted out of birth order and it worked out great in their family.

The second issue is adopting two unrelated children at once. Adoption involves a huge amount of stress and upheaval for a child. When you adopt two at once, the theory is that you cannot give each child the amount of attention that they need to bond with your family. Because China’s adoption program involves special needs, then you need to consider that you will also be dealing with double the amount of doctor’s visits. I am sometimes concerned that there can be a subtle form of peer pressure to adopt two at once on adoption forums with many people asking “Are you going to go for two?!” Deciding to adopt two unrelated children at once should involve careful consideration.

  • How much parenting experience do you have?
  • How much adoptive experience?
  • Do you have a plan for the medical care the two children will need? What if they have unexpected medical needs, for example both end up needing surgery at the same time?
    How much of a local support network do you have?
  • Can you afford to double the fees? Most likely spend three weeks in China instead of two?
  • Have you thought through the worst case scenario? What if one or both have unexpectedly worse medical issues? What if they are both having attachment issues?
  • Be aware that you might be tempted to favor one child over the other. Children react so differently to the adoption experience. If you have one who is seamlessly attaching to your family while the other is acting out and constantly causing stress in your family it can be very easy to unconsciously favor the “easy” child. As much as you know that you shouldn’t compare the two children, it is almost unavoidable especially if they close in age.
  • Are you doing this because you think it will be cheaper or make your life easier? I have seen multiple people actually say “I’m not going to go through all of this trouble twice. I’m just going to get two at once and get it over with all at the same time.”  I’m going to be completely blunt here and point out that you need to consider the impact this will have on the children involved and not your convenience.

IMG_0554Many people do adopt two successfully and find it works well for their family. Here are some additional resources and experiences for you if you are considering this option. I’m including three blog experiences, each from families who were experienced parents and had adopted prior to adopting two children at once.


The third issue is older child adoption. The definition of an “older child” can vary, but I am going to focus on the age range of 10-13, the time period where a child is close to “aging out” in China. At the age of ten, the child must also consent to the adoption and sometimes they say no thanks, I’d rather stay here. China does not allow children to be adopted past their 14th birthday. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if a parent is in the process of adopting a child. For this reason you will often see advocates publicizing children who are close to aging out. “URGENT! This is the child’s LAST CHANCE for a family!!!” This tugs at your heart, is this something that your family should consider? Here are some things to consider when making this decision.

Are you thinking of doing this because you want to save the child? I have seen many instances where people have been told that an orphanage kicks a child out onto the street on their 14th birthday. As far as I am aware, this is not the case. When we visited our son’s orphanage I asked the director what happened to children who aged out. She said that those who could live independently would be given some education or vocational training and they would try to find them a job. They continue to live at the SWI until age 18. Those who cannot live independently will live there for life. While children who have aged out will face many challenges in their life, it is not necessarily so dire as being kicked out onto the street. Organizations such as Love Without Boundaries are working to give these children more educational opportunities and at least one agency has a similar program as well. Yes, adoption will give these children more opportunities, and most importantly a lifelong family. However, it is important to understand the challenges before you take this step and not rush in to “save” someone expecting that happy ending.

Why China rather than the US foster system? Since I adopted from China and I wrote an entire post defending people who adopt internationally rather than from foster care, you might wonder why I ask this question. I support both adoption systems and I think that you need to find the best fit for your family. But if you are considering adopting in the 10-13 year old range, this is an age where there are many children available here in the US. Sometimes people have the mistaken idea that a 13 year old from China won’t have any baggage, unlike a teenager in the US foster system. If you are feeling called to adopting an older child from China you need to make sure you understand that there will be challenges including additional challenges specific to international adoption.

  • Care varies widely in China. Older children have lived over a decade with their family, with a foster family, in an orphanage, or any combination thereof. They could come to you having experienced malnutrition, a lack of necessary medical care, neglect, and physical or sexual abuse.
  • They may have years worth of ingrained orphanage behaviors.
  • Related to orphanage behaviors, you should expect your child to be immature for their age and act several years younger than their age.
  • The information in their files might be incorrect, and not just medical information. You might your child is older or younger (but usually it’s older) than you thought. Or they might have siblings you didn’t know about until you got to China.
  • It is much more difficult to learn a new language after puberty, even if you are immersed in it.
  • Your child may have received little or no formal education. Mixed with the language issue, this means that they may not ever achieve reading fluency. Adopting older children will bring many educational challenges.
  • They may have unrealistic expectations of their own. Children are often told that everyone in America is rich and they will be given anything they want.
  • Love Without Boundaries post looking at the Post Adoption Adjustment For Older Children.
  • They may not even understand what adoption is. Love Without Boundaries interviewed older children in orphanages and they struggled to come up with answers to questions about what adoption is, why a foreign couple would want to adopt a Chinese child, or what they think life would be like after adoption. Watch the video.
  • Read Vicky’s post called You Shouldn’t Adopt A Teen for an honest look at the challenges you should expect from an experienced mother of adopted teens.
  • A Little Advice From the Front Lines For Parents To Be  on behaviors in country with newly adopted older children
  • Also, the second half from I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go which discusses older child behaviors in the early days home.
  • An experienced mom offers 10 pieces of advice for those adopting an older child.
  • I’m also going to link again to the list of characteristics of families who have successfully adopted two unrelated children at once, because successfully adopting an older child uses the same characteristics.  Older children do best with parents who have are easy-going and flexible, have a good sense of humor, and who can cheer their child on for all the small successes they experience rather than fixating on all of the challenges they still face.

Financial considerations– No one wants a child to lose their chance for a family because of IMG_0558finances. For this reason you will find that there are many generous grants available for older children who are reaching the end of their opportunity for adoption. Sometimes a particular child will be offered a large grant by a private donor which is independent of an agency. Some agencies will reduce their agency fee by a significant amount in addition to offering a grant. Finally, many of the orphanages in China will reduce or waive the required orphanage donation in an effort to help these kids find a family. While no one should consider adopting an aging out child because it is cheaper, if you are interested in adopting a child who is close to aging out you should be aware of all of these available resources.

Time– Because the adoption must be completed by the child’s 14th birthday, time is often a major concern. Be sure to ask if your agency has experience with expediting the adoption of an aging out child. There are many things which can be done to make sure the adoption is complete in time. I have known people who adopted an aging out child in under 3 months from start to finish, barely making it across the finish line by finalizing the adoption in China before the Travel Authorization had been issued. Most agencies will transfer the files of aging out children so if an agency is skeptical that they could complete the adoption in time then you could see if they would transfer the file to another agency which is more experienced with the expedite procedures. If the agency is unwilling to transfer, or is offering a generous grant which you need then join the Facebook China WARP Speed Expedited Adoption group for support to walk your agency through the process.

There are many resources available for those considering older child adoption. Here are a few to get you started:

Finally, if you are considering adopting an older child from China it important to know that this is an area where child trafficking occurs. Unfortunately, some people bring home older children only to find that they have families back in China. There are many older kids in China who need homes, and you want to make sure that you make one of them a part of your family rather than someone who has been coerced into coming to America with you. While most of these false orphans come from one particular orphanage, the problem isn’t limited only to that orphanage. There are often red flags that will help you spot these kids. Allow me to break out the bullet points one more time.

  • Abandoned at an older age under fishy circumstances. Found wandering the streets at 10 or 12 but can’t remember their name, parents names, or address.
  • Came into state care at an older age because their entire family was tragically wiped out.
  • Often comes with fake death certificates to aid the story.
  • Looks older than 12 or 13. Many of these kids are closer to 17, so if your son has a 5 o’clock shadow in his pictures, beware.
  • Not only are completely healthy, but excel academically. Often are accomplished at playing a sport or instrument.
  • For more information google “China aging out fraud.”

I don’t want to leave you on that negative note, especially since this post has been focused on the negative more than usual. I have already linked to the Seriously Blessed blog in this post but I wanted to highlight the story of Jasmine. The Lisa and her husband decided rather last minute to adopt Jasmine even though they had previously discussed older child adoption and said it was something they would never consider. When they arrived in China to adopt Jasmine, they realized she had muscular dystrophy rather than spina bifida, meaning her special need was a much worse diagnosis than they had been prepared for. Despite this they completed the adoption.

As Jasmine grew comfortable enough to begin sharing her story they learned that she had been mistreated by both her father and her orphanage nannies. She was abandoned by her grandmother, the only relative who had treated her with kindness. She hadn’t received any education in her orphanage, and had been told that the American couple coming for her would surely mistreat her or abandon her in America. This sounds like everything I’ve been warning you about, right? But Jasmine is thriving in a loving family. She is so appreciative of “simple” things like hot showers and receiving an education. This is why some families will educate themselves about all of the negative aspects of older child adoption and decide to go ahead anyway. Because it’s worth it, and it makes all the difference in the world to kids like Jasmine.



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