One topic which comes up periodically is whether or not a parent should consider legally changing their child’s age once home. Many people are not aware that this is an option. While children are more likely to be older than the age listed in the file if their birthdate is not accurate, parents usually choose to change a birthdate to make a child younger than the age listed in the file. The reason for this is that children from institutions, and even foster care, are typically immature for their age. If you have a 14 year old who acts like a 10 year old, you will not want to change her birthdate to 16 and give her the ability to drive!
The Age Change Process:
What does changing your child’s age involve? If you decide to change your child’s age legally, you will need to begin with your pediatrician. A bone age scan will be done, typically a wrist X-ray. Keep in mind that the bone age scan has a wide margin, so it will not give you an accurate age. Particularly if your child has experienced malnutrition, the bones will reflect a younger age than the child’s chronological age. The point of the bone age scan is to give you proof that there is question of the accuracy of your child’s age. A visit to the dentist is also common for more information to access age.
With the evidence in hand, you can now petition the court to have the child’s birthdate changed legally. Usually this involves appearing before a judge. The process can vary by state, so you will need to find out what is required where you live. If you are in a state where re-adoption is done, changing the birthdate can often be done at the same time so that the state issued birth certificate reflects the new age. Be aware that after your child’s age is legally changed through the state, the Certificate of Citizenship will now be incorrect. You will need to file paperwork and pay a fee to have a new one issued.
Considerations When Making the Decision
Why would you want to make your child younger? There can be advantages to changing your child’s birthdate to give them a younger age. Children from institutional care are usually behind developmentally. Malnutrition or health conditions could make them correspondingly small in stature for their age. Changing to a younger age will help a child not be as far behind their peers or to have extra time to catch up. If you adopt a child who is 5 on paper but 2 developmentally, changing to a legal age of two will not only mean he doesn’t have to start kindergarten right away but will also allow him to qualify for additional services under Early Intervention. At the same time, a negative to making your child a younger age could be that that he or she is now normally developing compared to the peers of their new age, so no longer qualifies for needed services.
Jen brought home her daughter at age 6. While her daughter’s listed special need was a minor one, she came from an orphanage where care was poor and malnutrition was common. A bone age scan found her age to be 3 years younger than her chronological age due to malnutrition. Jen and her husband seriously considered changing her daughter’s age. They consulted with several medical professionals and therapists as they considered this option. However, if they lowered her age, she would no longer qualify for services she needed at her new age because she would then be typically developing. There was also no guarantee that she would qualify for a special needs preschool program at a lower age. They decided to leave her age as it is for now. In their state, there is no statute of limitations on filing for a change of age. If she is still behind in a year, they can change her age at that time to give her another year in kindergarten.
Questions to Consider:
- Do you feel your child’s physical and developmental delays are likely to be long term?
- Have you given your child some time to catch up and give you a good idea of their rate of development?
- Would your child qualify for additional services to help their development at the younger age?
- What are the benefits to changing your child’s age right now versus waiting?
- If your child is older, how do they feel about the age change? It can be difficult for a school aged child to move back a grade or more and lose their peers. You will need to find ways to make sure the child does not feel that he or she is failing in some way.
- How would the puberty impact your child’s new age?
- Some adult adoptees feel that they are stripped of almost everything through international adoption. While most children adopted from China will come with an assigned birthdate rather than their true date of birth, carefully consider whether your child might one day feel that even their birthdate was taken from them. Be certain that your reasons for wanting to change the birthdate are serious and will be overwhelmingly beneficial to your child.
Brooke, an experienced adoptive parent, has changed the age of three of her children and will likely be changing the age of another child who was adopted recently. She wrote that there were serious doubts about the accuracy of the birth dates of the first two, who were adopted internationally, but not from China. The third child had an accurate birthdate but was extremely delayed, both physically and developmentally, because of malnutrition. She says “As he grew, we would tell people that he was 12 months younger, because that is really where he was developmentally. He qualified for therapy because of his delays, but if we saw him as 12 months younger, he was pretty close to right on for development. When we readopted at the court, we rolled him back exactly a year, so he just turned 3. I changed HIS age to buy him time. There is no way that little boy is on par with others who just turned 4, instead I bought him grace to be little, and grow on a normal schedule.”
Brooke went on to counsel parents who might be considering an age change for their child. “It has made a huge difference in our children’s lives. It’s not about it being an “estimate” assigned by the orphanage. MOST of our children in the adoption world will get estimated birthdays. MOST kiddos will be delayed in some way. I think you have to consider it an extreme need to change, not willy nilly. It wasn’t done by us for convenience, or because we didn’t like it or like the story of how it was chosen. Some thing in adoption we just have to go with. We did it to best serve our kids. To give them a fighting chance. But we also didn’t do it for others who we felt like could be ok where they were, only for those who really needed a greater amount of help.”