When choosing to add to your family via adoption, you do not necessarily have to adopt a newborn. If you are a person who isn’t a fan of the “baby” stage, or if you have been waiting for a while to adopt, consider adopting a toddler.
If you are interested in adopting a toddler, a foster care adoption might be the best option for you to consider. Most children who are awaiting adoption in foster care are older children or sibling groups. If you are open to adopting a toddler or sibling group, there are many who are waiting and available right now.
While the median age of children in foster care is around the age of 8, there are still younger children waiting and available for adoption. You may find that many of the younger children who are awaiting adoption may have medical, emotional, or other special needs. Most foster care adoptions are considered “special needs” simply because being in foster care means they have experienced some trauma in their lives. Even seemingly healthy children in the foster care system will be considered special needs based on their involvement in foster care, and their potential to have emotional needs that are greater than a child who has not experienced early childhood trauma.
When a child is adopted as a toddler, it may be difficult to assess their needs. In some cases, toddler behavior mimics the behavior of emotionally distressed children or those who may have mental health needs. It may not be apparent that the child has special needs until they are a bit older. This is something that ought to be considered when considering adopting a toddler. Because they are still fairly young, and may not be able to communicate well, behavioral challenges or emotional needs may not be known at the time of adoption.
When adopting from foster care, many children qualify to receive an adoption subsidy after the adoption is finalized. The subsidy is meant to help aide the parents of children who are adopted from foster care with expenses that may be related to their special needs. The subsidy is not based on family income, but rather on the needs of the child. When adopting a young child, such as a toddler, the needs may not be able to be properly assessed.
If, as the child grows older, a child has more needs than previously realized, it is possible to ask for a review of the subsidy agreement and have it changed to help meet the current needs of the child as they mature.
While I want to be very clear that some toddlers may have special needs that are unknown due to age, I do not want to discourage you from considering adopting toddlers.
When adopting from foster care, most states require that a child resides in your home for a minimum time frame (often six months) to ensure that the family and child are a good match for permanency. During this time, you will be able to decide if you feel the placement is a good fit for your family, and whether you are prepared to commit to adoption.
What are some benefits of adopting a toddler?
The child will not need expensive diapers! A toddler will be potty trained, or at least almost ready to be potty trained. We all know diapers are expensive. If you take in a toddler, their time in diapers is shortened, if not over.
Toddlers communicate their needs. They may not always communicate clearly, but they are learning to communicate. While language is still developing at this age, a toddler can do a reasonable job of communicating what they want or need.
Toddlers are beginning to learn to do things on their own. They begin to learn to dress, how to put on their shoes, and they can feed themselves.
Babies are very dependent on parents for everything. Not only must you change their diapers, and soothe them when they are upset, but you must also spoon-feed them their meals, as well as clean them up. An infant cannot communicate their needs except through crying when they need or want something.
A toddler, while still dependent on you, is able to point to communicate, and is beginning to speak as well. Their language is developing, and communication is easier. While crying and tantrums are the norms at this age, they are not the only way that a toddler gets attention.
Toddlers are also learning to play independently. This means you are not the only thing that will entertain the child. Young children are learning to use their imaginations, and learning to play with toys themselves. The variety of toys available for this age is remarkable. Playing is a way for children to learn, and is a very important part of their development.
Toddlers are able to walk on their own (even if not always the most stable in balance). This is helpful because you no longer need to carry the child everywhere you go. It makes household chores easier, and running errands easier. While you may still have to slow your pace to accommodate your toddler, you no longer have to struggle to carry them while carrying your groceries too!
While the toddler years may have challenges, they certainly have some advantages too! Take a look at the milestones for toddlerhood. There are numerous physical as well as emotional milestones that toddlers will learn to develop between the ages of 1 and 3 years old. From walking to jumping, to learning language, reading, and understanding their emotions, a toddler is going through a tremendous amount of growth during these years of life.
If the idea of adopting a child that is already a toddler excites you, consider foster care and adoption, with the option of adopting a child who has entered toddlerhood.
Most domestic adoptions are limited to newborn adoptions. Typically, the adoption of older children, ages toddler through teens, is done through foster care adoption, or sometimes international adoption.
If you are considering international adoption, while you may start the process of adoption when the child is an infant, there are times when the adoption process can take a year or more to complete. During this time, the child remains in the country in which they were born, and any visits you have with them, when allowed, will be at your own expense. Some international adoptions require you to spend a certain amount of time in the country of origin prior to adoption approval. In these situations, you may have to cover the expenses of an extended stay in this country, including but not limited to food, lodging, transportation (to the country, as well as travel within the country), and passports. There is also a higher cost in regards to agency fees when considering international adoption. While foster care adoption is relatively inexpensive, international adoption will cost, on average, between $30,000 to $50,000 dollars. However, despite the financial commitment, if you are interested in adopting a child internationally, you can pursue infant or older child adoption. If you are hoping to adopt a toddler, you can specify that on your paperwork.
Additionally, be aware that while you may begin the process when the child is small, this process can take some time to complete. This is true for foster care adoption as well. The difference, when thinking about timeframes, is that in foster care adoption, the child is able to reside with you until the adoption is finalized. In an international adoption, the child stays in his or her country until the adoption is finalized. This is a very important difference to consider.
When considering adopting a toddler, being prepared for potential attachment issues is important. While many believe that consistency and a loving home will be enough to overcome any trauma a toddler may have experienced prior to adoption, that is simply untrue. You cannot love away a child’s trauma. Love can help with healing, that is true. But the trauma will always be with the child, even if the child does not consciously remember it. When a child experiences early childhood trauma, their brain will develop differently than a child who has not experienced trauma. Losing a primary caregiver and being placed for adoption as a toddler is definitely a trauma. In addition, other trauma may have occurred, including abuse, neglect, being born with a dependency on drugs, and living with unexpected situations. These types of things in a toddler will result in early childhood trauma that can affect their brain development, and that can cause lifelong struggles.
While some toddlers may be able to attach and bond quickly to a new family, others may not. There is no standard time frame for bonding when it comes to toddlers. Not only is bonding made more difficult based on trauma, but the age and toddler milestones also make bonding a bit more difficult. A toddler is supposed to be gaining some independence at this age. Thus, a toddler who is adopted during these formative years may resist bonding in favor of independence. A parent may misread natural independence and not provide the child with physical bonding moments that will help heal their traumatic pasts. Allowing too much independence may actually hinder the bonding and attachment process. However, because a toddler is at the age of discovering themselves, they may prefer independence. This is a very tricky time for bonding and attachment and may be one of the hardest aspects of adopting a toddler. Trying to find the balance of allowing them to meet milestones, while also providing them the proper tools to bond and attach to their new surroundings.
If you are interested in pursuing adopting a toddler, you may want to research attachment issues and trauma-informed parenting styles. Being knowledgeable in these areas will help you to properly parent your toddler. There are some specific strategies that help toddlers to develop trust and independence while acknowledging their early trauma.
Again, just because a child does not consciously remember their trauma, it does not mean they are healed from it.
I can recall a toddler placement that suffered severe abandonment issues. This child could not function if an adult put on their shoes prior to getting the toddler’s shoes on when leaving the house. If the child saw an adult in shoes, they would completely crumble, and a meltdown of emotion would ensue. This child was inconsolable until the adult removed their shoes, and placed the child’s shoes on first. The child needed to understand that they were not being left behind. For them, having shoes on and being ready to go ahead of the adult was security for them that they were leaving together, and that they were not being left alone. Shoes were a trigger for this toddler.
Because of their age, this toddler could not actually remember being alone. However, they knew to be terrified of the idea of abandonment and to be triggered when someone started to get ready to leave the home. They needed the reassurance that they were included.
If you have researched trauma parenting, you may be able to recognize the triggers in your toddlers and be able to work through these moments in a healthier, healing way. Rather than allowing this toddler to have repeated meltdowns and thinking that the child just hated getting ready to leave the house, this behavior was recognized as a traumatic trigger and could be avoided by placing the child’s shoes on first.
While adopting a toddler may have some advantages, being sure to acknowledge the time prior to being placed with you will be important in having a successful parent and child relationship.
If adopting a toddler is something you would like to pursue, I encourage you to seek out research and parenting strategies for attachment and bonding. While many assume that bonding is automatic with infants and toddlers, it is actually something that may take work.
Find your adoption community—those who can support you on your journey.