Considering an Older Child?

There are so many questions you may have when considering adopting older children. Adopting an older child? Can I do that, am I capable? Won’t that be hard? Will I be able to help my older child work through issues, won’t they have more issues to work through? Will they be able to bond to our family? And the list goes on…

It’s true, adopting an older child may not be suited for every family. There are definitely different dynamics to consider when adopting an older child. The truth is older children need exactly what anyone else needs and you don’t have to be a super-family to do it! We all need many of the same things, don’t we? A family to love us. A place to call home. The security of knowing we are loved by our family. Someone to support us and help us work through our struggles. Somewhere we belong?

Below you can read testimonials written by real families like you and their experience adopting older children. If you would like to share your story on our website, please contact our offices.



I remember the email clearly.  It read, Laura, how set are you on the age requirements on your application.  I had put down that I would like to adopt a child between the ages of one to five years old.  I immediately called and spoke to my agency.  They had a little girl that was referred to another family but the family declined the referral.  She was seven years old.  I requested her file, paid the referral fee, and made plans to bring my girl home.  I jumped through endless hoops to get the paperwork redone, updated home study, USCIS documents etc…

I kicked myself for putting my original age between one and five; my thoughts at the time were that it would make the transition easier on the child.  Starting school in kindergarten, learning the language, attachment etc.   In reality none of those things really mattered, she could learn, she could adjust, I could and would work for attachment and bonding, I would not say No to this child, I would fight for this older child, she deserved a chance, just as the younger ones do.  She needed someone to love her, protect her, and accept her, just as the younger ones do. 

If I had to describe my daughter in one word, I would choose amazing.  So many adjectives fit though: brave, strong, fearless, smart, funny, and determined.

She has brought joy to my world and yes, there have been some issues, but older biological children have issues too. 

She was shy when she first arrived, scared of all the changes.  The first decision I made was to keep her name.  She had lost her family, country, language, diet, friends etc. I was not going to take away her identity.  We took it slow, and I stayed away from adoption blogs, books, and friend’s advice.  I focused on her and allowed our relationship to grow without any background noise.  I learned some basic Amharic words (her language) and we watched Amharic videos on YouTube, found an Amharic music app and an excellent Ethiopian restaurant whose staff speaks her language.  I allowed her to hang on to her past while introducing her to her future, I believe that method is effective and I know it worked wonders in our situation.

The Good:

She has embraced her new life; she fills the house with laughter.  She loves me and bonded quickly. She is open to new experiences and seldom cries.  She understands adoption and we talk openly about her past and her Ethiopian family.  Acknowledging reality and allowing the conversation has minimized her grief.  She has brought her infectious joy of life into my world and every day is a new discovery.

The Bad:

She has some abandonment issues, gets agitated if she thinks I am upset with her.  Still concerned that I may give her up if she misbehaves.  Like any other normal child, she has tested boundaries.  Trying to stay up past bedtime.  Sneaking candy etc. nothing major.  She came to me with ringworm, painfully decayed teeth and malnourished.  Medication cleared the ringworm, expensive oral surgery corrected her teeth, and a careful diet (including some Ethiopian dishes) has put the malnutrition behind us. 

 The Ugly:

She does not display temper tantrums or crying fits, but when testing boundaries she can ramp up quickly from being sugary sweet to what I call strong willed.  Her tone and attitude have bordered on attempted intimidation.  She loses these battles quickly as well as privileges and favorite toys and these incidents are becoming few and far between, as her trust develops and she learns that the boundaries are firm.

I like to say my girl is a strategic thinker.  It sounds better than my girl can spin a whopper of a lie.  Her lies are not malicious, just self-serving.  She is slowly learning that they are unnecessary lies, but it is a slow process of reversing learned behavior.    The trick is to change her behavior without diminishing her spirit.  

The truth is that many older children have had to manipulate, lie to get their needs met, and these behaviors do not just disappear once they hop on a plane.   I know all children do this to some degree, (I have another child), but she takes it to a completely new level.  She is so good at it that for a while I was clueless.  I learned quickly to verify and will continue to do so until she gets past this.  My advice is to stop the whole, “give them time to adjust before you discipline” theory and hold them accountable for behavior as soon as they arrive.  It is easier to learn the rules if they are consistent.

 In regards to adopting an older child, the good definitely outweighs the bad. 

While I see my girl struggle through the challenges of homework, mastering a new language, making new friends, trying new foods, and focusing on pleasing me, I know without a doubt, her struggles and adjustments make mine seem minor in comparison. This journey with an older child is filled with challenges and joys for both of us-but without a doubt, I am the winner in this scenario!

My beautiful daughter has been home for 9 months now; she is in the second grade and very popular she makes friends wherever she goes and loves her dance class.   She has transitioned well, bonded quickly, and is mastering English. 

The best decision I have made in my life is to adopt an older child. 

-April 2013



One of the reasons we decided to adopt older children is because our children at home were between the ages of 6 and 19.  We were already “doing” those ages, and felt like we had space in our hearts and in our home for more.  We were trying to adopt two girls, and were matched with a 7 year old, and then later with a 12 year old precious girl who had been on the waiting list for years.  At first, when we were given the opportunity to accept our 12 year old’s referral, we hadn’t been to Ethiopia yet.  We were pretty scared about adopting this older girl, and put off our decision.  We went to Ethiopia to meet with our 7 year old and go to court, and while we were there, we met several older children who were matched with families and waiting for them to arrive.  That is when our hearts changed within us.  We looked at those sweet children, who had so much to give, and we knew that we wanted to accept a second referral.  The other part of this decision is that before we went to Ethiopia, we didn’t understand anything about the director, or the process that happens within Ethiopia.  But after spending time with Woudneh, and the orphanages that the children are in, and seeing how hard the people “on the ground” work to advocate for the children, we trusted them.  We knew that they had genuine concern for the children and the families that they are placed with.  We knew West Sands would honestly match us with a child that they felt would work well with and thrive in our family. 

We didn’t meet our 12 year old daughter until months later, when we went to our Embassy appointment for our 7 year old.  I was so nervous; I could barely sleep the days before I met her.  But when I saw her, and talked to her, I felt all of the fear and worries leave me.  My husband sat next to her as we talked.  I was constantly amazed throughout our trip as I saw him do things I never imagined him, or us, doing. When I looked over at him as we talked to Hanan, I couldn’t believe he was there, sitting on a ledge in a courtyard in a city of millions of people, in Ethiopia, accepting a perfectly wonderful stranger as his daughter.

She is not home yet, but we wait, somewhat patiently, for the process to finish, so we can go and get our beautiful girl and bring her home.

Adopting an older child is not a simple thing.  Our 7 year old daughter began her time at home, perhaps feeling like she was on a honeymoon.  But once the initial newness wore off, we saw a lot of anger erupt from her.  We realized pretty quickly that she was suffering from her losses, and in the beginning, she would cry about half of every day.  In many ways, it was similar to having a new born, while we responded quickly to try to meet her needs.  She has been home for almost 4 months now, and I’m so proud of the hard work that she has done.  I have met with a counselor to get help in knowing how to deal with the difficult things that still come up as she adjusts. She will likely start counseling, too.  We love our girl.  We have been entrusted with her life, and she is enriching ours.

Anyone who is adding to their family, whether it be a very young child, or an older child, knows that there is effort involved in raising a child.  An older child who has been waiting has the same needs for a family and home as any child.  The rewards are immeasurable as you open your home and your lives to these amazing children.  Many times people have told me how lucky our girls are that we have brought (and are bringing) them to our family.  Maybe you could look at it like that.  But I feel that we are the lucky ones.  We get to have these amazing girls become part of our family.  I think they will bless us far more than we could ever bless them.

– May 2013


Hawi’s Adoption Story:

Because my husband and I had four daughters, we often joked that the only way we were going to get a boy was by adopting one! It was always in the back of our minds, but never really thought we’d act on it. In April 2012, we heard a church conference where several of the talks seemed to point that adoption was maybe something we should take seriously. After a few weeks of prayer and fasting, we felt like we should contact West Sand’s Adoptions. It wasn’t long before we were doing paperwork and our home study for an Ethiopian adoption. Our plan was to get a sibling group of two young children, no older than 5 years old at the most! We didn’t want any child older than that. We thought that it would just be too hard to deal with all the “baggage” that older kids come with.We were excited for the plan that we thought we had set in motion and anxiously awaited until the day our referral came. Then one day, it all changed.

I had occasionally seen West Sand’s post a “waiting child” list and had seen kids who were paper- ready and just waiting for families before, but didn’t pay too much attention to it. Until one day. I’ll never forget the sentence that I read, “ sweet, smart fourteen year old girl is looking for her forever family…..”. It immediately grabbed my attention. I tried to go on about my daily household chores and routine, but that sentence haunted me until at one point I was sobbing uncontrollably! I could not get the thought of her out of my head. When I called my husband at work to tell him about it, I was hoping he would tell me all the rational reasons that we shouldn’t consider adopting such an older child. However, he instead quietly listened to me then said, “I think we need to ask for her file and find out more about her.” He had felt it too! Within a couple days we had tried to dig up as much information as we could about her from West Sands as well as Lifeline and anyone else who may have met her at the orphanage. It wasn’t a lot, but the more information we gathered, the more we knew how special this girl was. The battle between my head and my heart was so strong! When we finally told West Sand’s that we would take her, we felt an undeniable calmness and peace in knowing she was meant to be with our family.

The process after that went fairly quickly and by November 2012 we went to meet her in Ethiopia and went to court. By the end of January 2013, she was home. It has now been eight months since she arrived in our home and in America. It has been an interesting year, as any adoption would be, as you try to blend their life with yours. We learned quickly that she is a typical teenager who likes to text her friends, wear weird clothing, stay up late and sleep in late! She has struggled with the trauma of her past while still trying to look forward to her future. All in all, with the ups and downs of this busy transition time, we still can’t deny those feelings that we had early on. She is undoubtebly an incredible young woman who is beautiful, and smart, and so good. She was so deserving of a family and a life that she never would have had otherwise. We now have five daughters, and we are so happy our Hawi is a part of our lives forever! 

-September 2013


I have called you by name; you are mine…3 months home:
We started the adoption process almost 2 years ago. During the grueling and difficult wait, in between the paperwork and fundraising, often bathed in tears we did the only thing we could do, we prayed. We prayed before there was a name, or a story, or a little girl. We prayed that whoever this child was that God was protecting them, preparing them for their new life and family. Oh how we prayed that this little person would know the love of their father, and that they would have hope and peace and comfort. God has answered all of those prayers…and even though if you would have told me 6 months ago that “God’s timing is perfect and He has a plan in the waiting”, I would have rolled my eyes and walked away, I know now how true it is. All that time was not wasted, we prayed, and God was busy working all things together for our good, and ultimately for His glory. Our daughter is the sweetest gift and such a blessing to our lives.

She has been home for a little over 3 months now, yet it seems like a day hasn’t gone by that she hasn’t been in our family. I’ll be honest, adopting a 7 year old can be scary, and I had doubts. I heard difficult stories surrounding the adoption of an older child, especially a child who is sick. But my God is a redeeming God, and although we missed out on 7 years of her life, we feel like she has been with us all this time. After spending 15 days with her in Ethiopia, I had no idea what life at home would be like. And again I prayed. My biggest concern was that she wouldn’t bond with my husband, and my heart filled with immeasurable joy when she spotted him in the airport, ran full force towards her daddy, and jumped in his arms!

After traveling for over 24 hours, we were home. We walked in and gave her a little tour of the house. She asked about her room and we walked her upstairs and showed her her room. She looked around, smiled, and jumped into bed. She slept until 7:30 the next morning. Towards the middle of January I think I finally let out the breath I had been holding in, and I accepted that we weren’t in a “honeymoon” stage, she is just like that. She just goes with the flow with a smile on her face and joy in her little heart.

I started homeschooling the first of January, and we are flying through kindergarten. She started reading last week, and read this first page of a book on her own a couple of days ago. We will probably start first grade in the spring and through the summer so she will be caught up and ready for second grade in the fall. Homeschooling is the biggest challenge we have had with her. She is so smart. She came to America knowing the words, “mom” and “dad” and 3 months later is reading in English and adding numbers. But because she is smart, she is defiant with school. It is the only time she is really defiant, but we are slowing working through discovering what works best for her and for me. I love, love, love My Father’s World curriculum, and have had the opportunity to share the gospel with my daughter 3 times now through school. It is so amazing and encouraging to see her confidant in God’s love for her.

When we aren’t working on school she loves to dance and listen to music! She is really into Micheal Jackson right now. She is a pretty active kid, but occasionally she likes to snuggle on the couch with her mama and a baby doll and read a book. She is very into running right now, and likes putting her running clothes on and getting on the treadmill. She is running a little children’s marathon (a mile) in April, and she is really excited!) She is so funny and she is constantly making us laugh (which is usually followed by an eye-roll and a sigh from her because she doesn’t know why we are laughing at her). She has the cutest voice on all the planet and we love to hear her talk and sing.

She has bonded with us pretty easily. There were a few trust issues to work through in the beginning, but it didn’t last long. She is very open with us about her memories in Ethiopia, and shares things at random. I cherish hearing about her biological mom, and seeing the smile on her face when she talks about her. She must have been a pretty special mama, and I am so happy that she had a good relationship with her birth mother. Sometimes we struggle to put the pieces together between what our daughter tells us and what her aunt had told us in Ethiopia…But for the most part what she tells us lines up with what we were told. And we treasure that she is comfortable enough with us to talk about even some of the tougher things, like memories of her mom being sick. It breaks my heart to think about everything she has been through in her short little life, and I pray constantly for strength and guidance on guarding those feelings and memories.

We have been working through her health issues, and had some struggles at first. It was really discouraging to me, and difficult as a mom to stand by unable to do much about what she was going through. Except again, pray, and again watching as God answered those prayers in ways I never imagined! She is doing great, and is as healthy as anyone else right now, praise God. My husband and I both noticed how her skin has been glowing and dark lately, skin that was once green and pale. God has redeemed her life in so many ways, and it humbles me to be able to be a part of her story.

My Sweet Daughter,
I often stare at your sweet face and look into your captivating eyes, and I wonder, how do I deserve such a gift as you? In this past three months, you have brought so much joy and life into our home and family. Mommy and Daddy couldn’t imagine life without you. We are so thankful that through the ashes in your life, God has planted a beautiful rose…And you a blooming into such an amazing person. I know that God has answered so many of our prayers, and when your snuggling up next to me and you tell me that you prayed for a mommy and a daddy, I know that God has answered your prayers as well. The prayers of a child whose life was wrecked by sin and death in sub-Sahara Africa. A child who longed for a chance to live and to know love. God truly has redeemed. And as He redeemed your life, He has redeemed all of our lives through the blood and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Truly now, each one of us who believe, get to live and know love for all of eternity. There is no sweeter gift. We love you sweet girl, more than you will ever know!

-February 2014


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