Adopting an 'older' child isn't the second best option

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The Independent Online

Many children needing adoption are not babies or toddlers, but school-age children who may have lived for some years with one or both of their parents or another family member, or they may have had to move in and out of foster homes. The average age a child is adopted in England is four years and two months. The sad reality is that as children get older it becomes increasingly difficult to find adoptive families for them.

Some of these children will have suffered neglect or abuse and all have had the trauma of being separated from their birth families. The damage caused by chaotic or difficult early experiences can last for a long time. Children learn not to rely on adults who are going to disappear from their lives, so they may find it difficult to become attached to a new family and act up in an effort to get the attention they have been missing.

However, in a loving, secure home most of these children can thrive when they realise that they really are part of the family. Children considered to be "older" - which can be anything from the age of three or four upwards - need resilient parents who can help them come to terms with the past.

There are some children who have been so hurt by their past that they will go on needing extra support throughout their childhood. If you choose to adopt a child who has particular ongoing needs, you should talk to the adoption agency beforehand about arrangements for them to have any special help they may continue to need.

Adopting an older child is isn't always easy but as many adoptive parents will tell you, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. As one adoptive mum put it: "People go for cute babies who they think will become 'theirs' so they'll never have to worry about dealing with their origins. So, the older children get left behind. When you consider adoption, it's important to look behind the labels that get attached to children. At the core of it all is a child who is desperate for someone to love them. Once they get that, the rest comes together. Take a look beyond those labels, and you'll probably find a beautiful, wonderful child you can love and help to grow into a healthy, wholesome human being."

National Adoption Week

The British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) is using the 10th anniversary of National Adoption Week to remind people that there is still a shortage of permanent families for some children in care.

There are over 4,000 children across the UK needing adoption every year. The annual UK-wide campaign, organised by BAAF, aims to raise awareness of adoption and encourage potential parents to come forward. Adoption agencies are particularly looking for families for older children, groups of brothers and sisters, children from black, Asian and dual heritage backgrounds and children whose development may be delayed or uncertain.

David Holmes, chief executive of BAAF, said, "We know many people would like to offer a loving and permanent home to a child or children, but never take the next step. This may be because they think the process is too gruelling or because they're single or over 40 and think they'll automatically be turned down. In reality, we need people from across the community to come forward. It is true that the process is rigorous, but we want to reassure people that we're here to help. Roughly nine out of 10 people who go through the assessment are approved to adopt.

"Most of the children who come into public care go home within weeks. But it is a sad fact that some children are simply unable to return to their birth family, because of neglect, abuse or perhaps just because their parents are unable to cope with being a parent. Some of them have had traumatic experiences, and it's crucial that loving and permanent families are found for them."

Daisy Oclee is the media manager for the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF). For more information on adoption, visit www.nationaladoptionweek.org.uk

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