Adoption Voices

I’ve been asked a lot recently how I feel about the growing number of adoption pleas we see for kids who are almost turning 14 and aging out of the international adoption process. Some people have written me
that they feel it is wrong to make a child start over at age 13 or 14, having
to learn a new language and not really understanding what it means to live in a
family. Many have expressed concern that the kids will be leaving the
friends they have had their whole lives, while of course others spread the news
far and wide that a child is about ready to age out, wanting to help them find
a permanent home.

After working with teens in China for the last 7 years, I advocate for older child adoption for many reasons. While it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations since every orphanage is different, here are some of
my reasons for believing every child, regardless of age, deserves a chance at a
family to love them:

1) Many people do not realize the deep and ingrained stigma that an orphaned child often faces in Chinese society.
Orphans are often felt to be unlucky or even “cursed,” and so they often have
many strikes against them when it comes time to go to school or find a
job. There are many different levels of schools in China; many orphaned
children are only able to attend the lowest level schools, as parents who are
paying higher fees for the better schools don’t want their children to have to
attend with “unlucky” orphans. Education is so important in Chinese
society, and parents often push their children to try harder and work longer on
their homework. Orphaned children rarely have anyone pushing them or
encouraging them, and so we frequently work with young teens who only have
rudimentary educations and who have trouble believing their lives will ever be
better. The few dozen children in orphanages whom we have been
honored to sponsor for college are the exception. To actually make it to
university as an orphaned child is a true achievement. And even
after graduating, jobs are often very difficult to come by due to businesses
again not wanting to employ people who might bring bad luck to the
company. Many of you might remember the young lady we helped earn
an accounting degree in college a few years ago. She was unable to find a
job in her hometown because of her orphan status. She was finally hired
by the local government when no private company would agree to hire her.

2) Some people might ask how anyone would know you were an orphan after you left the institution. Couldn’t you just keep it
quiet? There are several factors that make it hard to ever lose
your “orphan” status. The first is your hukou, the formal registration
status that every individual in China has. Your hukou is based in your
home city, and orphaned children often have a “group” hukou that clearly
identifies them as not having a family. In addition, in the past it was
very common for orphanages to use “created” surnames for the children in their
care. For example, many orphanages used the last name of “Fu,” which
directly implies an orphan, or else they used the first syllable of the town or
district, such as Shan or Mei. These “created” surnames often
immediately identify a child as not having a real family. Because of
this, and knowing the trouble that orphaned children often have assimilating
into Chinese society, the government has recently been giving children more
common last names, such as Li or Chang.

3) Almost everything in Chinese society revolves around the family, and great reverence is giving to one’s ancestors and lineage. During major holidays, if at all possible, you
return to your family. For orphaned
children who age out of the social welfare system, they often find life very
difficult with no family ties, and they frequently live on the margins of

4) Many people worry that the older children being adopted don’t really want to leave their home country. At least in the
orphanages where we work, the children are always asked, and, in many cases,
they have to pass a provincial interview before they can be registered for
adoption. Many provinces require the child to sign papers that they want
to be adopted. As a mom of teens myself, I really admire the kids
who find the courage to overcome their fears in order to have a chance at a
family, a real education, and a fresh start, but it does raise the question of
whether a 12 or 13 year old should be left on their own to make such a
life-impacting decision. I wouldn’t allow my 13 year old to decide their
entire future on their own, and so adoptive parents need to understand the
great fear and “cold feet” that can come on adoption day. We need
to remember that there are often cases where the older kids in orphanages who
have already aged out of adoption will tell the younger children scary stories
about foreign parents, since they were unable to have the same
opportunity. Aunties will often tell a child that they can never do
anything wrong or they will be returned. There is indeed deep pressure
put on children who agree to adoption at an older age to “be good,” and it is
understandable why there is so much anxiety, fear, and tears on adoption day
since very few aunties or children really have a clear understanding of what
life will be like for a child outside of China. One mom told me how
incredibly hard it was to see her new daughter crying on the phone to her
orphanage a few days post-adoption. She said it was easy to
think, “Am I really doing the right thing taking her away from all she has
known?” Many older kids have told me how scared they were to even consider
adoption, but the desire for a family is something that many of them carry
deeply in their hearts.

5) Another question that is frequently asked is why are we hearing about so many kids about ready to age out now when there were so
few over the last ten years? After speaking with dozens of orphanage
directors, it is clear that the majority of them truly believed that Westerners
only wanted babies to adopt, and I think for many years that was a fair
assumption, since many families put “as young as possible” on their home
studies. Many of us know people who even requested that they wanted
a 3-5 year old child and yet were referred a baby. Even in 2007 and 2008,
when LWB was conducting provincial trainings on special needs adoptions,
the audience, filled with aunties and directors, would shake their heads as if
they couldn’t believe us when we said people were willing to adopt children who
were 11, 12, and 13. Many orphanages would start out by agreeing to
submit paperwork on one or two older orphaned children, and then as they saw
those children be adopted, they would agree to send more files. The
CCAA also started new initiatives, matching agencies with orphanages to see if
families could be found for the older children. It has been a slow and
steady process for orphanages to realize that older children most definitely
can find families through the adoption process. It has been wonderful for
us at LWB to see the older children in the orphanages where we have worked for
five years or longer finally get a chance at a permanent home.

How do you feel about older child adoption? Have you ever considered it or have you personally adopted a child older than 10? LWB has several volunteers who have adopted teens who are more
than willing to discuss both pre- and post-adoption issues with families.
You can always contact us at
for more information!

Amy Eldridge

Executive Director

Love Without Boundaries Foundation

Views: 371


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Comment by michelle on March 12, 2010 at 4:52am
This is an issue I've pondering a lot lately. Thanks for provide this insight.
Comment by Marie Wright on March 3, 2010 at 12:21am
Thank you, Amy, it gave me some new things to discuss with my husband.



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