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Birth children and adoption

Adopting with birth children introduces a whole range of extra issues, particularly relating to the impact the adoption may have on the existing children.

Families with both adoptive and birth children may have been a rarity in the past, but are increasingly common.

Often agencies require an age gap of at least two years between the youngest child in your family and an adopted or permanently fostered child. This is so that parents can meet each child's individual needs, and to minimise their desire to compete for your attention.

Research suggests a placement is more likely to work out if the child or children joining the family are not too close in age to the child or children already there. It is more common for the adopted child to be the youngest in the family when they are placed, although this can vary depending on individual families' circumstances.

Valuable experience

One adoption agency says: "We particularly welcome people who have raised their own children. This experience can often make them ideal adopters for older children or those with special needs."

However, another says that "experience of parenting can be an advantage, but bear in mind that adoptive parenting is very different.

"Think about the ages of your existing children. What would be the impact on them of a demanding child who needs a lot of your time and love?"

A decision the whole family should be part of

Before beginning the process, prospective adopters should discuss their plans with the whole family and ensure that everyone is committed. Adopting with birth children, like any adoption, is rarely straightforward. It can have huge advantages but can also present enormous challenges.

Emotional challenges

Before the new child arrives, many families wonder how much to tell their birth child and when – not wanting to subject them to the painful waiting process unless absolutely necessary. And once they are in placement, there can be all manner of problems thrown up, as the new child brings a whole host of changes in the atmosphere and relationships of his or her new family.

The household dynamic of the family will change - the child who was the youngest may have to adjust to their new position where they are no longer the 'baby' of the family. This can result in behavioural problems, such as aggression, directed to the new child.

As well as the usual sibling problems of children unwilling to share their parents' attention, fighting over toys and showing other forms of rivalry, birth children can have their previously calm and stable worlds turned upside down by the family's new arrival.

Birth children may worry their new sibling will get all their parents' attention and may express this through misbehaving. They may also test the household rules to see if the upheavals mean they can get away with things they could not in the past.

Their confusion at adjusting to their new home and family, combined with the effects of previous traumatic experiences and potential behavioural or attachment issues can result in confusing and difficult to deal with behaviour, for both parents and existing children in the family.

Tips

Our forum users have come up with several suggestions for helping birth children cope with their new adopted sibling, based on their own experiences:

  • Before your new son/daughter moves in display a photo of them and say “Hello” and “Goodnight” in the morning and evening.
  • Encourage birth children to prepare for the arrival of their new sibling(s) through buying gifts and arranging the bedroom.
  • Give birth children time with you without the new child – e.g. put the youngest child to bed early to play games, read or talk with older children.
  • Let children keep their own things private and separate, with rules about privacy in bedrooms.
  • Give each child reassurance and one-to-one time with the family’s adults.
  • Ask older children what annoys them about their new sibling and work on that behaviour, showing the children’s concerns are taken seriously.
  • Set a good routine.
  • Keep control of your own emotions, even when pushed to the limit and do not react with anger or lectures - the child may switch off.
  • Vent your feelings as often as possible so the tension does not build up, but away from the children.
  • Accept any counselling available to you.
  • Read up on attachment disorder