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Deciding Adoption Preferences: Age, Race/Ethnicity and Special Needs

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

The adoptive parents' decision as to where they will adopt may also be influenced by their preferences with regard to the characteristics they want in an adoptive child. Depending on adoptive parents' needs and desires, children can be selected for adoption based on age, sex, and racial and/or ethnic background. Children may be selected singly, or there may be siblings available that must be adopted as a unit.

Adoptions may be differentiated based on the age of the child being adopted. Infant/Toddler adoptions occur when the adopted child is days, weeks, months or (at a maximum) a few years old. In contrast, an Older Child adoption occurs when the child being adopted is school age or older (approximately 4-5 years of age). For some adoptive parents, infant adoption is the only choice they are willing to consider, as they want to raise their child from as close to birth as possible. Other parents feel that it is better to adopt an older child who, by virtue of his or her age, may not be as "adoptable" as are younger children.

Many parents desire to adopt a child that fits their own racial and ethnic background, believing that the child will better fit into the family and be exposed to appropriate "intended" cultural values (e.g., those the child would have learned from the birth parents if he or she had not been put up for adoption). Other parents take an opposite approach and specifically seek out children of different races and backgrounds to make their family more diverse.

Adoptive parents must also decide whether they are able and willing to handle an adoptive child who has special needs. In a special needs adoption, the child being adopted has serious medical and/or psychological conditions or is considered at risk for developing medical or psychological problems. Special needs children may possess a variety of potentially disabling conditions including mental retardation, blindness or deafness, or neurological damage secondary to the birth mother's use of drugs or alcohol during gestation, among others. Special needs children may have been conceived as the result of rape or incest, or may have been born to parents with a history of serious mental illness.

While some families feel they are prepared to deal with a child's special needs and can give that child a good life, others feel that they are not equipped financially or emotionally to handle the additional responsibilities a special needs adoption entails. It is far better for all concerned if adoptive parents are clear about what characteristics they desire and those they wish to avoid in an adoptive child, so that they will not be matched with someone who will disappoint or exhaust them.