Adopting a toddler

What to Know When Adopting a Toddler

Prospective parents rarely come to the decision to adopt a toddler without a great deal of thought and introspection. Whether opting for a child beyond infancy was always the plan, or it has become the alternative after the heartache of not matching with an infant, families opening their arms to a toddler are entering a unique experience full of challenges and blessings.

As you consider adopting a toddler into your family, we invite you to begin by learning more about how toddler adoption is different from infant adoption, how to get started in the adoption process, and how to prepare your child for the transition.

Adopting a Toddler: How is it Different from Infant Adoption?

The key difference between termination of parental rights in infant versus toddler adoption is typically the parents’ choice in the matter. With infants, birth parents usually make an affirmative choice to place their child for adoption at or shortly after birth. Those children are almost always already matched with a family or will be very quickly.

Toddlers become available for adoption through more complicated circumstances. In some cases, the birth parents are deceased. It is more common, however, that the child is removed from the birth parents due to abuse, neglect, or incarceration. While the parents may voluntarily terminate their rights, it can also be done by court order. Toddlers may be placed with family or in foster care while they wait to be adopted.

Unfortunately, toddlers available for adoption have most likely experienced trauma and may have difficulty adjusting to a new life. It will take time, patience, and maybe some outside help to settle into family life.

Adopting a Toddler: How Do We Get Started?

If you have been working with an adoption agency on infant adoption and wish to make the shift to adopting a child beyond infancy, mention this change to your caseworker. At Haven Adoptions, we are licensed to place children of all ages and can assist you with your next steps. This should be the case with any adoption agency you choose. There are also state resources, such as the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN), where you can learn more about becoming an adoptive or foster parent.

Most children who become available for adoption have already been placed in the foster system prior to the termination of parental rights. If you are considering becoming a foster parent in hopes of meeting the child you will adopt, keep in mind that the first goal of foster care is family reunification. You may be fostering children who will eventually return to their parents. Take time to speak to both foster parents and adoptive parents who previously fostered to make sure you fully understand how it works before committing to this path.


Adopting a Toddler: How Do We Make a Smooth Transition?

While you are beyond excited to start your family’s new journey with your adopted child, the transition will take time. Remember, your child has memories of their mother, does not understand what is happening, and may have experienced trauma. Your child has already been through a great deal in a short time. Your first job as the parent is to bring your child into a safe and loving home at a comfortable pace.

Time and familiarity will be vital in your child’s transition. Meet with your child often in their foster home, and give them ample time to warm up to you at each meeting. Plan activities outside the home with the child and foster family, and then have the foster parents begin bringing the child to your home for day trips. It may take several weeks for the child to form new attachments and process the end of other attachments. Use age-appropriate language to explain the changes to your child, but remember that most of the process will be experiential.

It is to be expected that your child will have stumbling blocks in acclimating to your home. We recommend joining an adoptive parent support group where you can learn from other parents and have a sounding board to share frustrations. Your child may also benefit from counseling to resolve trauma.

Adopting a toddler comes with many challenges and should not be entered into lightly. But expanding your family to include a child in need of your love and care may be the most rewarding decision of your life. Haven Adoptions is a licensed adoption agency in Pennsylvania, and we would love to partner with you on your adoption journey. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help your family.


About the Author

Kelly Weidner is a co-founder of Haven Adoptions, Inc., and is a a well respected advocate in the adoption community. In that time, she has lead Haven Adoptions in connecting countless children with loving homes. Kelly is a member of the National Association for Professional Women, on the Executive Committee of the Our Lady of Mercy Board of Jurisdiction and lives in Ambler, PA with her three children.
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