Foster Care Adoptions When You’re (Way) Over 40 by Aliza Sherman

If you told me a few years ago that I’d be the mother of a teenage boy in middle age, I would have thought you were out of your mind.

I was the 38-year-old woman who miscarried four times before I had my daughter at 41. I was the woman who experienced a year of untreated post partum depression and can’t believe I survived. I was the woman who didn’t bond with my daughter for the first few years of her life.

“I want a baby brother,” my 9-year-old daughter told me for several years before I finally listened with my heart instead of my head.

“Well, maybe we can call an adoption agency and see what we’d have to do to get one,” I finally responded one day.


I called a local adoption agency, and after several attempts to get a call back, I finally heard from them, and we were on our way.


My husband, six years my senior, said he was on board adopting a child. We had discussed the idea for several years, particularly during miscarrying years. But it was my daughter and I who went on a fact finding mission to the adoption agency.

“Six and under,” I told our contact at the adoption agency.

“We have two boys who are ready to be adopted – seven and four. Brothers. Would you be interested in siblings?” the woman at the adoption agency asked.

I said I had to check with my husband. He said yes, he’d be open to siblings.

We started the paperwork for adopting out of the state foster care system. We chose adopting out of foster care because we knew there were so many local children in need of a loving home.

We chose to adopt rather than foster – something referred to as “foster-adopt,” because we knew we didn’t have the emotional fortitude to take a child into our homes and hearts then have them taken away and placed back with parents who were often abusers of drugs, children and each other. The parents of foster-adopt children in the state foster care system have already “relinquished” their parental rights so there was less risk of the child being taken away from us.

“Over 72% of the adoptions in this state don’t stick,” the woman at the adoption agency told us meaning that 72% of children adopted out of foster care in the state where we were living were actually returned to the state. That was the first of many distressing things we learned about children in foster care.


Adopting a child out of foster care involves a series of steps including in-person interviews at home, walk-thrus of the home, and preparation of the home to meet safety guidelines provided by the state. We were fingerprinted, subjected to background checks, and our family members, friends and colleagues were contacted to provide references for us.

Because we were looking to adopt a boy six or under, we were required to fence in our backyard pool or create a safety barrier of some kind, so we did. And because our daughter was an integral part of our lives, I insisted she be included in every aspect of the preparation process including being interviewed and attending meetings.

While we went through the process, we kept asking about the two brothers we were told about on our first meeting with the adoption agency. Eventually, we learned that they were not available for us to adopt. The elusive siblings were like carrots being dangled in front of a family hungry to expand. They were offered too soon, before we were licensed or eligible to adopt them, so we wouldn’t even be considered which felt a bit like an adoption bait and switch.


We started the licensing process in November of 2015 and were licensed by January of 2016. Our license to adopt came with an 18-month expiration date. We were to identify a foster child we wanted to adopt within that time period or we’d have to go through a licensing renewal process.

“Finding” a child to adopt was a confusing process involving searching websites and regularly calling the adoption agency to find out if any child in your “criteria” were coming available. Mostly, you sit and wait for a call.

When you’re interviewed, you make up your “want list,” the qualities of the child you are seeking, most notably age, gender and ethnicity. The more specific your want list, the less of a chance a child will fit the bill. If you’re okay with adopting a teenager or a child with severe special needs, you’ll have more options. But the younger children and the children with fewer “behaviors” – bad or violent behaviors – are the ones in demand and hard to find.


Once we received our license, we were then informed we were required to take a 12-week course on foster care. Even though we were adopting, we needed to understand the foster care system. More importantly, we needed to understand the issues of a child in the foster care system.

The course was eye opening with stories of the horrific abuse some children endure and the upheaval of their lives removing them from dangerous living conditions into a strange system with little more than a garbage sack with a few belongings that inevitably get lost or stolen along the way. No wonder why these kids have “behaviors.”

We learned that while a child is in foster care, foster parents are only allowed to hug them sideways – literally a sideways hug, hip to hip, one arm around their shoulders. Why? Because many children in foster care have been sexually abused and are overly sexualized and might try to cop a feel or get inappropriately stimulated by a simple hug. We were getting an education in damaged children, and it was the stuff of nightmares.

During this time, we were told about a 6-year-old black boy who was available to be adopted. He had witnessed abuse and was physically scarred by inadvertently coming between his parents and a scalding pot of water. We said we wanted him. Over time, we were one family in 20 in line for the boy. Eventually we were one in four. He went to another family.

About the same time, I received a call from a child advocate at the adoption agency who said she wanted us to meet a boy, but he didn’t exactly fit our age parameters.

“How old?” I asked.

“Eleven,” she replied.

I said no. She said she really, really thought he was a fit for our family. She asked me to hear her out. I said no again. My first thought was “Our daughter is nine. We don’t want an eleven year old boy who we don’t know in our home.”

This boy was unique, she insisted. He didn’t have any “behaviors,” and he wasn’t on medication.

Another thing we learned was a vast majority of children in the foster care system are put on medication if they act out. This boy was neglected, but as far as they knew, he had not been abused. He was well liked by everyone working with him, from the group home managers to the caseworker at Child Protective Services to his Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). He seemed to be a good kid.

The more my husband and I thought about it, if we adopted a six-year-old boy, we’d be 62 and 68 by the time he was 18. Adopting an 11 year old meant that we’d 57 and 63. Suddenly, an older child seemed that much more desirable.

We agreed to meet the child advocate and the boy at a bowling alley.


“Remember when we met here the first time?” my son asked when we returned to the bowling alley where we saw him that day in July.

“Yes, it was kind of strange,” I admitted.

“Awkward! It was so awkward,” he said, and we laughed.


The first night he moved in with us, he started sleepwalking then crying uncontrollably, then he began punching and kicking, then he threw up. The same thing happened the second night. On the third night, he slept.


We waited month by month for something “major” to happen. We were warned in the foster care class that as soon as a child feels comfortable in your home and isn’t worried that you’ll give him back, they may act out. Years of pent up fear and anger just screams out of them because they finally feel safe. That didn’t happen, although he did tell us that, at one point, he was actually worried we’d give him back, but he wasn’t worried anymore.


It has been over a year since our son moved in. The biggest adjustment has been with our daughter who struggled with the idea of having a big brother instead of a baby brother and of no longer being an “only.”

I try to spend time with the kids individually and do my best to make each one feel special. Having an “instant teenage boy” is daunting. We were getting acquainted with him just as he started going through changes. But so far, things are going well – better than we ever expected.

My biggest lesson throughout the entire process was learning that the foster care system is so broken. But if you can open you heart and mind wide enough to consider an older child and if you persist, you can expand your family and save a child from potentially aging out of care. Sometimes taking the seemingly harder path is just the right thing.


Aliza Sherman is a writer, entrepreneur, wife and mom living in Alaska. Her favorite things to do are RVing, yoga and karaoke.