Monday, September 05, 2016


A reader says;

I'd love to hear a post from you about taking foster kids that are older than your biological kids, as it seems from your blog you have done that in the past. Did that work for your family? What are the things you did to help your bios adjust? (I've got 6 and 3 year old daughters. 6 year old is a total alpha dog type. The foster child would either need to be at least a year younger or 5 years older and preferably opposite gender. And I'm not very confident that even 5 years older would work. 3 year old is very flexible, so I don't worry much about ages versus her.)

You've gone straight to one of the big questions in fostering, namely how the placement fits your own family.

Sounds like you're more than halfway to the answers in that you have a very clear picture of your own family and their strengths. And a clear picture of what would work best for your family, which is brilliant. 

I think the first thing to make sure you do is drum it into your own children that you are not taking in other children because you are in any way unhappy with them. Might sound ridiculous that they might think that, but they might, deep down somewhere. You need to tell them that you're going to go into fostering - with their support - because they are so wonderful they can help you do an amazing job. Give them a sense of ownership of the whole project, and make sure they feel the same rewards you do. Praise them endlessly for their kindness and tolerance.

On to your first specific question about having foster children who are older than your own biological children. In my experience it's all down to the individual children involved, and that's something you try to hammer out with social workers before any foster child arrives, and believe me they take it very seriously. If an older foster child fits they'll bring dividends to your children as well as themselves. If an older foster child doesn't fit and the placement upsets the carer's own children, it's not going to work and everyone wants to avoid that.

You say your 6yr old is "alpha dog type", which is very colourful but not quite enough to be specific. So; as you appear to have confidence in your 3 yr old, let's focus on your older child.

I wonder if you have a moment to elaborate on your eldest daughter? (Being careful to respect her anonymity of course).



  1. Secret Foster Carer, you are the best! Thanks for the advice so far, and I'm ready to absorb any more you have.

    To add to our interesting story, my 6 year old is our biological daughter and our 3 year old was adopted into our family one year ago. (Adopted internationally, not from foster care, although she was in foster care in her home country, which why I'm partially drawn to foster care because I like the idea of "paying forward" the kindness and care that was clearly given to our daughter before her adoption. But I've gotten off topic.)

    My 6 year old tends to have quite a leader personality. She is strong willed and outgoing. She likes to be in control of any situation. She doesn't enjoy independent play much and would much rather be interacting with adults or children. She makes friends easily, but at the same time it can cause her frustration when others challenge her. She tends to be able to work out compromises with friends most of the time, but she sometimes melts down when things don't go her way. She ADORES her little sister, but then again her little sister isn't much of a "challenge" to her since she follow her around like a puppy dog still. During the first week of the adoption, the 6 year old was quite jealous of the attention the 3 year old got. We heard "WHY DOES EVERYONE LOVE HER AND NO ONE LOVES ME?" a few times, but after that initial week she came around and doesn't see her as "competition" any more. They have their normal sister disagreements, but really quite mild.

    So I already know that the older one would accept a younger foster sibling, and I know the younger one would accept an older foster sibling, because we lived it a year ago. (Of course kids change as they develop, and most kids will have trauma related behaviors which we haven't experienced yet with our adopted daughter, so no guarantee that the past predicts the future of course.)

    But the need for foster families is way greater for older children in our area. I'm wondering if the 6 year would see a 10 or 12 year old foster sibling as "competition" or would there be such an age gap that it wouldn't be as much of an issue? I know she'd be jealous in the beginning of the attention, but as the "sibling" bond began to form, would that melt away like it did last year? Or would it be worse because the older foster sibling would get "unfair" things like a later bedtime, their own room and more clothes, etc? I picture myself having to hear 10,000 "it's unfair" and "I never get my way" complaints a day. I can handle 2,000 but not 10,000 please... And would it crush my daughter's spirit to have someone always around who tries to "boss" her around, if the foster child happened to also have a strong leader personality as well?

    There's a whole other issue about if the husband and I are ready to transition to the tween parenting phase, especially assuming the natural effect of trauma, but we'll save that for another day :)

    Just thinking out loud mostly. I really enjoy all your insights about the joys and challenges of fostering. Hope we will soon be alongside you in sharing them as well.

  2. First up I have to make sure you are clear that your emotional intelligence is obviously so sky high I can't see you or your family sustaining challenges you won't rise too. I hope that doesn't sound condescending, it's a personal but I hope, scientific judgement of what you are bringing to the party.

    Second, congratulations and thank you on behalf of the planet for your adoption; you've already done your bit for the future and here you are thinking of doing more. Respect.

    The arrival of your second brought the conventional impact on your eldest ("What? I wasn't good enough?") almost always generates normal sibling rivalry yet your family has found a peace with that. I would suggest you don't worry that your eldest lords it a bit, I suspect youngest appreciates the security of being surrounded by strong people who care, and maybe she's spot on in doting on your eldest.

    There's a lot to be said for children who are confident and strong. They once were derided a bit (people used to say "leadership qualities" as a sarcastic euphemism for "bully"!) My guess is you hope to maintain and polish her strength into a defining quality, one which will serve her for life, and you don't want to risk her going into decline under the influence of a stronger older personality.

    Ok, here's the closest match I've had; A 16 year-old girl joined us and we also had a 7 year old child who had a robust personality. The 7 year old used the 16 year-old to uncover different ways of being. This was a plus for her because previously she only had ourselves, her teachers and Spongebob as role models. The 16 year old had a few wobblies during the early days, the 7 year-old watched and once ( and only once) tried a sniff of a wobbly, emulating the 16 year old. And never bothered again.

    What did happen - which I'll never forget - is an exchange between them in the back of the car on a school run. The 7 year-old asked the 16 year-old about her life before she joined us. And got told.

    The 7 year-old grew up even more as she came to terms with how lucky she was that her life was what it was compared to what it might have been.

    The 16 year-old was with us for 3 months, 12 short weeks, then went home. But her legacy lives on in the 7 year-old, and if I read you right that's how things might work out for you.

    Last thing; I don't know how we can teach children that life is, roughly, fair. We get back what we put in. Maybe your 6 year-old might pick up a bit that life hasn't been all that unfair...

    Feel free to get back to me, I'm fascinated.

  3. Hi Anon, How wonderful that you're taking these steps, and already considering these things.

    We don't have birth children, but I can say that the older kids we've cared for have always done well with the younger kids in our wider family and friendship group. The age gap has always been significant - usually early teens to mainly nursery or primary school age.
    We've found that the old kids have not been clingy or needy in the way younger children can be. They have also handled tantrums and possessive/alpha behaviours with a great deal of maturity too.

    Different bedtimes is an advantage. Just make it clear its age related and when the little one reaches that age they will have the same bedtime/rules. Our current teen wants 1 on 1 time she waits until her younger sibling is in bed to avoid any jealousy (the younger is competitive for 1 on 1 time). It also gives her privacy to talk to us without little one earwigging.

    Your daughter seems like a bright spark, have you discussed these things with her, in an age appropriate way of course? Alpha's often love giving advice, so maybe saying this is a problem my "friend" is having, what do you think my friend should do? Or how about building it into a bedtime story for her to think over. The right matching will help too, not all kids like to the be the leader.

    There is one unexpected bonus too- Our Bright One lets herself be bossed about by the 4 and 5 year olds in our social circle, playing dolls, make believe games and dressing up. She can explain this away by "helping" keep the little ones happy and busy, but in truth its the chance to indulge in play she didn't get to experience as a child. Beneficial for everyone.

    Good luck and keep us updated!