THE adoption of older children has been considered a risky business by those in the social services. Experts have said that such children, placed in new homes, find it difficult to adjust. They are often sullen and hard to control, presenting problems at school and in the community. That is one reason that prospective adoptive parents prefer infants whom they can mold early on. Babies have no history of abuse, no memories of hard times, no emotional ties to another set of adults.
And so it is always refreshing, and heartening, to see reports that challenge these negative assumptions. An encouraging study now comes from the University of California at Berkeley, where social welfare professor Richard P. Barth has found that almost 90 percent of adoptions of children over age 3 are successful in the US.
Professor Barth says there are 15,000 adoptions a year of older children nationwide and that the large majority of adopting parents admit facing serious problems but feel they are overcoming them.
This report comes at a time when there is a dearth of infants available for adoption. Many couples wait for years for a public agency to respond to their desire for a child. Relatively few turn to surrogacy - where a young woman agrees to bear a child for a family for a price, usually as a result of artificial insemination with the husband's sperm. The latter practice has raised serious questions of ethics and public policy and is outlawed in some states.
Public and private agencies have tried, with mixed success, to guide prospective parents toward older children, often those with physical or emotional problems and sometimes those who have a history of having been abused or neglected.
These children have sometimes been referred to as hard to place. The important point, however, is that love is not hard to place. Nurturing families reach out to older children just as they would to an infant.
Adoptive parents face the same hurdles as those who raise biological children. Genes or means don't a family make. Love does.