The idea of birth order is that you only foster or adopt children that are younger than your biological children. It mirrors how biological children are naturally introduced into a family: the oldest is always the oldest, the middle is always the middle, and so on. Whereas a family that doesn’t follow birth order might have a child who has been the oldest for X amount of years suddenly find themselves a middle child through adoption or foster care.
Especially in adoption, birth order used to be very cut and dry, and many international adoptions had rules about sticking to it. Popular thought has changed since then, in large part because there are so many older children in need of homes. There is also a lot more support and resources nowadays for families that are adopting out of birth order. I know there are many successful cases, but I was given the advice early on to stick to birth order, and it’s been the single most important piece of advice I’ve been given about fostering.
We have one biological son. He was a newly turned 3 year old when we became licensed for foster care. As an only child, it seemed detrimental to give him a sibling AND make him the youngest all in the same day. That’d be a lot of transition, and it’d be a shift in his perceived place and identity in our family that would have a big effect on him. It’s not like other changes that are tough but aren’t changing the nature of the family dynamic. As tough as it ended up being going from no sibling to suddenly having a walking, babbling, drooling foster baby, I can imagine it would have been much more difficult had he been older than our son.
I also want our son to feel some power and control in this journey. Being three, he didn’t have a real say in whether or not he wanted someone to come and share his parents, his toys, his home. He’s been the top dog, and it’s important to me that he continues to feel like the top dog. Even though he didn’t make the choice to do this, he still has a sense of security and hasn’t been replaced. A little one in the house isn’t a threat to his sense of self and isn’t competition. This way he can be Mommy’s helper with baby, and there’s less fighting for Mom’s affection.
Then there’s the concern for his safety. He is young. He’s vulnerable and impressionable and doesn’t have the capacity to say no or articulate himself if he was being victimized. I have a Mama bear desire to protect him at all cost. I worried he would learn too much of the world at too young an age if we had an older, verbal child influencing our son. As much as no one wants to think of that being a possibility, the old saying comes to mind that “hurt people hurt people.” We don’t want there to be any risk factors when it comes to our son and doing foster care.
Bottom line, we need to consider our biological children in this process. We’re adults and have the fortitude to weather the storms of foster care, but our children are… children. They are vulnerable to our decisions. We need to think carefully about what ages and histories we’re willing to accept into our homes. For us that means no past history of sexual or physical aggression (helped along by the fact that we’re only willing to take children under 3). While I would like to take in every single child no matter the circumstance, that wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do for my son. At the end of the day, I’m responsible for my biological or adopted children first because they are legally, permanently entrusted in my care. Whatever their limitations are, those are going to be the official, non-negotiable limitations of whatever placements I’ll accept.