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More Older Adults Seek to Adopt

Couples and singles look to make a difference in children's lives

En español | In 2006, Craig Roberts and his wife, Fiamma di Gioia, traded a calm life in Lindstrom, Minn., to adopt two teenagers and their 10-year-old sibling.

See also: Ins and outs of international adoption.

"It's a huge undertaking," says di Gioia, 72, a retired teacher with two children from a previous marriage. Like many adoptive kids from foster care, the three siblings feared abandonment.

Despite the struggles, the couple says adoption has been well worth it. Their daughters are now 20 and 15 years old, and their son is 18. "It's a way to give back, to have an impact each and every day," says Roberts, 61, a database developer for a bank.

Couples and singles in their 50s, 60s and beyond are embracing parenthood, according to adoption and child welfare agencies. And older adoptive parents may be best suited to guide school-age children or teens toward adulthood.

Of the 3,330 couples active on the AdoptUSKids website in late March, 43 is the average age for prospective fathers and 41 for prospective mothers, says Kathy Ledesma, the agency's national project director.

"More 50-plus people are adopting, more are adopting older children, and they do indeed face challenges, especially when they want to adopt younger children," says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, which conducts research and develops policy on adoption and foster care. "Adopting older ones from foster care is the easiest route for them by far."

Changing the world

While many adoptions among those 50-plus are domestic, some would-be parents consider international adoption. Phil and Connie Warners of Grand Rapids, Mich., who have three children in their early 20s, adopted a boy, Robbie, now 15, from Romania in 1999. A year ago, they welcomed Tem, 7, and his 5-year-old sister Tessa from Ethiopia. All three came through Bethany Christian Services.

"We do things that others would consider foolish or crazy," says Phil, 51, director of outdoor education at a year-round Christian youth camp. His 50-year-old wife is a part-time nurse. "We believe that, in spite of our [older] age," he says, "we can still be active in changing the world for the better — even if it is only for two children at a time."

Next: From foster care to adoption. >>

Gloria Chavez and her husband, Stan Fitch, were in their 50s when they adopted two brothers six years ago. She had a daughter who died in infancy; he didn't have children. Both came from large families — Fitch was the youngest of nine; Chavez was the oldest of five and helped raise her siblings. With this experience, "I thought we would be pretty well-prepared," says Chavez, 60, president of an environmental and nuclear safety consulting firm that her husband founded in Albuquerque, N.M.

Their adopted boys — Angelo, 19, and Tony, 18 — were two of seven siblings who had endured abuse and neglect and multiple placements in group homes and with single families. "They were street kids with no table manners, limited vocabulary and social skills," Chavez says.

Now, Angelo is attending New Mexico Tech on a full scholarship and Tony is a high school junior and captain of the golf team. He also plans to go to college. "They're slowly but surely finding their way through life," says Fitch, 57. "They're learning to cope with their past. They're learning to see a future for themselves."

From foster care to adoption

Instilling positive changes in adopted children can bring fulfillment to parents of any age.

"The trend of older adults adopting is certainly pervasive and an important reality in the adoption community now," says Kate Trujillo, executive vice president of the Adoption Exchange in Aurora, Colo., which provides support and services to families before, during and after adoption.

Jeannie Arden, 76, and her husband Laurie, 68, recently adopted 10-year-old Tori after fostering her in their Richmond, Ind., home since last July. "Since we both have retired, we felt that there was a void in our lives. And we thought that we could give a child a lot of love and happiness," says Laurie, formerly a technical writer for the government and Navy chief petty officer. His wife operated a day care center.

Next: Provide a home for a child in need. >>

"She is a great blessing to us," says Jeannie, who has four adult children, while her husband has two. "She just changed our lives all around. Instead of sitting and twiddling our thumbs, we've got someone to look after." The couple has enjoyed parenting so much that they hope to adopt another girl.

Joe Mondello, 71, also decided to adopt a second time. In late November, he became the adoptive father of 19-year-old Jeffrey. "We're doing great. He's fitting in here," says Mondello, a part-time greeter at Sears.

Modello initially took in and later adopted a 12-year-old foster child, Dale, now 29 and living on his own. This was after Mondello's mother had died and he felt lonely in his three-bedroom home in Highland Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. "He's very much as if he were my own birth child," Mondello says of Dale.

Helping kids to flourish

In the Monroeville, N.J., home of Curtis Blount and his partner of 12 years, Jeffrey Long, adopted kids Gerry and Cedric, both 15, feel as if they're brothers even though they're not blood-related. "Since the adoption, Gerry has really come out of his shell and developed into a fine young man," says Blount, 46, head of information security for a global apparel company. Long, 51, is a retired corrections officer.

"While Cedric is the basketball jock, Gerry has become the pretty boy in the family, with all the girls calling him," Blount says. "They keep us very busy. It's amazing to watch these two grow and mature." During the week, parenting centers around homework and school projects. On weekends, the focus turns to sports.

"To know that you had the opportunity to provide a home to someone who would be just another number in the system is an amazing feeling," Blount says. "Yes, they are the typical spoiled teenagers. But at the same time, they keep our lives humbled and blessed."

Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.

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