Does birth order make a difference in adoption?

Children playing

Adding to your family by way of foster/adoption offers some options that aren’t part of the equation when you’re growing your family by giving birth.

Foster/adoption lets you add a child to your family without regard for birth order. When a child doesn’t enter the family as the youngest child—as a new baby would–that is known as “disrupting” birth order.

Let’s say you’re already raising a 7-year-old son. You decide you’d like to offer your home as a placement for another boy, say a 9-year-old. That would disrupt birth order because your 7-year-old would instantly go from being the oldest child in the family to the youngest. That’s a big adjustment!

Academics have done plenty of study on the effects of birth order. Are oldest siblings more conforming? Middle children more rebellious? Researchers have their theories. But little evidence is on the books regarding sibling order and adoption. In the absence of hard evidence, conventional wisdom has differed over the years.

Adopting out of natural birth order is complicated because of the effects it can have on each child. But it can be successful. It simply takes extra preparation, commitment, support and flexibility on the part of you, the resource parent.

The first step is some serious soul-searching about your reasons for considering such a placement. Your child might wish for a big brother. Or, you think an older sibling might help your child learn to share. But keep in mind that children in the foster system have significant needs, and those needs must come first.

Some other factors to consider:

  • The ages of the children. The foster child may be much younger emotionally and physically smaller than younger children in the home. Whatever the age, the new child will need lots of nurturing and attention.
  • Matching is key. All of the personalities involved must be carefully assessed before placement. For example, disrupting the status of an especially controlling child would be a challenge.
  • Keep in mind that children in care may have knowledge and experiences that a family might not expect. How will this affect the other children in the home?
  • The feeling of displacement might be less if the new eldest child is a different gender. A son will still be the eldest boy, even though he now has an older sister. Will two boys or two girls about the same age jockey for dominance?

The success of this special kind of placement depends on the parents’ preparation and education. That’s where services from Sierra Forever Families come in. SFF’s mission is to find permanent homes for older, harder-to-place children in care. If you’d like to be a resource for these children, SFF will be by your side every step of the way. Contact your local Sierra Forever Families office by visiting our website at or call 916-368-5114.

Portrait of Joyce Miller, LCSW

Written by Joyce Miller, LCSW