China’s guidelines are that a family would receive placement of a child prior to their fourteenth birthday. In order for a family to complete the adoption process prior to a child’s fourteenth birthday, it is important that they start the adoption process as soon as possible in order to get through the various steps of the process prior to “aging out” of being eligible for adoption.
There are assumptions and "I think it means" but the harsh reality is that when a child turns fourteen, they are no longer eligible for adoption.
They could live at the orphanage indefinitely until they reach adulthood but then their long term options are limited. Some may remain in the institution, possibly becoming a staff of the institution. Some may seek work or opportunities in the community as they are able. However, without the support of family and knowledge of life outside of the orphanage, this can pose many challenges and risks.
Numerous studies have followed post institutionalized young adults and the findings are not favorable. It becomes very clear soon after leaving the walls of the institution that the knowledge and life skills necessary to live independently are just not there. Many end up unemployed or trapped in low paying jobs, some end up on the streets in less than desirable professions, and there are some who end up homeless. When released to society they are poorly prepared to fend for themselves because of their past large group living situation.
Organizations like One Sky embrace children who have aged out of the adoption system and remain in institutional care. Their Youth Services Program provides individualized learning opportunities for older children (8-21 years) who have spent their early years without the guidance and nurture of family to prepare them for life outside of the orphanage. Although the mission of programs like this is to someday reach every aged out child in China, and today it is hopeful for the many older children they do serve, it is the ones who are not embraced by a guided future that are sent away from all they know without proper preparation for life beyond the walls of the institution.
And sadly, for those children, the future is bleak.