Special Needs Adoption | Is It for You?

By Margot Poss While the guidelines for defining special needs adoption vary by state, there appears to be a common link. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, as many as 80 to 90 percent of all special needs adoptions are successful, with the great majority of special needs adoptions creating lasting families.

Generally, the term “special needs” is used to refer to children who have physical or health problems, are older, are members of ethnic or racial minorities, have a history of abuse or neglect, suffer emotional problems, have siblings and need to be adopted as a group, have physical or mental conditions that may lead to future problems or are children with prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol.

That being said, in past years, parents who may have wanted to consider a special needs adoption tended to overlook the possibility because financially they were unable to provide for the special needs of that child. Much has changed in recent years. There are now more resources available to help adoptive parents manage the responsibilities that come with a special needs child. There is, and continues to be, a focus on placing children who have special needs with loving families, providing children with the services they need to grow into a healthy, contributing member of society.

 Parenting a Special Needs Child

As any parent knows, the pressures of parenting can be overwhelming during the best of times. In order to provide the best for a child with special needs, parents need to ensure that they have the emotional, physical and mental skills required for the task.

Additionally, parents need to consider how other members of their family will adjust to the adoption of a special needs child. Studies have shown that, typically, families who adopt a special needs child tend to already have large families with many biological children and/or adopted or foster children. These families often have previous experience with health care professionals, school systems and administrators that helps them navigate systems to advocate on behalf of their children. While that may be the typical profile, that does not mean that it is the only family who would be successful. In fact, according to the National Adoption Center (NAC), many people have what it takes to be successful adoptive parents.

Regulations for adopting children with special needs tend to be more lenient. For example, many agencies consider both single and married applicants ranging in age from 18 to 50 and sometimes even older. Divorce or physical challenges do not necessarily disqualify parents from adopting. What it takes is love, commitment and the willingness to adapt.

“Our story is a bit different,” says Jana Moyer, mother of six from Gig Harbor, Wash. “We didn’t set out to adopt special needs children. It all just fell into place.” The Moyers, truly a most beautiful family, are in the process of finalizing the adoption of three Filipino children who had been abandoned by their parents and left to fend for themselves. As if that is not horrifying enough, two of the children contracted leprosy and were kicked out of their village, separating them from their eldest sister.

Today the children are adjusting beautifully to their new home. “All are leaders in their schools, either as cheerleaders, battalion commanders or student body government workers,” says Moyer, a testimony to how children growing up in a loving, safe environment can become healthy, contributing members of society.

 Dollars and Cents of Special Needs Adoption

Typically, adopting a child with special needs is at no cost to the adopting parents. “At Spaulding, there is no cost for the parents to adopt a child with special needs,” says Addie Williams, director of Spaulding, the National Resource Center for Special Needs Adoption.

However, while there is little or no cost upfront, there can be extensive costs associated with raising a child who has special needs. Parents may face extensive medical bills, psychological counseling and the list goes on. Much has been done in recent years, though, to make special needs adoption more feasible for potential adopting parents.

The Federal Children’s Bureau has published a Child Welfare Policy Manual (CWPM) where parents can access updated, accurate information about adoption subsidy issues for financial aid.

There are primarily two sources of financial assistance: 

  • Federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program under the Social Security Act and the State Adoption Subsidy Program – according to Federal IV-E, payments to the parents of an eligible child are available for the ordinary and special needs of a child. These funds are to be used for any identifiable need of the child. A child who is eligible for Title IV-E assistance is automatically eligible for assistance under Medicaid and for social services in each state as though he/she were an aid to families with dependent children. These payments can continue until the child reaches age 18 or until age 21 if the state determines continuation is warranted, and they continue in the event the family moves to another state. There is a financial eligibility criteria for assistance under Title IV-E.
  • Public Law 96-272 was put in place to make adoption from foster care affordable. With P.L. 96-272, parents sign a legal contract that states that they will parent the child, and the state will make that parenting possible by subsidizing some of the day-to-day costs until the child is grown.

Financial Aid Programs

State adoption subsidy programs provide assistance for children who are not eligible under the Federal IV-E Program. Adoption subsidies take various forms in the different states, depending upon the child’s needs and the state agency’s program. Under the state-funded programs, there are typically three types of adoption subsidies: medical, maintenance and special services.

Medical services cover some or all the costs related to a child’s specific medical condition that are not covered by the family’s health insurance. Maintenance services are payments made to the adopting family that help cover living expenses, and special services include one-time payments made to cover a child’s emergency or extraordinary needs.

Many employers offer adoption benefits, as well. The NAC offers a listing of employers who offer these benefits.

There is no question that there are many responsibilities that come with adopting a child with special needs. But armed with information on the current resources available to prospective parents, the road will seem less daunting. Research has proven that children with special needs can successfully be placed with families who will provide and care for them. There are more than 100,000 children with special needs waiting for a permanent home in the United States alone. Could one be waiting for you?

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Leave a Comment