I Am Considering Adopting A Child from Foster Care. Where Do I Start?

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There are approximately 520,000 children currently in foster care in the United States. Of these, 117,000 are eligible for adoption. The average age of a waiting child is 6-10 years old.

Of these, there are approximately 50,000 children with special needs. Each State defines special needs differently, but in general the definition includes children whose emotional or physical challenges, age, race, membership in a sibling group, a history of abuse, or other factors contribute to a lengthy stay in foster care.

Talk to other parents who have adopted a child from foster care or a child with special needs. All States have adoptive parent support groups. This is a great way to meet other people that are considering adopting, are in the process of adopting, or have already adopted. Search our National Adoption Directory Online for an adoptive parent support group in your state/area.

Since you are interested in adopting a child with special needs, you should start by contacting your local public child welfare agency, called the "Department of Family Services" or something similar in name. Each state calls this office something different. Public agencies place waiting children who are in foster care and are available for adoption. Please note the difference between public and private adoption agencies. In general, Private adoption agencies place newborns and their fees are higher since they are privately run, and do not receive tax dollars from the State to support their services. Public agencies place children that are in foster care available for adoption. Their fees are much lower than private agencies because they are funded by the State. You may find listings of both public and private agencies in your area by searching our National Adoption Directory Online.

For more information about the above statistics, please visit our Adoption Statistics page.

What is a Homestudy?

All prospective adoptive parents must complete a homestudy before they can adopt, regardless of what kind of adoption they choose. This process can be completed by the adoption agency with whom you are working or by an independent licensed social worker. To learn more about this process and what it entails, read our factsheet, The Adoption Home Study Process.


Many agencies keep photo-listing books with photographs and brief descriptions of children awaiting adoption. Prospective adopters can peruse the books to learn more about the kinds of children who are waiting and, perhaps, locate a child to adopt. Most States have photolistings online; see this listing to find your State's online photolisting. There is also a national online photolisting, AdoptUSKids sponsored by the Adoption Exchange Association.

Know your State's Adoption Laws:

All those considering adoption will want to review the adoption laws in their State of residence. NAIC provides links to State legislative web site and information on how to order copies of state adoption laws in their publication "Resources for State Adoption Statutes".

Financial Resources for adopting a child with special needs

Most public agencies place only children with special needs. Up-front fees and expenses range form zero to $2,500, including travel and attorney's fees. Most states, under a Federal matching program, will reimburse non-recurring adoption expenses up to a set limit (which cannot exceed $2,000). Federal and State adoption subsidies may be available for the ongoing care of children with special physical, mental, or emotional needs. The adoption subsidy agreement must be negotiated and signed before the child's adoption is finalized. However, there is a process where adoption subsidy can be applied for or renegotiated after finalization, but only under certain conditions.

Adoption Subsidy (Title IV-E)

If you are interested in adopting a child who is currently waiting in foster care, often fees are not only kept to a bare minimum or even waived, but many of the children will be eligible for Federally-funded or State-funded adoption subsidy payments which help you meet the child's ongoing needs. In addition, some children qualify for SSI (Social Security Insurance) payments or Medicaid coverage because of their medical conditions.

For more information see our factsheet Subsidized Adoption or contact the North American Council for Adoptable Children at:
http://www.nacac.org/adoptionsubsidy.html or NACAC's National Adoption Assistance Training, Resource, and Information Network (NAATRIN) 800-470-6665. This hotline is for parents, social workers, administrators, and lawyers who have specific questions about Title IV-E Adoption Assistance.

Factsheets and resources

The following factsheets on our Web site are very helpful in understanding adoption from foster care:

Adoption: Where Do I Start?
Adopting Children With Special Needs
Adoption Children with Developmental Disabilities
Foster Parent Adoption: What Parents Should Know
Subsidized Adoption: A Source of Help for Children with Special Needs and their Families

The best thing you can do is to continue to educate yourself about adoption. You may want to read a book about adoption or, more specifically, special needs adoption; below is a list of books that may be helpful on these topics.

Is Adoption Right for You? The Information You Need to Make the Right Choice.
Adamec, C.
224 pp.
Copyright 1998
Publication Information:
New York, NY, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Distributed by:
John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
1 Wiley Dr.
Somerset, NJ 08875-1272
(800) 225-5945

Adopting and Advocating for the Special Needs Child: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.
Babb, L. A.; Laws, R.
267 pp.
Copyright 1997
Publication Information:
Westport, CT, Bergin and Garvey
Distributed by:
Greenwood Publishing Group
88 Post Rd. W.
Westport, CT 06881-5007
(800) 225-5800

Should Uou Adopt?
Field, C. M.
223 pp.
Copyright 1997
Publication Information:
Grand Rapids, MI, Fleming H. Revell
Distributed by:
Baker Book House
P. O. Box 6287
Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
(616) 676-9185

Successful Adoptive Families: A Longitudinal Study of Special Needs Adoption.
Groze, V.
162 pp.
Copyright 1996
Publication Information:
Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers
Distributed by:
Tapestry Books
P. O. Box 359
Ringoes, NJ 08551-0359
(800) 765-2367

Special-Needs Adoption: A Study of Intact Families.
Rosenthal, J. A.; Groze, V. K.
260 pp.
Copyright 1992
Publication Information:
New York, NY, Praeger Publishers
Distributed by:
Praeger Publishers
One Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10010
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