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Special Needs Adoption

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A special needs adoption is the adoption of a child who has a condition that may inhibit adoption without financial assistance. These children are often referred to as waiting children and may have spent time in foster care. The special needs adoption process is often quicker and less expensive than a non-special needs adoption. Many adopted special needs children qualify for federal or state adoption subsidies.

Special needs children

States determine what conditions classify a child as special needs. A special needs child is often defined as a child who is or has one or more of the following:

  • School-aged or teen-aged

  • A learning disability or physical, mental, medical, or emotional problem

  • An ethnic minority

  • A member of a sibling group that needs to be placed in the same home

  • At risk of mental or physical illness (this includes abused children and babies exposed to drugs)

Prospective parents can adopt special needs children from several other countries. The birth country determines what makes a child special needs. Special needs children adopted from outside the U.S. are not entitled to financial assistance.

Special needs adoption process

There are generally no restrictions on age, income level, or marital status for people adopting special needs children. Most special needs children are adopted through public or licensed private nonprofit agencies. Private adoptions are rare.

A special needs adoption typically follows these steps:

  1. Choose the type of child (category of special needs) and type of agency (public or private) you wish to pursue.

  2. Complete an adoption application.

  3. Begin the home study process.

  4. Attend pre-placement training classes.

  5. Begin looking for a child through your agency and through online photo listing services that publish photos of waiting children.

  6. Select a child (or children, if siblings) to adopt.

  7. Bring the child home.

  8. Negotiate an adoption subsidy if your child is eligible.

  9. Finalize the adoption.

Financial assistance for special needs adoptions

An adoption assistance payment (AAP) is a federal subsidy to families who adopt eligible special needs children. These payments help defray some of the costs of adopting and caring for these children. Payments can be a onetime sum or recurring monthly payments. The average AAP is $350 per month. The adoptive parents' income doesn't affect whether a child is eligible for adoption assistance.

If a child is eligible for AAP and their case is approved, parents must negotiate an adoption assistance agreement with the state. This agreement specifies the type of assistance and must be created before the adoption is finalized. If a child is not eligible for AAP, he or she may be eligible for state benefits. Benefits generally end at age 18.

Additional resources:

North American Council on Adoptable Children: How to Adopt

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted from Foster Care

Adoption.com: Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Related Legal Guides:

Adoption Process

Adoption Home Study

Infant Adoption

International Adoption

Adopting from Foster Care

Adopting from Birth Parents

Adoptions by Relatives

Adoption by Stepparents or Domestic Partners

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