By Elizabeth Stangel
November is National Adoption Month, a month dedicated to celebrating successful adoptions while also bringing attention to a large number of children still in foster care waiting for their forever families. National Adoption Month was first started as Adoption Week by Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis in 1976. From there President Ronald Reagan started the first National Adoption Week in 1984 which eventually led to President Bill Clinton dedicating the entire month of November as National Adoption Month in 1995. Every November is now dedicated to children and young adults in the foster care system searching for permanent, loving families.
There are many reasons why families choose to adopt a child. Sometimes parents are biologically unable to conceive a child. Some women face medical conditions that make it dangerous to carry a pregnancy. A couple may be at considerable risk of passing down a genetic disorder and they don’t want to take the chance. Other couples have no motive other than that they simply want to grow their family through adoption. Regardless of the reason, adding a child to a family via adoption may come with considerable expenses. There are many different types of adoption and each of these types has varying expenses associated with them. The main types of Adoption throughout the United States are Licensed Private Agency Adoption, Intercountry Adoption, and adoption of a child from foster care.
Types of Adoptions
Licensed Private Agency Adoption
In a Licensed Private Agency Adoption birth parents surrender their rights to parent to the agency, then the adoptive parents work through that agency to adopt. The agencies work outside the public child welfare system and because of this, they are held to licensing and procedural standards. Many times, Licensed Private Agency Adoptions are the primary choice when parents are looking to adopt an infant child. Criteria for adoptive parents are often much more restrictive for infant adoptions simply because there is a higher demand for infants and fewer available than older children.
Prospective adoptive parents create profiles to share information about themselves and tell why they can create a loving home for a child. These profiles can cost $500 – $1500 for professional-quality. The profiles are then shared with birth parents to help them choose a family for their child. “Birth parents and prospective parents may have several opportunities to get to know each other face to face or even have regular contact over time”1. While many birth parents choose their child’s family before the child is born, their ability to terminate their parental rights and consent to the adoption is not final until after the child is born.
At every step of the process of a Licensed Private Agency Adoption, there are multiple professionals required. This is part of the reason why the costs of this type of adoption are so high. Some of these professionals include attorneys, physicians, social workers, counselors, and administrative staff. With all these systems working together adoptions can accumulate fees very quickly. Some of these include, court & legal fees, the home study, preadoption and post-adoption counseling, medical expenses for the birth mother, adoptive parent classes, care for the child while the adoption process is taking place, and postadoption supervision before the adoption is finalized. Some agencies lump the entire cost together as one fee, others itemize each charge. Many times, fees vary so greatly because of variations in birth parent expenses. Overall, Licensed Private Agency Adoptions “vary widely in costs based on the agency used and the individual adoption circumstances but may range from $20,000 to $45,000”2.
Intercountry Adoption is the adoption of a child from outside the United States. Sometimes parents choose to adopt a child from another country to offer a life outside of the child’s origin country’s government policies of population control, economic status of the country, famine, war, or natural disasters, just to name a few. When it comes to International Adoption there is generally less information known about the child’s physical, mental and emotional health ahead of time.
To provide safety measures for both children and the families involved, the US is part of a treaty called the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation of Respect of Intercountry Adoption. This treaty is a multifaceted agreement between 101 contracting parties to protect from the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children. One of the more recent focuses of the Convention is the principle of subsidiarity. “This principle states that a child should be placed with his birth or extended family whenever possible and that other permanent forms of family care in the country of origin should be considered prior to intercountry adoption” 3. Some countries prohibit the adoption of children younger than one-year-old to provide time for other options to be considered in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. In addition, many countries have laws that prevent the separation of siblings. Because of the principle of subsidiarity, many children are left in the care of institutions and orphanages at a young age. “Spending time early in life in institutions can cause harmful and sometimes permanent effects in children, such as higher rates of developmental delays and behavior problems and decreased motor development and growth than in children who were not institutionalized or who spent less time in institutional care”3.
On top of regulations on which children can be eligible for adoption, each country has its own set of rules and regulations for prospective adoptive parents. Some of these are based upon adoptive parents’ age, marital status, health, religion, and even sexual orientation. Beyond that, every state within the US has its own requirements. Some intercountry adoptions are finalized in the United States and others are finalized in the child’s country of origin. If the adoption is finalized in the child’s country of origin the adoptive parents may opt to finalize the adoption in the United States as well. This aids in the documentation process and adds legal protection but will add extra costs to the overall adoption.
Intercountry Adoption fees are very different depending on which country a family decides to adopt from, and the type of organization they adopt through. These costs may include immigration processing, court costs, mandatory travel to the child’s country of origin, medical care and treatment for the child, foreign attorney fees, passport and visa processing, post-adoption reports and pictures, and post-adoption counseling. The average costs of an International Adoption may run between $20,000 and $50,000 or more.
Adoption of a Child from Foster Care
Throughout the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system because they were experiencing abuse, neglect or were unable to remain safe while living with their biological families. Some of these children in foster care are separated from their siblings, bounced from house to house, or even abused and neglected. The primary goal of the foster care system is to safely reunify the child with their family, but unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. When a child is unable to be reunited with their family, they are either able to be adopted or they turn 18 (or 21 in some states) and age out of the system. Children who age out of the foster care system without permanent families are more likely to be homeless, unemployed or incarcerated as adults4. Children in the foster care system wait to be adopted an average of almost two years after their biological parents terminate their parental rights. “Today there are more than 100,000 children and teens in foster care who are waiting for the love and security that a permanent home provides”4. The children in foster care have all experienced some form of trauma, through the adoption programs potential parents are given specialized training to understand the effects of this trauma and how to help their child cope.
Many families who are considering adoption choose to become foster parents first. This has several benefits for both the children and the potential adoptive parents. Potential adoptive parents and potential adoptees have time to see if they can develop a permanent attachment to one another, the children have to move fewer times, the child may live in the home as a foster child while they are waiting for their adoption to be finalized, the family begins to bond sooner, and the foster parents are able to establish relationships with the child’s birth family that may continue after the child is adopted.
Families who choose to adopt from foster care incur little to no costs. Many times, these adoptions are funded by the state. If a family does incur out-of-pocket expenses they are typically recovered from federal or state programs after the adoption is finalized. Foster care adoptions are usually managed through a public agency or a private agency contracted to the state to provide services at little to no cost, keeping the cost low for families.
How to Pay for Adoption
Some employers offer adoption benefits to help potential adoptive parents be able to afford the adoption process. These are called Employer-Sponsored Adoption Assistance Programs and they often offer thousands of dollars in assistance.
Employers are also required by Federal law under the Family and Medical Leave Act to grant parental leave to employees who have adopted a child the same way they would offer for a couple who biologically had a baby.
Federal tax credits may be available to help offset some of the costs of adoption. Taxpayers are eligible for this credit one time per child and the tax credit will be distributed in the year that the adoption was finalized. The amount of Federal tax credit a family receives is based upon family income, whether the child being adopted has special needs, and whether other employer-based adoption benefits are being used.
Several States have recognized tax credits for families adopting children from the foster care system. Policies vary from state-to-state.
Adoption Loans and Grants
There are adoption-specific loans and grants that adoptive parents can apply for. There are many different types of loans and grants, each has specific eligibility requirements based on marital, status, religion, income level, etc. Potential adoptive parents may find grants and loans specifically set aside for them, for example, LGBTQ adoptive parent grants or grants to aide in the adoption of an orphan.
Most couples don’t have $40,000 sitting in their savings account to pay for an adoption out-of-pocket. Some couples consider borrowing from their home through a home equity line of credit or tapping into their 401(k). When incurring debt, it’s always advisable to consider every aspect of the debt. While a person is borrowing against their 401(k), they are losing out on any potential market gains. In the end, this may end up costing more money than if they had just taken a low-interest loan from the bank.
All-in-all couples must take a comprehensive look at the strategy they use to pay for adoption in combination with their overall financial goals to make sure they are leaving enough money to raise the child after the adoption is finalized.