Is a special-needs child the right choice for you?

In the United States, more than 110,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Children with special needs are typically harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

What does "special needs" mean?

For many people the term "special needs" means a child who receives or needs special education or who has a disability of some sort. In adoption, the term is defined differently and may include the factors listed below. Guidelines for classifying a child as "special needs" vary by state. Children with special needs range in age from infants to 18 years. In general, children with special needs are those who:

  • Have physical or health problems
  • Are older
  • Are members of ethnic or racial minorities
  • Have a history of abuse or neglect
  • Have emotional problems
  • Have siblings and need to be adopted as a group
  • Test positive for HIV
  • Have documented conditions that may lead to future problems
  • Were prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol

Almost all children who meet the special needs guidelines and who are available for adoption are currently in the public foster care system. Some have moved through several different foster placements.

Can I adopt a child with special needs?

Almost any prospective adoptive parent who has the commitment, skills, and preparation to parent may adopt a child. Agencies differ in their specific requirements for adoptive parents. Requirements for adopting a child with special needs tend to be less restrictive than requirements for adopting a healthy infant. Agencies will consider both single and married applicants, ranging in age from 18 to 50 or sometimes even older. The consideration of an adoptive parent's age may depend on the individual's situation, or on the age of the child, if the state has age restrictions. Most agencies require couples to be married a minimum of one to three years. Divorce, physical challenges, or a history of personal counseling do not necessarily disqualify an applicant from adopting. Applicants need not be wealthy or own a home.

Parents who adopt children with special needs will need to take the time to decide if they have the emotional, physical, mental, and financial resources to be a successful parent. It will be helpful to make a self-assessment before deciding to adopt, considering such questions as:

  • How many children can I take?
  • How much contact with the birth relatives would I be comfortable with?
  • Do I have enough support from family and friends to help me when I need it?
  • Is my lifestyle flexible enough to handle a child with special needs?
  • What disabilities, or mental, emotional, physical, behavioral challenges can I handle?

Is financial support available?

Usually, parents who adopt a child with special needs are charged no fee or only a small one. Parents who adopt a child with special needs may be reimbursed for certain adoption-related expenses. Federal and state programs offer financial assistance to adoptive parents for special care and services that the child needs. Financial assistance is offered to help families overcome barriers to adopting that exist due to the costs of adoption so that waiting children have permanent families. It is not a reimbursement for the child's special needs but rather financial assistance to help adoptive families meet the child's needs. Independent and international adoptions are not eligible for financial assistance. However some states will reimburse for nonrecurring adoption expenses in an international adoption.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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