Special Needs Adoption Assistance

The choice to adopt takes careful consideration, especially if you're adopting a child with additional and potentially costly needs. Parents adopting children with special needs, defined by federal and state laws, may be eligible for federal or state adoption assistance. This support (also referred to as the adoption subsidy) is often paid monthly, providing assistance for medical and other support-related costs.

The following covers the basics of special needs adoption assistance, including eligibility requirements and how to apply for assistance.

Adoption Assistance and the Definition of 'Special Needs'

Federal adoption assistance funds are available through the states to those who qualify as having "special needs" as defined by Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Determination of being a special needs orphan under Title IV-E is broken down to three main criteria (as determined by the state or tribal agency):

  1. The child can't or shouldn't be returned to his or her birth parents;
  2. The child has a factor (or combination of factors) making them more difficult to place for adoption (i.e. age, sibling group status, medical condition, emotional disabilities, etc.); and
  3. There has been a reasonable effort made by the state to place the child without providing assistance.

This determination (and eligibility under the categories listed below) is made at the state level. For instance, California's plan for adoption assistance details how it complies with federal Title IV-E requirements.

Eligibility for Special Needs Adoption Assistance

If the child meets the above criteria to be considered a "special needs" orphan, their adoptive parents may be eligible for assistance in one of a few different ways. While there were certain age restrictions pertaining to birth parents' income, Title IV-E eligibility was opened up to children of all ages beginning in 2018.

These are some of the ways in which your family may be eligible for special needs adoption assistance:

  • Child was removed from their foster home by a judge's ruling (based on a finding that it's in the child's best interests and that the foster home was contrary to the child's welfare).
  • Child has been in foster care for at least 60 consecutive months (siblings also will be eligible to be adopted with their sibling).
  • Child meets the requirements for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits through the Social Security Administration.
  • Infants born to foster youth, if the minor parent is receiving Title IV-E assistance covering both them and their infant (and the infant meets the definition of "special needs").
  • Dissolution of a prior adoption (such as one resulting from the parent's death).

Special Needs Adoption Assistance: Benefits

What types of expenses are covered, the frequency of payments, and other factors pertaining to exact benefits of adoption assistance depend on state laws and procedures and are determined on a case-by-case basis. If it's later determined that more funds are needed to cover the child's special needs, the assistance agreement may be renegotiated.

Special needs adoption assistance generally consists of the following:

  • Monthly payments up to the amount that family foster care would have provided (negotiated on a case-by-case basis);
  • Medicaid coverage (this is automatic for eligible children);
  • May be eligible for reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses (up to $2,000 federally, but many states set lower limits);
  • Some states provide post-adoption services for special needs children, including in-home support and referrals to community services.

Confused About Special Needs Adoption Assistance? An Attorney Can Help

The main goal of the state and federal adoption assistance program is to increase placements of orphans who need additional care. If you're adopting a child with special needs, you may be eligible for a monthly payment. Talk to an adoption law attorney near you to learn more.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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