Adoption presents many challenges to both the (foster) parents and the child. Most adopters face problems they are often ill-prepared for including trust issues, behavioral problems, trauma, and attachment disorder. Adopting children with special needs and disabilities also presents a different type of challenge. Adoptive parents also have to deal with medical, developmental, and even mental health issues. Even when these matters are addressed, there are also other things to consider, like what adoption agencies to choose from, adoption costs, and post-adoption support.

Understanding Children With Special Needs and Disabilities

Special needs children have higher risk factors that can make them more difficult to place for adoption than other children. Special needs children often have learning disabilities, physical impairments, or even mental issues and ethnic backgrounds that make it difficult for them to settle in a new home.

Not all children with special needs have disabilities. However, many of them may be suffering from developmental impairments such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disabilities. Some of them may even be dealing with mental health issues. This situation puts a higher responsibility and commitment from potential adoptive parents. These children must be given extra attention and care to fit into their new homes properly.

What Must be Done Before Adopting a Special Needs Child

Potential foster parents need to ask themselves a lot of questions before adopting a child with special needs. If the parents went on with the adoption process without being well-prepared, it might become problematic later on for them to provide a happy, healthy environment for that child.

Parents should ask themselves whether they are capable of handling the child’s special needs. Since there are different kinds of disabilities from learning disorders to speech impairments to orthopedic impairments, parents should prepare for what types of disabilities they can handle.

Adoptive parents should ensure that they have the patience and capacity to teach a child with a learning disability. They should also check if there are nearby schools with programs that can provide special education.

Suppose the parents have experience assisting people with walking disabilities. In that case, they may be better off adopting a child with similar impairments than adopting a child with a different disability. 

The learning curve may be higher for parents with little or no experience. However, parents who think they are incapable of providing the support the child requires but still want to adopt can consider attending special needs training or workshops.

Another important consideration is money. Parents may spend for their children’s therapy, medication, or other alternative treatments. They will also need frequent visits to the doctor, equipment, and other things that will take up financial resources.

In addition, parents should review their insurance policies (if they have one or plan to get one). They should be able to cover or help pay for the child’s medical or hospitalization expenses should the need arise.

Potential parents should also think about the child’s background. Some parents have preferences or circumstances that can affect their decision on who they will adopt. For example, will the child’s ethnicity or age matter? If the child is a refugee from another country, will that be a significant issue?

It also helps potential parents to learn from others who have adopted or have experience taking care of children with similar needs or disabilities. Having someone to talk to and gather information from is a great help for the foster parents’ preparation and decision-making.

Choosing an Adoption Agency

Once the parents have made the needed preparations and are convinced that they are capable of adopting and taking care of a special needs child, they can now begin the proper process for adoption.

It is recommended that potential foster parents adopt special needs children through a licensed and reputable adoption agency. Parents have the choice of either a public or private agency. It would be better to look into both types of agencies before making any decision.

Public Agencies

Because public agencies are state-funded entities, they are often less expensive than private ones. Public agencies also tend to have more children with special needs under their care.

Often, foster parents adopting through a public agency have little or no contact with the child’s biological parents. Instead, the agency acts as an intermediary who handles communications between both the foster and birth parents.

Although the primary goal of public agencies is to eventually reunite the children with their biological parents, when this goal is unresolved, the agency also initiates proceedings in court if the parents legal rights are terminated.

Adoption through public agencies also makes foster parents eligible for an adoption assistance program. Title IV-E under the U.S. Social Security Act mentions two forms of assistance: recurring and nonrecurring reimbursements.

Recurring reimbursements include monthly payments meant for a foster child’s care until the child turns 18. In some states, it can continue until the child is 21 years old.

Nonrecurring reimbursements are payments for one-time costs such as court fees, attorney’s fees, and other necessary adoption expenses.

There are situations where the special needs child is ineligible for Title IV-E assistance. In this case, there are state-funded programs such as Medicaid or other healthcare assistance to cover the child’s medical needs.

Private Agencies

Adoptive parents employing the services of a private agency typically have more contact with the child’s biological parents. In many cases, potential adoptive parents work actively with the agency to find a child or even a birth mother.

Compared to public agencies that serve as state-funded child welfare agencies, private agencies perform independent adoption through an attorney. This feature is one reason why private agency services are more expensive.

Parents considering special needs adoption may have a better chance with public agencies as not all private ones facilitate the adoption of special needs children.

International Adoptions

There are times when potential adoptive parents consider adopting children from other countries such as child refugees. Many private agencies handle international adoptions.

Adoption fees may vary depending on the child’s country of origin. Costs include immigration processing, travel expenses, and court payments. Adoptive parents may also have to undergo mandatory adoption seminars, and these seminars add to the price. Average spending for international adoptions can vary.

Expenses, documentation, or even legal proceedings for international adoptions may be more numerous than regular or domestic adoptions. One reason is that, should the parents decide to discontinue adoption, sending the child back will be an exhausting process, not just for the child but also for the agency and the parents.

International adoption is recommended to parents with prior adoption experience. Parents who have adopted children with special needs and disabilities are also more preferable since these parents have experience dealing with higher mental, physical, and learning challenges of the child.

Securing Medical Information

Children with special needs and disabilities will have health and medical issues. Adoptive parents must immediately secure the child’s medical information to make it easier to provide for medical needs.

Adoption agencies should have some medical information about the child, but this is not always the case. Especially when such information is incomplete or unavailable, parents should seek medical consultation for the child and collect as much information as they can early on. For example, if the child suffers from a speech impediment, the parents should consult a physician for the child’s speech or language therapy.

Post-Adoption Agency Support

Adoption is not just a one-off deal where the parents choose an agency, adopt a child, and go home. Issues may arise later, especially when adopting children with special needs—parents may need assistance.

Regardless of what type of adoption agency the potential parents choose, it is essential that the selected agency also provides post-adoption support. Some agencies have 24/7 support services. Parents adopting and taking care of children with special needs and disabilities will find this service essential as the parents may have questions or need the agencies’ assistance any time of the day.

The agency must be trustworthy, proactive, and respectful— especially when it comes to the parents’ and child’s rights. Having a friendly, helpful staff also lessens the pressure and stress of the adoption process.

Challenges of Adoption

Despite the availability of information, best practices, and recommendations on adequately adopting a special needs child, it is still possible that the adoption process will fail. Even families with the best intentions for the foster child can experience disruptions.

Adoptive parents who cannot gauge their capacity to care for a special needs child may also find themselves having a difficult situation later on. This not only includes financial difficulty but also mental, emotional, and physical difficulties.

In the worst-case scenario, rehoming can occur. This scenario happens when parents seek the placement of their adopted child into another home when the adoption process fails. For children with special needs and disabilities, this can be harmful to them and may even create legal problems. Careful planning, sufficient research, and due diligence in choosing an agency and the child to adopt beforehand can reduce potential problems and risks such as disruptions and rehoming.

Overall, the goal of adopting a special needs child is not just to give them a new home, but to provide them with a loving, long-term family who will provide for the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Who Can Help

If you’re considering adopting a child with special needs, you can reach out to these organizations for support:

For More Information

The following resources may benefit those considering adopting a child with special needs: