Cost of Adoption in U.S.

Adoption is more affordable than most people realize.

Shannon Hicks February 14, 2019
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Are you interested in growing your family through adoption but worried about vague claims that “adoption is so expensive?” Are you beginning the adoption journey and curious about the average cost of different types of adoptions? Are you looking for some practical ways to defray the cost of your adoption? Read on for more information on all of these topics!

There is a pervasive cultural narrative in the United States that many folks would consider (and potentially pursue) adoption if it were a less expensive, more financially affordable process. But if you take a closer look, you will see that the cost of adoption in the U.S. is highly variable and dependent upon several factors.

Cost of Domestic Infant Adoption

One of the key variables in the cost of adoption is the type of adoption that you choose. Typically domestic infant adoption is completed with the aid of either an adoption agency or an adoption lawyer. The cost of domestic infant adoption typically covers legal fees, home study preparation, advertising, screening of birth and hopeful adoptive parents, counseling for birth parents as well as training and support for adoptive parents. Depending on the specific agency or lawyer, these fees can range from $8,000-$40,000. While discussing fees with potential adoption agencies or lawyers, it’s also important to remember that the “cheapest” option is not necessarily the wisest choice. It is crucial that you consider the ethical implications of your agency’s policies and procedures as well. Keep in mind that in most cases, the fees will be due at different stages of the adoption process. Your agency or lawyer should be able to give you an estimated list of these fees and approximately when you will need to pay them.

Cost of Foster Adoption in U.S.

You may also choose to pursue foster adoption. Currently, there are over 100,000 children and teens in the United States foster care system who are legally available for adoption. Most to all of the costs of foster adoption are covered by the government. Typically there are no agency fees, home study fees, legal fees, or training fees incurred by families who adopt from foster care. Additionally, while your child is in foster care, you will be reimbursed for some expenses through a monthly stipend (in most states, a foster child must live in your home for at least six months before she can be adopted). You may also qualify for an adoption subsidy after finalization if your case is determined by the government to be a special needs adoption. It’s important to note that the amount of the foster care stipend and adoption subsidy are not intended to cover all of the child’s expenses but to help offset the financial investment of raising a child. To begin the foster adoption process, you will typically contact your local social services agency. Another option is to consider viewing adoption photolistings and requesting more information about children who you think might be a good fit for your family.

Cost of International Adoption

If domestic adoption doesn’t seem to be a good match with your family’s goals, you may consider international adoption. The cost of an international adoption typically ranges from $10,000-$40,000 (not including travel costs). While the fees vary by the agency and country that you choose, they generally include application and home study fees, dossier preparation, and agency program fees. Again, these fees will be paid throughout the adoption process—not all at once. Additionally, there are important ethical considerations for choosing an agency to handle your international adoption. Certainly the financial investment should be one factor in choosing an agency and country, but it should never be the only factor.

Cost Is More Than Money

When considering the cost of adoption in U.S., it’s important to remember that the cost of building your family through adoption is not all a financial cost. The adoption process can be long, complicated, risky, and emotionally exhausting. It’s possible that you may experience a failed match or a failed adoptive placement. It’s possible that your foster child will be reunified with her biological parent or placed with another relative (reunification is almost always the first goal of foster care). It’s possible that the country where you are pursuing an international adoption will suspend or close its program. It’s possible that you will fall in love with a child who will never be a permanent part of your family. Honestly, it’s one of my pet peeves as a mom who adopted both of my children from foster care when people casually mention that “adoption from foster care is free.” While my adoptions were not financially prohibitive for me (one was completely reimbursed by my agency and the other one was almost completely reimbursed), both cost me very dearly in terms of time, energy, emotional investment, and frustration tolerance. If you are considering adoption, keep in mind that the “cost” of the process is more than just money.

Ways to Defray the Cost of Adoption

If you are considering adoption and the financial investment is holding you back, take heart. There are many resources for hopeful adoptive parents to explore that can help ensure that the cost of adoption in the U.S. is not an insurmountable obstacle.

First, consider whether adoption from foster care may be a good fit for your family. Talk to some foster adoptive parents in your community. Browse the website and social media feeds of your local department of social services. Attend an informational meeting. Remember that there are over 100,000 children and teens in the foster care system who are legally free for adoption (and many others who need safe homes today). There is a good chance that some of these children live in your community. If you choose to pursue foster adoption, you will not need to pursue other fundraising options,

Next, check with your human resources department to find out what kind of employer benefits may be available to help with the cost of your adoption. According to the federal government, adoptive parents are able to use FMLA leave to care for a newly placed child (no matter the child’s age). Foster parents are also able to use FMLA leave for a new foster placement if they choose.

After you’ve explored the possibility of employer benefits, take some time to research adoption grants. You may be tired of paperwork (your home study will involve a LOT of paperwork!), but if it brings you one step closer to bringing your child home, it’s worth it to apply for all of the grants open to you. In addition to searching the Internet, check with your social worker and other adoptive parents or hopeful adoptive parents in your community. They may have leads on grants hosted by local or specialized organizations, and every little bit can help.

Of course, it’s a good idea to consider allocating some of your family’s savings to an adoption fund. You or your spouse (or both of you) may consider taking on an extra shift, volunteering for overtime, or even taking on a second job temporarily to raise funds for your adoption. It’s also worth considering how you can cut back on expenses temporarily and use the money that you save to put toward your adoption. And take a minute to look through your closets, garage, or storage units. You may have some items that you can sell and put the profit into your adoption fund.

Very often, hopeful adoptive parents turn to their friends and family to help them raise money for their adoption. A simple way to potentially reach a lot of people with your family’s story is to consider crowdfunding for your adoption. Make sure you carefully consider the details you choose to make public about your family, and check with your agency about what details you can safely share about the child/ren you are hoping to adopt as these campaigns can be spread far and wide. There are also many creative ways that you can raise funds from family and friends—from online auctions to organizing a “parent’s night out” and providing childcare (pizza and a movie!) for a donation to your adoption fund. It’s worth mentioning that you may get some negative feedback if you choose to fundraise for your adoption. Some people may express that you shouldn’t be adding to your family if you cannot “afford” it. Don’t let this dissuade you! Many others will be happy to support your adoption journey in whatever ways that they can.

One other option to consider is taking out a loan to help pay for your adoption. You may choose to borrow money from a trusted friend or family member (in this case, be sure to spell out the terms of the agreement in writing and consult a lawyer if needed). Or you may choose to apply for an adoption loan from an organization. Again, your social worker and adoptive parents in your community are great resources to help you locate potential sources for adoption loans.

If you think that adoption may be a good option for your family, please do not let the cost of adoption in the U.S. scare you off. There are many ways to minimize or defray the financial impact of your adoption, no matter what path to adoption you choose.

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.


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