There’s no such thing as a free lunch. But Is there such a thing as a free adoption?

While many Americans have considered adoption, the one barrier that prevents them from proceeding is the exorbitant costs involved. A private, domestic adoption can cost upwards of $10,000 and international adoptions can cost as much as $40,000. Wow! Not sure our piggy banks can hold such an amount. That being said, there are many ways to finance an adoption without going broke.

Foster Care Adoption

The closest thing to a free adoption is foster care adoption. This is when a person who is already a foster parent, adopts a foster child through the foster care system. Foster care is a temporary system that cares for children while the primary caregiver, usually the biological parents, recover from drugs, alcohol, a debilitating disease, or is incarcerated. If a parent is unable to be rehabilitated, the parental rights of the biological parents will be terminated by the courts, allowing an acceptable party to adopt them. Children are in foster care through no fault of their own because they have been the victims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. Out of those children, 100,000 are available for adoption.

- What are the costs involved in adopting a foster child?

Foster care adoption costs virtually nothing! Because the state or local municipality picks up the costs of adoption, the prospective adoptive parent can use those funds for other purposes. Attorney’s fees are waived because an attorney is appointed to the family and/or the child. The application fees and home study fees are also waived by the foster-adopt agency. This eliminates thousands of dollars which would normally be paid by those pursuing private adoptions. The only costs involved are those needed for CPR/First Aid training, fingerprinting, and costs incurred from home and child safety. Not exactly a free adoption, but close enough.

- Who can adopt a foster child?

Rules and regulations vary from state to state, but a person needs to be 18 years of age to adopt; he or she can be related to the child who is going to be adopted (kinship adoption); he can be unrelated; she can be single or married; he can own his own home or rent. There is generally no minimum income requirement, but applicants must submit an income statement and must submit verification of income, even if the only income is Social Security. There is no maximum age to adopt, however, the adoptive parent must be healthy. Depending on the foster-adopt agency you adopt through, there may be additional requirements.

- What types of children are available to adopt through the foster care system?

The children that are available to adopt are children whose parents have had their rights terminated due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. A small percentage may be orphaned or those children whose parents are mentally, emotionally, or physically unable to care for them. Foster children are there through no fault of their own. Of the 100,000 children ready for adoption, most are older, part of a sibling group, or have special needs.

- What is the process of adopting a foster child through the foster system?

Find a foster-adopt or foster licensing agency. These agencies may vary from state to state, but there are various types of agencies that specialize in teens, children with disabilities, different ethnicities, and the faith community. Each agency may have additional requirements above and beyond state requirements. They may also assist in the child search and child match process.

- Become licensed as a foster parent

The foster care licensing process is long and lengthy, taking anywhere between four to nine months. It can be excruciating, but this is to ensure that the foster home is a quality home. The process may include training, a home study, a background check, and a home inspection. The agency may also conduct interviews with your references, employers, physicians, and anyone else that may help to determine your acceptability to foster. Foster care licensing does not cost anything, and in most cases the home study and the application fees are free.

- Become certified to adopt

Depending on which state you reside in, being licensed for foster care and being certified to adopt may or may not be two separate processes. Check for your state requirements.

- Adopt your own foster child (1)

Once you are licensed as a foster parent, you may be placed with a foster child who becomes free for adoption. At that point, if there are no other family members who are acceptable to adopt, the foster parent may have an opportunity to adopt. This is an easy transition since the child is already a part of the family and does not need to make another move to a different home.

- Adopt a child from another foster home (2)

The last option is to adopt a child from a different foster home. You may ask, why wouldn’t a foster home want to adopt their own foster child? There are many reasons, including the age of the foster parents, a decision to move out of state, or other reasons.

Whatever the reason, every child deserves a loving, permanent home. Foster care adoption is the perfect mechanism to ensure this. Foster care adoption is a win-win situation. It provides the child with a forever family and provides you with the opportunity to serve a child in need. And it is the closest thing to a free adoption that you will get.

Guardianship

Guardianship is not exactly adoption, yet not exactly foster care. Guardianship is a legal act, approved by a judge in which a parent or primary caregiver turns over physical and legal custody to another responsible adult who agrees to be the legal guardian for that child or vulnerable adult. A legal guardian has the power to act on health matters, educational matters, and personal matters on behalf of that child or vulnerable adult. Legal guardianship can be or permanent or temporary. Permanent guardianship can be granted to another person if it is documented that the primary caregivers committed abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Temporary guardianship may be given to a person if parental rights have not been involuntarily severed. In this case, the birth mom keeps her parental rights, still has visitation rights, and can petition the courts to end guardianship should she feel that she is now in the position to raise the child. Guardianship costs are nonexistent and, in some states, the legal guardian may receive a stipend to be the guardian. Check your local municipality and/or state statutes for more information as details of the guardianship process may vary.

County Attorneys

A little-known fact is this: in many states, county attorneys can do just as good a job in facilitating an adoption as a private attorney. County attorneys are part of the bar association, just like any other attorney. One difference is that they work for a local government rather than a private practice. The second difference is that the cost of hiring a county attorney is hundreds of dollars, rather than thousands.

Tax Incentives

Even if you cannot find a “free adoption,” the IRS has implemented tax incentives for adoptive families.

- The adoption tax credit* is an incentive to families who have completed a finalized adoption with the courts. The maximum credit a family can receive is $13,000! Regardless of whether you adopted domestically or internationally, privately, or through the state, you may be eligible for a tax credit. The adoption tax credit goes against your tax liability of the year you claimed it on your federal income tax return.

- Adoptive parents may be able to claim an adoptive child as a dependent on their taxes if: 1) you have had physical custody of an adopted child, 2) that child has resided in your home for six months or more, 3) they are 18 years of age or anything below that, and 4) no one else claims that child on their taxes. You will need the child’s full name, date of birth, and a valid Social Security number. Consult your tax advisor.

Adoption Subsidies

An adoption subsidy is a monthly stipend provided by some states that provide financial assistance for an adoptive parent who is caring for a child with special needs. Depending on the state you are adopting from, the subsidy is valid until the child turns 18 years of age or 21 if the child is still in school. The subsidy is based on the child’s special needs. The adoption social worker facilitates the subsidy and is usually the last thing approved before adoption finalization.  It is important that the adoptive family gather all needed documentation for the child to receive a subsidy. The subsidy board may turn down a family’s request for a subsidy if they deem the child to have no special needs. Check with your state’s requirements as not all states grant an adoption subsidy.

Employee Benefits

Did you know that your place of employment may provide adoption benefits? Above and beyond FMLA (The Family Medical Leave Act), your job may provide paid leave, financial assistance, legal assistance, and other benefits. Check with your human resources department.

It should go without saying that you will not become rich by adopting, and anyone who looks to do so is proceeding with poor motives. The motivation should be to provide a forever family to a child who needs a home. That being said, you should not go broke adopting. Anyone who qualifies should be able to. Finances should never be a barrier to adopting. Do your research and follow the links provided. Adoption is a blessing to all involved.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.