When adopting a child through foster care, most children will qualify for an adoption subsidy, or adoption assistance. This subsidy is similar to the monthly stipend that foster parents receive while caring for a foster child. Most children adopted from the foster care system are considered “special needs” adoptions, as these kids may have been exposed to childhood trauma and may have additional mental health or physical health needs. The adoption subsidy is in place to help care for the additional needs of the children, like counseling, medication, therapies, specialists, etc. Most areas will provide state medical coverage for children who are adopted from the foster care system until the age of 18 as part of the adoption subsidy. You are able to use this coverage on its own or as a secondary option to your own family health insurance plan. The medical assistance is offered by the state, which means if something were to happen out of state, on a vacation, or while traveling, the medical assistance may not help with those costs. This is why you may want to consider having the assistance as a secondary option to ensure more coverage as needed. Also, not all doctors or facilities will accept the state medical assistance. This usually affects children who need residential care or specialty services, where often the prices are extreme and the accepted insurance is minimal.
Depending on the special needs of the child you adopt, you may or may not receive a monthly stipend. This type of subsidy is based on the needs of the child. The stipend is to help cover any additional care your child may need based on learning disabilities, mental health needs, physical health issues, or other special needs of the child. Children adopted from foster care often have additional needs due to early childhood trauma from things like neglect, poor nutrition, drug exposure in utero, or other abuse. The older the child is at adoption, the more likely they are to have additional special needs and need additional assistance.
I can tell you from my personal experience, I have adopted two children from foster care. Only one of them receives a monthly stipend based on his needs. This child received a larger stipend while in foster care based on his needs, and it was determined that those needs qualified for continued support after the adoption was completed. The other child, even though it was considered a “special needs” adoption, did not have any need for care that would qualify him for a monthly stipend. His adoption took place at a younger age before many of his needs were known. If I felt I needed assistance, I could ask for a review of his case and ask to receive additional monetary support. However, at the time of his adoption, the subsidy we received included state medical assistance only, with no additional monthly assistance.
There is also assistance in the form of the adoption tax credit. This credit is available for five years following the year you completed your adoption. In recent years, it has been a non-refundable credit. This means the credit was only available if you had a federal tax liability. The law regarding the tax credit can change yearly, so you will want to be sure that your accountant who handles your tax preparation is up to date on the current state of the credit. There have been times that the credit was refundable and available to all families who adopted. Again, these tax credits can change, and you will want to be sure to know what is available to you when you adopt, and for the time period, you are able to qualify. The adoption tax credit is typically a large amount and if you qualify you will want to use this to help. It can be a great financial assistance to adoptive families.
You may be entitled to just one form of assistance or several. Each state and county has its own rules regarding how subsidies are given.
Some areas may even help with college tuition of children who spent significant time in foster care. Some areas will help with respite care after adoption. Some areas include help with therapy and mental health treatments.
An important thing to remember is that your child may not qualify for all forms of assistance. If you are adopting, you will receive an agreement with the state based on your child’s needs regarding what additional help you qualify to receive. This form is part of the adoption paperwork and will be agreed upon prior to finalizing the adoption.
If you do not agree with the subsidy you are offered, you can ask for a review of the process. You may need to provide information about the diagnosis from physicians or lists of medications that are updated. Because the subsidy is based on your child’s needs, if the child has no diagnosis at the time of adoption, you may not qualify for monetary monthly help. You will likely still be offered medical assistance.
If a child is young at adoption, and needs are unknown, like in my personal situation with my youngest, the child may not meet requirements for monthly subsidies. However, even though the current adoption agreement states $0 per month, in the event the child does show signs of health concerns or special needs in the future, the document can be reviewed and recalculated given more current information. For instance, my youngest has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, he has been tested for seizure disorders, and he has had to go to speech therapy. If I felt the need to get assistance for the care he receives for these needs, I could contact the social worker that helped facilitate our adoption and request that she reevaluates his subsidy options. At this point, due to some needs arising over the years, he may qualify. At this point, I haven’t done so, as I haven’t felt the need to yet. However, should we ever begin to struggle to get him proper care, this is an option that is available.
In the case of my older son, who has received a monthly subsidy since his adoption, as he ages and if his needs become greater, we could also ask for a review of his needs to determine if the subsidy could be adjusted. His needs at the age of 6 were different than they are now at age 10. He has had several diagnoses added to his medical chart, including reactive attachment disorder, Tourette syndrome, and a mood disorder.
If you are adopting and your child is not qualifying for monthly subsidies, be sure to ask if you have the option of reviewing and changing the document as the child ages. If you want, as a parent, you are also able to terminate the subsidy agreement if you choose.
Each state handles adoption assistance differently, and you will want to be sure to check into what your state offers. Some states give flat rates based on age at adoption, while others calculate based on needs.
Most adoption assistance or subsidy is terminated when the child reaches 18 years old. In some areas, assistance may continue until age 21. Other programs continue through high school or college graduation. Check with your caseworker to determine the length of time your child may be eligible to receive subsidies or assistance.
Adoption subsidies are not considered taxable income by the IRS. However, other government programs may include adoption subsidies when deciding what your child or family qualifies for in terms of other types of assistance. If you are applying for other assistance, such as free or reduced school lunches, housing, food stamps, income-based energy assistance, or benefits for the family, you will need to check with those places in your area to find out if you need to include the adoption subsidy as part of your household income or if it is excluded.
When people find out that you are receiving a subsidy for your child, you may feel like you are being judged, similarly to how people judge foster parents for receiving monthly stipends for care. Some people believe strongly that once you have adopted a child, all assistance should be stopped, as you are now the legal parent of the child and should bear full responsibility for their care.
What most people who feel this way do not understand is that children who qualify for subsidies have special needs at adoption, and the subsidy is provided to help offset the costs of their treatments, medications, and overall care. If these subsidies were taken away, many kids would not be able to be placed in adoptive families, simply because the cost of their special needs would exceed the families income.
Adoptive parents do not make a “profit” from adopting children. This is true also for those who foster children. Oftentimes, the monthly subsidy or stipend does not even cover all of the monthly care. However, it does help with costs and allows a typical family to be able to financially care for children who may have special needs.
When faced with judgmental people, you can choose to educate them on what subsidies are for, and how they help families and children who qualify for them, or you can choose to ignore them. I will be honest and say I have done both. Some days, the judgments get under my skin and I couldn’t have an honest and informative conversation with someone who thinks I am adopting for a monthly payment. Other times, I can keep my calm, and try to get people to understand why subsidies are necessary. Pick and choose your battles and those you are willing to invest your time with. The topic of subsidies is one that can be difficult to deal with when people do not understand special needs adoption.
While subsidies can be of great assistance to a family, they will not be fully supportive of the child, and will never cover all the costs of raising your children. They are meant to assist, not fully support. This is something that is often misunderstood by those who do not understand how the special needs foster care adoption system works.
In addition to financial help, there may be other forms of post-adoption assistance. Check in your area for support groups for the family and for the children as well. There may be resource sharing (books, education, etc) between adoptive parents and counties in your area. There may also be respite options to help with childcare and occasional breaks to regroup as a family. You may be able to find groups that cater to specific needs your family has. For instance, you might find support for families dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorders, or depression. These groups can be an incredible resource for information and may give you a sense of belonging. Parents who adopt from foster care sometimes find that they feel very alone, so finding post-adoption support can be very valuable.
If you are thinking about adopting a child, discuss what type of assistance you may need or what you may qualify for with your caseworker. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance if you feel you will need it to adequately care for your child. The caseworker can likely help you find the type of support you may need, as well as help you understand the subsidies you do or do not qualify for as adopting parents.
If you feel your child has needs above what the caseworker has on file, you can ask your physician or therapist to write a report that details the potential needs or therapies they believe your child will be needing to stay on track for a successful future. Sometimes this will help caseworkers be able to ask for more assistance or more specific help based on the needs that the doctor or therapist has been able to document.
When you are adopting a child with special needs, whether they are emotional or physical, the future and all the unknowns it holds can feel overwhelming. When you are unsure what the trauma of early childhood has done to affect the structure of the brain, and what your child may struggle with in the future, it is difficult to make agreements before finalization that outline what the support will be until they are legal adults. It is important to be sure you understand what your options are for any future changes, as well as how to make those changes.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.