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Adoption Subsidy

If you are considering adopting from the foster care system, or have already adopted from the foster care system, you may have assistance available to you. This is known as an adoption subsidy or adoption assistance.  In this article, I will give you a brief overview of the who, what, when, and whys of adoption subsidy.

I will remind all the readers that this article is written from my personal experience and research and does not constitute legal advice. Please seek your local foster care agency or adoption attorney for legal advice and specifics to your state.  For now, we will cover the essentials of who, what, when, where, why, and how to receive adoption assistance or an adoption subsidy and what it will mean to your family if you adopt through the foster care system.


Adoption assistance is available to children who have been determined to be “unadoptable” without adoption assistance. This type of adoption is known as a “special needs adoption.”  Most people will automatically think special needs means a child with a physical or mental disability. For the purpose of adoption assistance, special needs could mean the adoption of an older child, a sibling group, or sometimes certain racial or ethnic group. Each state has its own definition of what would be considered special needs and the adoption assistance programs vary state by state. Make sure to check with your local agency to be sure what your state’s adoption subsidy consists of and what determining factors there are in order to receive the assistance and how they classify “special needs.”


What is an adoption subsidy? An adoption subsidy is essentially financial assistance provided to families who have adopted children from the foster care system to provide support to meet the families needs for expenses. These expenses could include medical care, counseling, therapy, special equipment, tutoring programs, or other support to help raise their children who have special needs. In order to have a child be considered for special needs, they must meet three criteria.

1. The state has to determine the child cannot be returned to the birth parent’s home.

2. The state has to find a specific factor or combination of factors or conditions that would make the child more difficult to place for adoption. Again, each state has its own special needs definition, which could include the child’s ethnic background; age; sibling group status; medical conditions, if any; mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.  

3. The state must also make all reasonable, but unsuccessful, efforts to place the child without providing adoption assistance. Agencies, however, cannot shop around for a family willing to adopt a child without support while the child remains in foster care. If the agency has determined that the child is unable to return to his/her biological parents and has special needs, the agency can then ask any prospective parents whether they are willing to adopt the child without assistance. This would then meet the requirement of making a reasonable effort.

There are several different types of adoption subsidies. I will review a few of them here.

Title IV-E– This is a federal program that provides financial support to adoptive parents who have adopted children with special needs. Some children will be eligible for this federal aid, while others will be eligible for other services funded at the state or local county level.

Non-Title IV-E– This is financial assistance funded by the state and/or local county offices. They may receive funds from the federal government to support their local funding, but this will be received by the parents from the local level.

Title XX– Title XX social services are block grants from the federal government to the state governments. Some states then pass these funds through to the county level, while other states provide direct services to the adoptive families to use these funds.

SSI– SSI which stands for Supplemental Security Income, which is a federally funded support for children who have significant disabilities. This usually includes diagnosis of Down syndrome, deafness, blindness, or cerebral palsy.

Non-Recurring Costs– These are one-time expenses directly related to the finalization of a child whom the state has deemed hard to place or having special needs. Typical expenses are paid or reimbursed to the family include things such as home study fees; attorney fees; replacement of the birth certificate; travel to and from visits with the child, including mileage, lodging, and meals.

Means Testing– The means test refers to using the family’s income to determine eligibility for adoption assistance. Means testing cannot be used for Title IV-E assistance and not every state uses a means test to determine eligibility. However, SSI is determined using a means test.  

Each state usually has its own basic rates and specialized rates for their monthly payments to the families. Specialized rates are based on any extraordinary needs of the child or additional parenting skills required to raise the special needs child. The state may also have higher rates for children who would have a higher level of care needed or a difficulty of care rate provided to them. Again, these are determined by each specific state.


Many states provide monthly payments which can be any amount that the state would have paid for the child—had the child remained in foster care. Again, there could be higher rates for children who have more specialized needs. These payments are negotiated individually for each child and the family. Again, they are also determined by each state.

Children can also be eligible for medical assistance. If a child is eligible for Title IV-E assistance, they are automatically eligible for Medicaid benefits. Medicaid benefits are able to be transferred across states lines if you were to move. Some benefits may change depending on that state’s requirements for adoption assistance.  

Some states also provide post-adoption services to families. This could include but not be limited to child care, respite care, in-home services, referral to community services, or other needs of the child.


Adoption subsidies are for the most part determined at the state level. However, as mentioned above, a few services are from the federal government. However, adoptive parents should know the rate their child will receive if the child has already been in the foster care system. In most states, the rate the child received while in foster care will be the same rate the adoptive parents will receive. However, in some states, the rate is lower than that of the foster care system. If you are the child’s foster care provider, you may be able to bring it to the attention of the state that the child will actually need more assistance than that of which they are currently receiving. However, the adoption subsidy rate is rarely, if ever, higher than the current foster care rate. Some states offer a varying rate depending on the child’s level of need. However, it is important that adoptive parents understand their states’ eligibility and benefits before they discuss and/or negotiate an adoption assistance agreement.

Many adoptive parents inquire as to whether or not they will receive an adoption subsidy if they adopt internationally. Unfortunately, in most cases, children adopted internationally do not qualify for the Title IV-E adoption assistance program. In fact, their policy states that the Title IV-E program was earmarked to help find permanent homes for children who are in the public foster care system. As such, those who have adopted internationally do not meet the requirements to obtain assistance at the federal level.  However, there may be a state option for non-recurring expenses depending on your state’s legal definition of special needs and qualifications for receiving aid.


In many cases, children who are adopted from the foster care system have physical, mental health, and developmental needs. These children are at a higher risk for health problems, learning disabilities, developmental delays, physical impairments, and mental health difficulties.

The adoption subsidy is there to help offset some of the expenses that will be incurred because of these additional needs.

In most states and cases, adoption assistance will need to be negotiated and put into an agreement. This agreement encompasses the child’s needs and the family’s circumstances. The child’s basic needs would include their ordinary needs such as food, clothing, housing, etc. They may also have “special” needs such as medical, mental, or physical needs. The family’s circumstances would include the family’s ability to meet the child’s needs, their income, occupation, debt, housing, transportation, space, family size, needs of other family members, and other factors. Of course, each case is unique and not a one-size-fits-all mold.

In order to prepare for an adoption assistance negotiation, parents will need to gather evidence through documentation of the child’s special needs. This could come directly from your child’s social worker or foster parent (if not you), and any other services the child may be receiving. The documentation should include letters from the child’s doctor confirming any diagnoses or concerns for the child. They may also want to include any special services that they deem the child may need. You may also want correspondence from any other doctors or service providers such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, or any other professionals that have personal knowledge of the child.

You may also need to provide documentation of those needs such as transportation to scheduled appointments, co-pays, other medical expenses not covered by Medicaid or insurance, missed time from work due to medical appointments and/or behavioral issues, specialized needs to meet the child’s educational needs, and any other activities to help the child with socialization or behavioral needs.  

Potential adoptive parents may also be required to create a budget to determine any costs that will be needed in association with raising a child with special needs. The budget should include things such as housing, transportation, utilities, food, debt payments, and more. It is important to note that the adoption subsidy is not meant to cover all the child needs but to “offset” some of the above normal expenses related to adopting a child with special needs.


Last but not least, how do you receive an adoption subsidy? If you are in the process of adopting, especially from the foster care system, be sure to talk with your agency worker to discuss any adoption assistance you may be eligible for. The terms of the assistance should be determined before finalization of the adoption. You may be able to return for further assistance after finalization, however, it can be a long process to do so.  

If you have already adopted from the foster care system, you may also want to discuss what, if any, adoption assistance is available to you. You are able to request an increase in assistance if circumstances have changed for your child and your family. Make sure to check with your state’s requirements regarding this.

Overall, it is a good idea to understand and know your state’s requirements for receiving public aid as well as the federal requirements for receiving an adoption subsidy. While I believe it is great information to know and understand before adoption, I urge you not to make decisions on whether or not you should adopt from the foster care system based solely on whether you will receive financial assistance. Adopting from the foster care system can be very rewarding for both the child and the adoptive parents. I wouldn’t want to see you make such a life-changing decision based on whether or not you will receive financial help along the way.

However, if you are interested in adopting from the foster care system, knowing there are benefits out there may help you make the decision to adopt from the foster care system.  I just don’t want it to be your deciding factor. I hope this article helped you understand what an adoption subsidy is, how to receive it, and why it is important. I wish you the best of luck in adopting from the foster care system and receiving adoption assistance, if applicable to your situation.

Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.

Jessica Heesch

Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.