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The dollars and cents of adoption – what you can expect

If you’re just starting on the adoption journey the amount of choices before you can seem daunting at first.   With more options come more decisions, each with its own emotional and financial risks and benefits.  To help you find the right path, here’s an overview of the most common routes to adoption.

Adopting a domestic infant via an adoption agency:
Hopeful parents-to-be who seek a U.S.-born infant often enlist the help of an adoption agency.  Private agencies set their own criteria on applicants they will accept, some more restrictive than others.  In the past, those using an agency had their names added to a list and waited for a match.  Today, the trend toward open adoption means that you are likely to meet the birth parents, who may request ongoing contact with the child. The agency is likely to send a few sets of parent profiles to the potential birth parents, who then pick the one they are most comfortable with.  Following the initial selection, the birth parents and adopting parents typically meet.  The child may be placed with the adoptive family immediately after birth or from foster care.  If you insist on a closed adoption process, your wait may be longer, since most agencies now encourage varying degrees of openness.


Typical cost: $20,000 to $40,000, including the homestudy, counseling for potential birth parents and prospective adoptive parents, legal expenses, medical expenses, and foster care, if needed.

Benefits: If service and support are what you want, an agency guides you through each step of the process, but at a price.

Risks: The agency’s criteria and the birth parents’ desires for adoptive parents, in addition to your own specifications for a child, can affect the time it takes for you to be matched with a birthparent.  A “false start” can occur when prospective birth parents decide against adoption at some time during the process.

Adopting an infant privately:
Among other types of adoption – and a common way of adopting a domestic infant – is by locating a potential birth mother yourself, usually with a lawyer’s help.  Of the estimated 18,000 annual domestic newborn adoptions, at least half are done independent of an agency.


People looking for an independent adoption mail résumés to obstetricians and attorneys, advertise in newspaper classifieds sections, and even create personal Web pages or biographical blogs in order to match with a birth parent.  Once a match is established, adoptive and birth parents together arrange a plan for the adoption, hospital stay, and ongoing contact, if desired.  The baby typically is taken home directly from the hospital.

Each state has its own laws governing independent adoptions.  In some states, for example, an adoption attorney can head the search for a birth mother for you.  Or you can search on your own and hire a lawyer to screen prospective birth mothers and handle the legal paperwork.

Typical cost: $7,000 to $10,000 in legal fees for yourself and the birth parents, plus at least $7,500 in medical expenses.

Benefits: You control the search process and the degree of openness with the birth parents, have direct contact with them, and aren’t restricted by agency requirements.

Risks: Costs are largely unpredictable.  Advertising, counseling, and living expenses for the birth parents vary widely from adoption to adoption.

Adopting internationally:
In 2013, Americans adopted 7,092 children from other countries, usually young children from orphanages in developing nations of Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

Most international placements are handled by U.S.-based agencies, which often facilitate adoptions in multiple countries, each with its own policies on who may adopt and who may be adopted.  The placing organization abroad may be a governmental body, private orphanage, foundation, or other social welfare group.  Most countries require that one or both of the adoptive parents travel to the country to pick up the child.


Children available for adoption may struggle with undernourishment, developmental delays, or emotional problems, but be otherwise healthy.  Adopters often consult a doctor with international adoption expertise to review a child’s records before accepting the referral, and to examine the child once home.

Typical cost: $25,000 to $50,000, or more, depending on travel and other requirements of the country.

Benefits: The length of wait and fees have been predictable in the past, although changes in adoption programs have lessened this certainty.  Matches are fairly routine and are typically processed in the order in which dossiers are received, making international adoptions a good alternative to those who like not having to be chosen by birth parents.

Risks: Paperwork required by the U.S. government, as well as the sending country, can be cumbersome.  Medical information can be erroneous or incomplete.  Policy changes or domestic problems in the sending country can delay or suspend the process.  Studies show that almost all children catch up developmentally, but there’s always a risk of long-term problems for any child who has spent time in an orphanage or other institution.

Adopting from foster care:
In 2012, an estimated 52,039 children were adopted within the U.S. from the public foster-care system.  State agencies handle these adoptions, which typically happen in one of two ways: families apply directly to adopt a child in foster care, or first become foster parents and then adopt after the birth parents’ rights are terminated.

Foster care words

Children waiting to be adopted from foster care average 7.8 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.  Most are deemed to have special needs because of physical, mental, or behavioral disabilities, age, or membership in a minority or sibling group.

Typical cost: $0 to $3,000 in initial expenses, but fees can be recouped through a federal reimbursement plan or the adoption tax credit. Many families will receive the federal tax credit, regardless of their actual expenses.

Benefits: Reimbursements make cost negligible, and ongoing subsidies (averaging $350 per month) are available to help pay for the child’s needs, including medical and counseling, day care, and tutoring.

Risks: Older children may have emotional, physical, or mental disabilities, or other special needs. The process can take a while because state agencies often are understaffed.

As we have outlined, the process and number of options can often cause confusion.  If  you have any questions or need help facilitating your adoption plan please contact us at any time.


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