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Special Needs Adoption Assistance

Parents adopting children with special needs may be eligible for federal and state adoption assistance. This financial support (also referred to as an adoption subsidy) is usually paid monthly and is intended to help with medical needs and other support-related expenses.

This article provides an overview of special needs adoption assistance, including eligibility requirements and how to apply for assistance.

The Definition of "Special Needs"

Federal adoption assistance funds are available through the states under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. The definition of "special needs" has three criteria:

  1. The child can't or shouldn't be returned to his or her birth parents,
  2. The child has a factor (or combination of factors) that make them more difficult to place for adoption (i.e. age, sibling group status, medical condition, emotional disabilities, etc.), and
  3. There has been a reasonable (but unsuccessful) effort made by the state to place the child without providing assistance.

The state or tribe determines if a child fits the criteria of special needs.

Eligibility for Special Needs Adoption Assistance

If the child meets the above criteria to be considered a "special needs" orphan, the next step is to determine if they are eligible to receive special needs adoption assistance. Some of the ways to be eligible for special needs adoption assistance include: 

  • The child was removed from their home by a judge's ruling. The judge's decision was based on a finding that removal was in the child's best interest and that the home was contrary to the child's welfare.
  • The child has been in foster care for at least 60 consecutive months. (Special needs adoption assistance may also cover siblings who are eligible to be adopted with their sibling.)
  • The child meets the requirements for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits through the Social Security Administration.
  • The child had previously been adopted but that adoption was dissolved (that may have occurred upon a parent's death, for example).
  • An infant born to a foster child who is receiving Title IV-E assistance will also be covered by Title IV-E assistance and meets the definition of "special needs."

While there were currently some age restrictions for Title IV-E eligibility, these age restrictions are in the process of being phased out. Title IV-E eligibility will be open to children of all ages by July 1, 2024.

Special Needs Adoption Assistance Benefits

The types of expenses covered, the frequency of payment, and the exact benefits provided by adoption assistance depend on state policies. They are determined on a case-by-case basis. Special needs adoption assistance may include the following:

  • Monthly payments up to the amount that family foster care would have provided
  • Medicaid coverage (this is automatic for eligible children)
  • Reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses (up to $2,000 federally, but many states set lower limits)
  • Post-adoption services for special needs children, including in-home support and referrals to community services

If it's later determined that more funds are needed to cover the child's needs, adoptive parents can ask to renegotiate the special needs assistance agreement.

Confused About Special Needs Adoption Assistance? An Attorney Can Help

The main goal of state and federal adoption assistance programs is to ensure special needs children find a home. If you are considering adopting a child with special needs, learn more about assistance programs that could help. Talk to an adoption law attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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