Children in the United States foster care system often have special needs. According to a study by Children’s Rights, a national child welfare organization, at least 30 percent of children awaiting adoption have at least one chronic medical condition; at least 30 percent and perhaps up to 80 percent have developmental delays; and at least 20 percent are fully handicapped. The needs of these children often go unmet by an overwhelmed system, which means this is an area where adoptive parents can truly make a difference. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about adopting a child who has special needs.


What Does Special Needs Mean When it Comes to Adoption?

While the legal definition of special needs varies by state, the term refers to children available for adoption who have health problems, are a member of certain racial or ethnic minorities, have a history of trauma, abuse, or neglect, test positive for HIV, or were exposed to drugs in utero. However, older children and those who are part of a sibling group that must be adopted together also fall into the special needs category.


How Do I Know If I’m Ready to Adopt a Child with Special Needs?

There are important considerations that you and your family should discuss before moving forward with this decision. Ask yourselves if you’re comfortable with contact with a child’s birth relatives, if you are able to adopt more than one child (and if so, how many), if you have support from family and friends, if you have a flexible lifestyle that will allow you to care for the child’s needs, and what challenges you feel you can handle as a parent.


What Resources Are Available to Help Adopted Children with Special Needs?

Families who adopt a child with special needs require financial, emotional, and practical support. Most states provide some financial assistance to parents who adopt from the foster care system. These children are also eligible for free or low-cost medical care and mental health services. Parents can find a database of these programs and locate providers in their area online from the federal Child Welfare Information Gateway. Educational assistance is also available; this also varies by state, but may include scholarships and tuition assistance or waivers.


How Do I Start the Process of Adopting a Child with Special Needs?

The Child Welfare Information Gateway also maintains a national database that can be searched by state. This allows prospective adoptive parents to find their local foster care agency as well as area support groups and training organizations.