"Waiting" and Special-Needs Children

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Who are the special-needs children, and what exactly does "special-needs" mean? There is no simple answer to this question regarding children commonly called "special-needs" or "waiting" children. Many mistakenly believe it only refers to a child with an emotional, mental or a physical hardship. And indeed, yes, these children fall within the special-needs umbrella. But other children do as well... children who are beyond a particular age (such as over six), part of a sibling group, or a member of an ethnic group that has fewer adoptive parents seeking to adopt, leaving an excess of those children waiting homes.

Most special-needs children are referred to as "waiting" children because, unlike adoptive parents awaiting the birth of an unborn child, these children are ready and waiting for a home. Virtually all are living in foster care, hoping for a permanent adoptive home. They may have lost their homes for a variety of reasons. Some were voluntarily placed by their birth parents due to an inability to parent (financial, health or legal problems such as incarceration). Some of the children have been removed from their birth families by order of a court for the child's protection (usually an unsafe environment for the child, often due to parental substance abuse or physical abuse of the child). Still other children find themselves homeless due to the death of their parent(s), with no available relatives.

Many of these children will need extraordinary parenting due to the hardships they may have suffered. Even in a fortunate case where no particularly harsh situations occurred leading a child to his or her present situation, the simple fact that the child is changing home environments, perhaps a common occurrence, is emotionally challenging. Parenting a waiting child can be tremendously rewarding, but prospective adoptive parents need to be well educated and trained regarding a child's particular needs. A lot of reading, and appropriate training classes, as well as talking with other experienced foster/adoptive parents is a necessity.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of waiting children. Yes, hundreds of thousands. To encourage the adoption of these children and give them the benefit of an adoptive, rather, than foster, family, these adoptions are normally underwritten by the county or state, meaning there are usually no, or very limited costs to the adoptive parents. So, rather than pay approximately $40,000 for an international adoption, or $10,000 to $20,000 for a typical domestic independent or agency adoption, adoptive parents can usually adopt a waiting child for no cost, or usually less than $500.

In fact, the adoptive parents often receive financial benefits unavailable to other adoptive parents. Since these adoptions are not of newborns, it is important to make sure the placement is working prior to making it a formal adoptive placement. For this reason, the initial placement is usually in a fost-adopt status. During this stage, the adoptive parents actually receive a modest sum (varies by state, but usually several hundred dollars) to cover the child's expenses. In some cases, where the child may have more significant needs, this financial assistance can even continue even after the adoption is granted, while the child is still a minor. Also, the federal adoption tax credit has particular benefits not available for adoptive parents not adopting a special needs child.

In "traditional" adoption, the adoptive parents must actually pay their adoption expenses, then (if income eligible) be reimbursed by the government up to their expenses totaling $12,970 under the 2013 federal adoption tax credit. If the child is deemed "special needs," however, the adoptive parents receive the full $12,970 tax credit, even if they had no expenses. To read more about the federal adoption tax credit, click here.

Commonly, the placement of these children are through public adoption agencies, but many private adoption agencies feature them as well. A wonderful aspect of the present-day adoption of waiting children is that you are not limited to children in your own county, or even state. Virtually all county agencies use the available data bases of the regional adoption exchanges, or the national exchange. Most of these adoption exchanges allow you to go online and view waiting children.

The national adoption exchange is the Children's Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services. Their website is adoptuskids.org.

There are four major regional adoption exchanges:

  • The Adoption Exchange (located in Colorado), adoptex.org
  • Children Awaiting Parents (CAP)(located in NY), capbook.org
  • National Adoption Center (PA), adopt.org
  • Northwest Adoption Exchange (WA), nwae.org

Although you can view the waiting children on the above sites, obtaining more information about the children, and starting an actual placement can usually only occur with the assistance of your local county adoption agency, or in some cases, some private agencies. Additionally, your local adoption agency can normally access more children available who are viewable online, than is viewable to the general public.

Increasingly, the children available in international adoption are older, and many have a special-need, not to mention the issues of changing citizenship, language and culture. Adoptive parents often forget there are children who are just as adoptable in their "own backyard" that don't require 1-3 trips overseas, sometimes years of bureaucracy and disappointments when foreign laws change, and the expenditure of approximately $40,000. Give our nation's own kids a chance and consider them!

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