In an oft-cited survey of American adults, nearly two out of five people thought that foster care adoption was “somewhat” or “very expensive.”
But this perception is not anchored in reality and may be the result of prospective parents who frequently conflate the costs of adopting through a public agency and a private agency. Moreover, it imposes an unnecessary burden on the foster care system and the children it serves.
According to the 2013 survey — conducted annually by the Dave Thomas Foundation — roughly 30 percent of Americans have considered adopting, but only two percent have actually done so. This so-called “adoption gap” has left more than 100,000 children in the foster care system waiting to be adopted, due in no small part to the perception of the costs.
However, the same survey found that, for those families who followed through with their adoption from foster care, the actual costs were minimal. While the costs of private adoption ranged anywhere from $10,000 to $45,000, adopting from foster care costs at most $2,500, and was often much less for families who were eligible for fee waivers to cover the costs of home study and background checks.
For prospective parents who make the mistake of conflating the costs of adopting through a public and private agency, they miss out on an opportunity to adopt in a relatively low-cost process.
In fact, in Los Angeles County, adopting from a public agency is among the least costly in the nation.
Sari Grant, Recruitment Administrator for Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services, notes that “the overwhelming majority of adoptive parents complete the process without incurring any fees,” with most costs ultimately being waived or reimbursed once the adoption process is complete.
In addition to financing for the process itself, there is ample support for families once the adoption is finalized. Through the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), families can receive monthly stipends of up to $800–depending on age–to help support their adopted child.
This government-sponsored support depends on the child’s status as having “special needs”; a term defined differently by each state, but which generally refers to physical and mental health needs, sibling status, and other qualities that make adoption less likely.
In Los Angeles County, Grant says, “all children in the LA County foster system are classified as special needs by virtue of their having come from an adverse parental background.”
Grant concedes that other counties may not be as liberal as Los Angeles in this regard, and thus may not have all its children classified as special needs. However, understanding such a classification is important for prospective parents who are still not familiar with the financial support available to them during and after the adoption process.
Brett Shears is a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. He wrote this story as part of the Media for Social Change class.