Why do People Think Adoption is so Costly?

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 2.10.15 PMby Brett Shears

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. 

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Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change 181 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at dheimpel@fosteringmediaconnections.org.


  1. Hello. I had been thinking about adoption for years but I was afraid that it was too expensive. I finally started to go through the process in Oct. I passed the background check from NYS now I am now going through the home study. They told me the cost would be $30,000 plus legal and medical for the birth mother. I saw info in a previous post about NYC. Do you have any contact info for upstate NY?

  2. Im getting married in October and would live to adopt. I’m from nyc… anyone have any good assistance?

    • Hi Kaity,

      We have a lot of information on our website and everything is free. Or you can give us a call to talk through what your plans are. 1-800-ASK-DTFA.

      We also have a list of recruiters on our site. For NYC you could contact the following:

      New York Council on Adoptable Children
      New York City
      Recruiter: Gloria Lisa Baksh
      Recruiter phone: (212) 475-0222
      Recruiter email: gbaksh@coac.org
      General phone: (212) 475-0222
      Website: coac.org

      You Gotta Believe!
      New York City New York
      Recruiter: Astrudge Mclean
      Recruiter phone: (718) 570-5132
      Recruiter email: amclean@yougottabelieve.org
      General phone: (718) 372-3003
      Website: yougottabelieve.org

      Good luck and let us know how we can help.

  3. We did a public adoption in Arizona 10 years ago. We adopted a brother and sister. The cost for us was only $800. Plus later we got the tax credit that gave us $12,500 per child. I tell anyone that will listen that they can do this too. There are children everywhere around us that need permanent loving families.

    Our lives are so rich for it. We were meant to be a family. The love, care and future we are giving our kids and the love and joy they give us is unmatched.

    • Would you please provide me with information on adopting in Arizona? What agency you went through.
      thank you

    • Demetria, you could contact any of our recruiters on this list:

      Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK)
      Phoenix Arizona
      Recruiter: Ashleigh Gronewold
      Recruiter phone: (602) 930-4465
      Recruiter email: agronewold@aask-az.org
      General phone: (602) 254-2275
      Website: aask-az.org

      Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK)
      Phoenix Arizona
      Recruiter: Shannon Haley
      Recruiter phone: (602) 930-4601
      Recruiter email: shaley@aask-az.org
      General phone: (602) 254-2275
      Website: aask-az.org

      Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Inc.
      Tucson Arizona
      Recruiter: Rayleen Carangio
      Recruiter phone: (520) 745-8791
      Recruiter email: rayleenc@ccs-stnicks.org
      General phone: (520) 623-0344
      Website: ccs-soaz.org

      Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Inc.
      Tuscon Arizona
      Recruiter: Caitlin Coil
      Recruiter phone: (520) 745-8791
      Recruiter email: coila@email.arizona.edu
      General phone: (520) 623-0344
      Website: ccs-soaz.org

  4. The wait is long if you want a baby, but the joy is great adopting kids from a public agency.

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