Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Whether single or married, raising biological children or other adopted children, potential adoptive families are guided by their desire to make a difference in a child’s life, which is a wonderful starting point. Successfully parenting a child with special issues requires the attributes that all parents need: love, patience, a commitment to nurture your child, and a stable home, among others. However, in addition, successfully parenting a child with special issues may well require extra time to meet the child’s needs, the ability to advocate for the child and access to medical care, early intervention, and other services.

The term “special needs” can cover a broad range of conditions from medically fragile children with complicated syndromes to those at risk for developmental, behavioral, or learning issues due to pre-natal exposure to drugs or alcohol or having birth parents with heritable psychiatric illnesses. It is important for each family to consider what special needs they feel equipped to help with and which are the best match for their family. Often family members draw upon their own personal experiences when making this decision. They may be raising a biological child with special challenges or they may have grown up with a special needs child as a sibling, close relative, or family friend. An individual’s occupation may also impact on their decision, e.g. a nurse may feel comfortable with a child with medical issues, while a teacher feels prepared to parent a child who was drug-exposed and at risk for learning and behavior issues.

To begin the adoption process, you will need to contact a licensed adoption agency in your home state and request a home study. (To identify a licensed agency in your area use, select your state and choose the category of agency with which you would like to work). Although many people believe that the home study focuses on your physical dwelling, this belief is not the case. The home study process is intended to prepare and educate you for the placement of a child in your home. It will involve participating in adoption focused classes, completing paperwork including child abuse and federal clearances forms, and having a social worker visit you in your home. The actual “Home Study” is a legal document that approves your family to adopt a child and would also describe the special needs you feel are a good fit for your family. Once your home study is complete, you are ready to hear about different infants with various special needs. Families will need to outreach to agencies locally and nationally to increase their ability to identify infants with special needs in need of permanent homes.

When you do hear about a specific baby with special needs, it is important for you to understand the unique needs of the child and how these needs are manifested and treated both at the present time and in the future. In addition, it is crucial to consider how addressing these needs will impact the lives of all members of your family. To make this critical decision, each family needs to be certain that they have complete medical and background history regarding the child. It is Spence-Chapin’s practice to provide prospective families with an infant’s diagnoses, prognoses and treatment/therapy needs. Families review the medical information with their pediatrician and relevant specialists. Our agency believes it is good practice for the family’s pediatrician or specialist to have direct contact with the medical team caring for the baby. Families should not feel rushed in the decision making process and should feel that they have been given all known medical information to enable them to make an informed decision.

Families should also consider the costs inherent in raising a child with special needs. In some instances government support is available to assist families with these costs. Families should always inquire about the availability of these supports as part of their placement decision. The most common type of support is Adoption Subsidy Assistance. This consists of a monthly monetary payment to be used for the benefit of the child until adulthood and a Medicaid card usable either as primary or secondary medical insurance.

In most voluntary agency adoptions, birth parents select the adoptive parents and open adoption is becoming more common. In open adoptions, birth and adoptive parents meet and discuss the details of their relationship moving forward. In addition to the exchange of pictures and updates on the child’s progress, families may have ongoing contact whether through periodic telephone calls, e-mails and/or face to face meetings. Adoptive families who maintain ties to birth families note that it allows them to feel connected to their child’s roots and enables them to help their child be comfortable with adoption.

As you move through your adoption journey, there may be obstacles and disappointments. But please persevere. When you finally bring home your baby, we know you will have succeeded in your wish to make an extraordinary difference in a child’s life.

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