Nearly all children adopted in the U.S. from foster care receive an adoption subsidy that helps adoptive parents cover the expenses of raising a child with special needs. Nationally, the median monthly adoption subsidy in 2001 was $444 per month. Subsidy levels are set by state legislatures and vary widely from state to state.
The organization, North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) maintains a comprehensive website and resource center providing information and advocacy about subsidies to help families, professionals and governments. The Adoption Subsidy Resource Center is located in St. Paul, Minnesota and can be contacted by phone at (800) 470-6665. The subsidy your child receives will be based on age and extent of medical/psychological problems, and behavioral factors that require extra care or parenting activities. As your child ages, the subsidy increases. If your child is diagnosed with new medical/psychological problems, you may be entitled to an increase also. AAP is not related to family income (it is not “needs-based.”) You should not need a lawyer to obtain an increase in AAP, but the process can be slow. There is almost always a back-log of cases and too few social workers and other staff to process requests. When you do receive an increase, the amount will be retroactive to the date you applied for the increase.
If your child is diagnosed with developmental disabilities by a regional center, the monthly subsidy rate you can receive is far higher than foster care or adoption assistance basic rates. It is important that you advocate for your child, and your family’s budget, by making sure you have a correct diagnosis and a fair rate is set that meets your needs.
Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed about receiving a subsidy or seeking an increase. Get professional assistance from a medical specialist and attorney if you suspect you are entitled to more assistance or have been treated unfairly.
Can an adoption be finalized in court without final agreement on the subsidy level?
YES, but be careful! Agencies and judges will caution you to delay finalization. Ultimately, the choice is yours. The best course of action if you are unsure whether the child you want to adopt may develop future medical or emotional problems is to enter into a “deferred agreement” that allows your adoption to proceed despite uncertainties about your child’s diagnosis. Remember, you can request a reassessment and have the rate changed, but only if you have agreed to a subsidy or a deferred agreement.
Links to More Information About Subsidies:
Sierra Adoption Services, an adoption agency in Northern California, formerly offered free advice about adoption subsidy problems. Order its pamphlet “Understanding AAP: A Parent & Worker Guide” by calling (530) 887-1122. Sierra’s AAP project was defunded in 2006, but its website remains an excellent source of information: www.aaphelp.org.
The North American Council on Adoptable Children has created a website dedicated to California subsidy law that may be helpful to you.
California’s regulations governing the Adoption Assistance Subsidy can be found at http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/getinfo/pdf/adman9.PDF.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway connects professionals and concerned citizens to timely, essential information and resources targeted to the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families. Click on the link for more information about adoption assistance programs, listed by state.
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