Adopt from Foster Care – It’s Free

Every time someone asks about the cost of private domestic or international adoption, every time someone posts a fundraiser or asks for tips on raising or saving money, there are at least two people who chime in with variations on this theme:

Adopt from foster care – it’s free!

Sometimes, the comments are cheery:

We were licensed, and brought our kids home – a sibling group of 2, 18 mos and newborn – within 6 months, and we only paid $1K, which we got back from the tax credit.

Sometimes, the comments are little guilt trips:

With so many kids waiting in the foster care system, I just don’t understand why someone would adopt internationally or spend thousands of dollars to adopt a newborn.

Sometimes, the comments are downright rude:

” [I]f the cost of domestic, international, or embryo adoption is too expensive for a family the obvious choice would be foster adoption.” (actual comment)

“I wonder why anyone would pay $33000 or $44000 to adopt a child when they can be paid to adopt a foster child … how economically senseless is that?” (actual comment)

If you can’t afford to adopt a child, how are you going to afford to take care of that child?

This entire line of thinking makes me angry.

No one type of adoption is right for all families, including foster/adopt. I’ve already discussed why we didn’t adopt from foster care, and I believe that we have the same reasons as many other people. In addition, there are still states that do not allow same-sex couples to adopt from foster care. So, no, foster/adopt is not “the obvious choice” just because other types of adoption are far more expensive.

Adding a child to your family is not solely a question of economics. Anyone who looks at adoption only in that light is not prepared to be a parent. Different children have different needs. That’s true even for children born to their legal parents. When you add different types of beginnings – orphanage, foster care here, foster care in another country, prenatal drug exposure, and so on – you change and potentially add to their needs. Not every parent is prepared to parent any child. And before you say that biological parents don’t get a choice, read my post on that subject.

Adopting a child privately domestically or internationally costs an average of $30K. How often does a family need to have $30K on hand for something their child needs? I think the largest one-time expense we’ve ever paid for Jackson’s regular care was his preschool tuition – which varied from $500 – $1000 per month. Not chump change, but not $16,000 all at once, either.*

Furthermore, we don’t want people to adopt from foster care because it’s free. We want people to become foster parents because they support the goal of foster care: reunification with biological family. We need parents who are going to support and love these kids regardless of if they ever adopt them. We need parents who are going to support the relationships these kids have with their biological families. The foster system doesn’t need parents looking for children as young as possible with as few special needs as possible to adopt.  The foster system needs parents who can support children and birth families with their unique needs.

We don’t want parents to go into adoption with a coupon mentality. Every parent needs to assess what they believe they can handle competently. From there, they can decide if the children available through foster/adopt would fit their families. They should not be forced or cornered into foster/adopt because it is the only adoption they can afford.

I’d also like to address this notion of “free.” Foster/adopt may still be free or relatively free in some areas. However, from what I’ve read on adoption groups, some states are contracting out adoption services to private agencies. One woman, who adopted a special needs child from foster care in a state that wasn’t her own, paid $12,000 because her own state’s foster care office couldn’t help her adopt. If there are any complications in a foster/adopt case, the foster/prospective adoptive parents may need to hire their own attorney, as Cherub Mama did. (She and her husband lost, and the kids went back to an unsafe situation.) Clearly, not all foster adoptions are free.

Children from foster care often come with special needs. Some will qualify for subsidies, state medical care, and even college tuition at state schools. Some will not. A person should never adopt from foster care because of the promise of a subsidy; each parent should be able to care for their children without constantly relying on the state. What happens when subsidies are cut?

I am not knocking people who choose to adopt from foster care. It is a completely valid way to build one’s family. But so are private adoption and international adoption. Each family needs to consider what is best for them.


* Most adoption expenses can be spread out over the many  months it may take to adopt. However, agency or facilitator fees are generally all due at once. Hence, the $16K.

(For the record, this is another post that has sat in draft form since last year. Go me!)

17 thoughts on “Adopt from Foster Care – It’s Free

  1. Pingback: Adopt from Foster Care – It's Free | The Chittister Family | Child Adoption Process

  2. As a former foster parent…I say “AMEN”. While adopting from foster care can be cheaper financially, that is not always the case. I know many people who have adopted from the system, most of them have paid extraordinary amounts of money for various therapies for their adopted children: mental and physical. Most families who adopt from foster care also end up with quite a bit of emotional work to do, once the child is brought home.
    There is not “just adopt from foster care”….adopting from foster care is a process that should be not be taken lightly!

    • Right! I actually almost put that in – that children may have medical problems and other special needs that were unknown and are not going to be subsidized – but I felt it might be too wordy.
      And you’re right that I didn’t cover the emotional cost. I really should have done that.

  3. I agree with you. Anyone adopting simply because of the bottom line should not be allowed to adopt. Period. It’s not a puppy or a new car. I would add that not everyone who adopts from foster care has to be a foster parent and support the idea of reunification. There are children in care who are legally free, “just waiting” for the right match. Of course most of these are older, are large sibling groups, or have special needs. As you said, this is not for everyone. I am all for adopting from foster care, but I am also all for adopting from other places. Children don’t decide where they are going to start out or end up and they all need love and family. If you feel called to a particular route of adoption, then go for it! The money bothers me in many private/international adoptions (for reasons you have already proclaimed from the rooftops and so have offered advice on finding ethical agencies, etc) but a child is a child, and they all deserve a family. I really detest those comments above too – I’ve seen them and even as a foster mom/ mom of kids adopted from foster care, they make me sick. It’s good you addressed it.

    • I was hoping you would comment on this. I wanted to know what you thought.
      I’m seeing that some states/counties are not allowing parents to come into the system as adoption-only. They want the parents to be open to fostering as well. And then there are problems if your kids are in a different state, although some of that seems to be lessening (finally!).

  4. This post could not have come at a more appropriate time (as I’m filling out my foster care licensure paperwork). To add to your list of comments, don’t forget the uppity adoption agency representative who says, “Well if you think the fees are too high, why don’t you just do foster care?” As if opening my home and heart to a child that I’m supporting to be reunited with his or her birthparents is “just” anything. As if the agency has a some kind of guaranteed product.

    Adoption is wrought with callous comments. I’m feeling so blessed to be in a county that embraces foster-to-adopt, and for the first time since starting my adoption journey, have met positive people who believe my desired family can some together for < $50k.

    Love your blog. It keeps me going through this crazy process!

  5. While I do agree with you that adoption isn’t for everyone, I think every adoption comes with risks and concerns. Children definitely can have issues coming from orphanages even when adopted at an early age. When using a birth mother the mother could be doing drugs or drinking and the child could be born exposed. My point is that when you are taking a child that did not come from your womb there are more risks. That being said I am adopting from foster care. My daughter is 13 and moved in with us at 11. She is wonderful and I couldn’t be happier. There are kids in foster homes that need good homes. Yes the process can be messy and frustrating, the rewards can be so great. My adoption costs were 0. We also still get our adoption monthly stipend every month until she is 18. We also get free medical and dental and she if she goes to a state college she goes for free! While I agree with you foster care might not be for everyone, it is a choice and not all the children are the monsters everyone is told they are. Some are wonderful kids who had a really bad start to life and just need a family who is willing to love them.

    • Please understand, I’m not putting down adoption from foster care. I’m simply saying that it’s not for everyone, and here are some of the reasons why. I could say the same thing about any type of adoption. People seem to not understand why someone wouldn’t adopt from foster care when it’s “free.” I believe that everyone needs to make an educated decision about which type of adoption, and then which type of child, is right for their family.
      Congratulations on adopting your daughter!

  6. One reader had problems with the WordPress comments, so she posted a comment on FB. With her permission, I’m copying and pasting here:
    “yup, yup-, yup. and can we talk about what its like to loose a child back into “the system” after you thought you would be able to adopt said child? not able to make any decisions for that child, not knowing where they go to or what happens to them? can we talk about the amount of people turned away from being adoptive foster parents? or the amount of people that are employed by the “system” and therefor need to have children to work with? that there are financial incentives to placing or not placing children permanently? can we discuss the high rate of turn over for new social workers and old alike? the fact that my family has waited almost 4 years to have a child placed with us permanently that is black or multi racial between the ages of 0-4? there are some people that do have a relatively easy adoption working with DCF/CPS, but there are more that loose their marriages, or have a negative experience filled with heart break. It can be really, really hard.”

      • That comment is not totally true either. We have adopted 3 kids in 3 years- and they’ve all been babies at placement and under 2 at adoption. That being said, it’s still a long frustrating road when you work with social services.

        All adoptive parents need good support networks but foster parents need them even more. You need people who are willing to do what needs to be done to be your babysitters so you can have a break every month. You need people that you can call to cry and pray with you, even if they don’t really understand the process. You need people to bring you meals each time you get a new placement. And, you need to be a certain level of crazy to work with social workers, bio families, the court system, the WIC office, Early Intervention, etc.

  7. Nice article. I shared it on my Facebook pages—Adoption Highway and International Adoption. I am an advocate of Int’l Adoption, but we were foster parents once also. Our reasoning to adopt from Russia is that only 1 out of 10 in orphanages there live to adulthood. There are no programs in place for them and the govt. treats them like 3rd class citizens. While foster care is not great, those kids at least have a fighting chance to make it. Like you, I believe all kids need families and it really doesn’t matter where they came from as long as someone takes the time and money to give them a life worth living.

    • I’ve seen a lot of parents of internationally adopted children say the same thing: In their countries, the children would have ended up in terrible places, or dead. Thank you for reading and sharing. I really appreciate it!

  8. Pingback: The Right Reason to Adopt? | Holding to the Ground

  9. Pingback: The Immense Differences between Working with a Private Adoption Agency and Foster Care Adoption: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Both Options | Love Builds Families

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s