Adopting a Child with Special Needs as a Military Family

There are thousands of children with special needs who are waiting for loving homes. While bringing a child with special needs into your family comes with some challenges, it can also be tremendously rewarding.

Considering a child with special needs

Children with special needs who are waiting for adoption may have specific physical or mental needs that you need to be aware of and understand. Although many children with special needs have only minor challenges, others have serious issues that require long-term care.

Finding a child with special needs to adopt

Children with special needs are available both domestically and internationally. In either case, you will probably work with an adoption agency to help you identify a child and walk you through the process.

  • Domestic adoption. Many domestic adoptions are handled through a public or private agency. Public agencies are run by states, often through a department of social, human, or family services. Children adopted through state agencies are often school-age and have been in foster care. Generally, private agencies have younger children available for adoption. Both public and private agencies work with children who have special needs. Agencies often require prospective parents go through counseling, which can help you address any questions that you have about adoption.
  • Choosing an agency. Because your agency will be your main liaison from the beginning of the adoption process until long after it is completed, you'll want to choose one carefully. If you're adopting internationally, keep in mind that agencies represent only certain countries, so have a general idea of what countries you are interested in before you begin your search.
  • Your home study. Whether you choose a domestic or international adoption, a home study is required. To complete the home study, you will work with a social worker to assess your family's capacity to care for a child. This process will help you decide whether you are ready to adopt and the kind of child you feel you can handle as a parent. The home study usually takes one to six months to complete.

Financial considerations

Although the costs associated with adoption can be high, fees are usually reduced for children with special needs. Some states offer subsidies for families who adopt children with a disability. You'll also want to consider the costs of caring for a child with special needs.

  • Adoption fees. Agency fees are often reduced or eliminated for children with special needs. If you adopt domestically, your adoption costs will include fees for your home study and attorney. International adoption costs also include travel costs and immigration application fees. Costs can vary widely, so be sure to ask your agency to give you a full breakdown of fees, in writing, before you begin the adoption process.
  • Medical and other costs. Your health insurance may cover many of the medical costs of caring for a child with special needs. But you will likely incur other costs not covered by insurance. For example, you may have to adapt your home for your child or pay for therapies not covered by insurance.

For children with special needs adopted domestically, Medicaid may be available without income requirements. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 allows children with special needs who are eligible for Medicaid prior to the adoption to continue to receive Medicaid benefits after adoption until age 18. If you move to another state your child is still eligible, but you may need to re-apply for benefits.

  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Supplemental Security Income. According to the Federal Title IV-E adoption assistance program, if a child was eligible for AFDC or SSI prior to adoption, the child continues to be eligible for monthly cash stipends, medical assistance (Medicaid) and social services until age 18. Your income will not affect your eligibility, but each state's programs, benefits, and eligibility requirements differ. If you move to another state, you will have to re-apply.
  • Tax credit. You may qualify for the Adoption Tax Credit, which is a credit to your tax liability. For 2013, the tax credit is $12,970. Adopting a child with special needs may allow you to take full advantage of the tax credit, even if you did not incur those expenses.
  • Military subsidy. A subsidy of $2,000 per child (up to $5,000 per calendar year for multiple adoptions) is available to military families who choose to adopt. The subsidy is available once the adoption is finalized and only if it is arranged through a qualified adoption agency. For more information, visit the Defense Finance and Accounting Service website.
  • TRICARE eligibility. Adopted children are eligible for TRICARE as soon as the adoption is finalized. Be sure to enroll your child in the Defense Enrollment and Eligibility Reporting System or DEERS within 60 days of the adoption so the child can receive TRICARE benefits.
  • Extended Care Health Option. TRICARE offers ECHO to provide financial assistance to eligible beneficiaries with an integrated set of services and supplies not available through basic TRICARE programs. Qualifying conditions include moderate or severe mental disability, serious physical disability, or an extraordinary physical disability or psychological condition such that the beneficiary is homebound. For more information visit the TRICARE ECHO website.
  • Case management. To organize and integrate services, case management is available through TRICARE to beneficiaries with chronic or high-risk health issues. It's designed to improve the quality of care, control costs and support patients through catastrophic medical services.
  • Beneficiary Counseling and Assistance Coordinators. Available at TRICARE regional offices and many military treatment facilities, BCACs serve as advocates and provide information about the TRICARE system. They can help with benefit options, enrollment questions, status of claims, as well as referrals and appointments. Find a listing of BCACs at the TRICARE website.


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