With costs that range from minimal to $30,000 or more, plenty of people want to know why it costs so much money to adopt a child.  Let’s address that question in today’s Basic Questions and Answers about Adoption.

First, the cost of adoption through the foster-care system is minimal.  (See “What Are the 3 Basic Types of Adoption Available to Prospective Parents in the U.S.?” for definitions of the basic types of adoption.)  Government programs often offer subsidies or reimburse any expenses adoptive parents do incur.  Programs vary by state.

The expensive adoptions to which people refer are non-foster domestic or international adoptions.  These adoptions can cost from $15,000 to $50,000, and adoptive parents sometimes find themselves taking out second mortgages on their homes, holding fundraising drives, working second jobs or doing whatever they can to fund their dreams of adopting.  Why does this have to be so expensive?

Think about what’s involved in completing an adoption.  There are dozens of steps to ensure the safety of the child and the legitimacy of the adoption, and every single one of those steps must be paid for.

A social worker spends dozens of hours getting to know each family intimately, interviewing its members, explaining and assisting with the process, assembling and filing dizzying amounts of paperwork, visiting the house and writing up the homestudy.  Documents must be procured: certificates of birth, marriage, divorce, etc.  Multiple background checks must be performed on each family member and by multiple jurisdictions (general criminal, child abuse and neglect).  Fingerprints must be checked.  If adopting internationally, sometimes your entire file (called a dossier) must be authenticated and translated.  Visas and passports must be applied for and secured.

There’s more.  In a domestic private adoption, legal fees must be paid and the birthmother’s pre- and postnatal medical fees are often the responsibility of the adoptive parents; of course, the adoptive parents must pay for the baby’s medical care, too.  In international adoption, substantial fees paid by adoptive parents support foster and orphanage care both for children before they are turned over to adoptive parents and for those children who never find adoptive homes. 

Both domestic and international adoption can involve substantial travel costs, including plane tickets, hotels, food, customary gifts, etc. 

And: once the family is physically together, it’s not quite over.  There are post-placement visits by the state in accordance with state laws and sometimes in accordance with the placing country’s requirements to make sure that the child is safe and well cared for.  There are birth certificates to procure, procedures in court to make sure that the adoption is finalized and more papers to file, sometimes in two countries.  If the adoption is international, sometimes the adoptive parents need to file multiple papers either to preserve dual citizenship or to ensure that their child is removed from the citizenship register of the birth country (for example, to ensure that their male child can never be called for mandatory military service in that country) and registered unquestionably, in every way possible, as a U.S. citizen here.  (Because even after your child has legally become a U.S. citizen, some agencies will still question that status.  Trust me.)

Every one of the steps above involves at least one person whose salary needs to be paid—usually more than one.  Agencies operate out of buildings that pay rent and utilities.  They have their own operating expenses, their own costs of doing business.  Thus, adoptive parents pay a lot of fees.  And it all adds up.

Many prospective parents come to their first information meeting about adoption only to be shocked and discouraged when they learn how much adoption will cost.  If foster adoption isn’t right for them, they may look at the domestic and international options and despair at the fees, wondering not only how they can manage these costs, but why in the world so much money should have to change hands when a human life is at stake.

That’s actually the point.  It’s because a child’s life is at stake that so many people are involved in the adoption of a child into a new family.  The system is supposed to ensure that every child that passes through it is legitimately available for adoption and ends up with a good family.  Does it always work?  Unfortunately, no.  But most of the time, it does.  Could the system be streamlined to reduce some of the costs?  Probably.  I don’t pretend to have the magic formula as to how to do that.  There’s no question that the system doesn’t always function as it should.  But it’s the system we’ve got for now, and these are the reasons it costs so much to adopt a child.

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