Skip to main content

Adopting Kids with Special Needs

Read tips to see whether adopting an international child or a child with special needs is right for you.

Adopting Kids with Special Needs


Agencies designate children who they believe are hard to place as children with special needs, although each agency differs on what constitutes a special need. What some agencies regard as special needs are not viewed that way by other agencies—and often not by hopeful adoptive parents. For example, healthy black or biracial infants and older children are often categorized as having special needs simply because the agency has trouble finding parents for them.

State agencies may have a legal definition of the term special needs. Some states may include the definition in their state law.

Many people adopt children with special needs, including older kids, children with medical problems, siblings, multiracial kids, and others. Some children with special needs are right here in the United States; others languish in foreign orphanages. All urgently need parents.

Children who fit the categories defined by law as special needs may qualify for state and/or federal benefits, such as Medicaid and monthly subsidy payments.

In addition, as of 2004, if you adopt one or more children with special needs from the U.S. foster care system—and nearly all kids in foster care are regarded as having special needs because of their age, race, being part of a sibling group or for some other reason—you are entitled to take a tax credit of $10,160 per child whom you adopt. This is true whether you have any adoption-related expenses or not. (People who adopt children from foster care rarely, if ever, pay any fees.) The reason for this astonishingly generous tax break is that the federal government is actively encouraging people to adopt foster children.

Familybuilding Tips

Often (but not always), private agencies charge lower fees to families planning to adopt children with special needs. State government social service agencies (formerly called the welfare department) don't charge fees, but most of the children they place have special needs, by virtually anyone's definition. Attorneys who place children with special needs generally don't lower their fees.

Here is a general summary of children who are often defined as having special needs (keep in mind that children may have more than one special need and that the definition of special need varies from agency to agency):

  • Children with a minor or serious medical problem—everything from a correctable birthmark to being HIV-positive
  • Children who were abused, neglected, or abandoned in the past
  • Children over the age of six or seven
  • Children who have siblings (and whom the agency hopes to place together in one family)
  • Children who are African-American or biracial
  • Children with serious psychological or psychiatric problems

Adoption agencies sometimes offer descriptions of their special-needs kids in advertisements of on their websites. The National Adoption Center website (www. as well as the websites of many states, provide photos and pictures of children who need families, describing their hobbies, their problems, and the type of family that is being sought for them.

Infants with Special Needs

Families and agencies vary a lot in what they think constitutes a special need in an infant, so it's essential that you know how it's being defined when considering a special-needs infant.

International Babies with Special Needs

An infant born in another country may have a problem like a cleft palate or some other medical condition that would be considered easily correctable in the United States but is a major problem that probably won't ever be corrected in the child's country. As a result, some families decide to adopt a child from overseas with a special need that might be treatable in this country.

Children born overseas may also suffer from malnutrition, hepatitis, tuberculosis, rickets, intestinal parasites, or other illnesses. Sometimes the effects of past deprivation can be overcome by good nutrition and lots of TLC. However, this is not always true—it should never be assumed that love conquers all. Consult with your pediatrician before you adopt a child with special needs—whether inside or outside of the United States.

Join the Family

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.