BY JAMIE LOBER
Everything you need to know about adopting and loving a child with special needs.
While adoption of all kinds is celebrated this month, the national focus is on foster care and the 510,000 kids currently in the system in the United States—129,000 of whom are waiting for ‘forever’ families. More often than not, children with special needs are adopted from foster care situations. These children include Behavioral Disorders (BD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorders (ADHD), Down Syndrome (DS), specific physical disabilities such as blindness or cleft palate, and emotional disorders. Older children and children of color sometimes have more difficulty being placed. Some children are a part of a sibling group which can’t be split. Whatever their plight, they all are in desperate need of a home.
Dr. Tanya Douglas-Holland is a Central Georgia woman whose chance of a high risk pregnancy led her to research adoption. Today, she is the proud adoptive mom of Nia. “Nia was 10 days-old when we brought her home, and it has just been a joy,” Dr. Douglas-Holland said. “Some of the things she brings out in people are amazing. Adoption can really bring a lot of happiness and is a very special gift to your life.”
Lauren Ray Easterling of Covenant Care Services in Macon agrees. Adopting a special needs child can be “a joyous, wonderful, healing gift on all sides of the adoption equation—full of hope, healing and transformation for adoptive couples and the biological family,” she said. But many couples do not know where to begin. Typically, the first step is to ask for references from friends and professionals. Then, when interviewing agencies, Easterling says to be sure to ask if the agency is licensed by the state or if the attorney is licensed to do adoption.
All adoptions come with some roadblocks, including cost. For those adopting a special needs child, there may be additional challenges. Under certain circumstances, a child may qualify under state and federal rules for the adoption assistance program. The state generally gives you money for the adoption to cover the attorney’s fees, and the child would continue to be qualified for Medicaid, which is beneficial for significant medical considerations since you want him to be covered for care,” explains Kim Stroup, an attorney in Macon. “The Georgia Department of Human Services can provide financial assistance to cover the expenses involved in helping a child find a home.”
Take advantage of the adoption tax credit, which is a tax credit at the federal level provided to families who adopt special needs children. The process is not as demanding as you may think. “Special needs adoptive families do not have to show expenses as part of the process, so it is called a flat tax credit,” says Joel Kroll, executive director of North American Council on Adoptable Children. “You are eligible if you have federal tax liability,” The government is generous in supporting adoptive special needs children, whose needs may range from education to mental health. Georgia is also unique in offering a state tax credit for those who adopt children from foster care.
Be sure to obtain medical history. “You are not going to immediately get medical information up front, but once you have been screened that you are a candidate, you will find out health, background and psychiatric concerns,” states Stroup. Be sure to ask for this information if it is not provided. By the time you bring a special needs child into your home, you should have received a medical, educational and family history. This way, you will be better informed and prepared to help the child in his or her growth and development. Emphasis is always placed on selecting the family best suited to meet the needs of the child. The matching and selection process includes an opportunity for the family and child to become acquainted before the adoption is finalized. Every possible step is taken to assure that the family selected is the forever family for the child. Approximately 80% of the children who are adopted in Georgia are adopted by their foster parents.
Adoptions must be finalized through a court process. “Parental rights have to be surrendered, or rights have to be terminated for the biological parent before the child can be adopted,” said Stroup. At all times, there is a group of children who are in the custody of the Georgia Department of Human Services who are legally free and waiting for adoption.