Written by: Travis
The most difficult part of the adoption journey for me has been thinking about how to fund it. Adoption can be very expensive. Grappling with the reality of “How are we ever going to afford this?” is simply not a lot of fun.
When Melissa and I started to recognize that we were being called to adoption, one of the first questions I started asking was “Will we be able to afford it?”. This is a common question for many who are starting the process of looking into adoption. When your heart is called to adoption, you don’t want anything to stand in the way. For many, funding the adoption is the first and seemingly largest roadblock that they see standing in the way of a beautiful addition to their family.
If you are thinking about adoption and are asking yourself,
“Will we ever be able to afford this?”
I want to encourage you that the answer is probably, “Yes!”
There are many paths to adopting a child each of which has a unique set of expenses. Some of those options are more affordable than others. There are also great resources to make adoption accessible to as many willing adoptive parents as possible. Adoption will certainly require serious commitment and sacrifice on your part but if you are serious about making it happen it is within your reach.
How much does adoption cost?
This is a hard question to answer because there simply is no single answer. Every adoption has a unique set of circumstances and expenses. There is a lot of good information out there about what to expect expenses to be on average but it's hard to know ahead of time exactly what your adoption will end up costing. The data that is out there can give you a ballpark idea about what kind of budget you will need. This is very helpful when you are evaluating whether to start the adoption journey or not.
Melissa and I want to be transparent about the financials of our adoption journey for the sake of education and building awareness. We think the more people know about adoption and how much it costs, the better we as a culture and as a global church can embrace and promote adoption. We are expecting the total cost of our adoption process to be in the ballpark of $30,000 to $35,000. That is just the expense of making the adoption happen but does not include some other expenses that we are incurring in order to expand our family. Examples of the additional expenses are a larger vehicle, some improvements in our apartment, another car seat, another crib, etc… I wrote a post about the specific finances of our adoption titled "Actively Waiting" if you are interested in hearing more about our personal journey.
An adoption in the United States today is likely to cost somewhere in the range of $0 to $50,000. That’s a huge range! $0 sounds great to me. Then on the other end of the spectrum, $50,000 is a down payment on a nice house in some parts of the country or a new luxury vehicle. As you can see from the size of that range, the path of adoption that you end up pursuing will have a tremendous impact on how much it costs.
Foster to Adopt
On the more affordable (~$0) end of that spectrum is a means of adopting called “foster to adopt” or “foster/adopt.” Adopting through foster/adopt involves enrolling in your County’s foster care program and providing foster care for a child with the intent of eventually adopting them. The actual adoption will happen if and when it becomes legally possible. In the foster/adopt process the adoption will be legally possible once the child’s birth parents have either permanently lost the parental rights to their child or have voluntarily surrender those rights. Foster/adopt is an amazing program which allows orphaned, abused and neglected children to be placed in permanent stable and (hopefully) loving homes. There are many reasons why this is both an admirable and challenging path to pursue adoption through. The foster/adopt program is a route that Melissa and I are seriously considering and praying about for future adoptions. It isn't what we believe we are being called to for this adoption.
The foster/adopt path to adoption is the most affordable option because it is a part of the social services that are provided by your County’s child and family services department. These services are paid for by you and I, the taxpayers. You may end up having to pay a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars in legal fees and/or travel expenses but that will likely be the extent of your expenses.
Domestic Agency Adoption
The path that Melissa and I have chosen for our current adoption is what is called a domestic agency adoption. This means that we will be adopting a child domestically (in the United States) and that our child’s birth mother (or parents) will have voluntarily placed their child up for adoption through a private agency rather than involving the County.
Adoption through an agency is generally more expensive than foster/adopt for a number of reasons. The simplest reason is that agency adoption is not directly funded with taxpayer money. The adoptive parents are responsible for most of the expenses involved in completing the process of adopting through an agency.
Domestic infant adoptions are likely to cost anywhere from $5,000 in some cases up to $50,000 in others. According to AdoptionHelp.org, the average cost of adopting domestically through a non-profit licensed agency is $10,000 - $25,000.
Another very common path for adoption is to adopt a child from an orphanage in another country. This is commonly referred to as “International Adoption.” The process for adopting internationally can vary tremendously depending on which country you are adopting from. The range that I have seen quoted is $10,000 to $40,000 on average for an international adoption. International adoptions may cost more than domestic because you have to pay for more complicated and long distance travel as well as legal and government fees in two countries. You will often need to work with multiple organizations in order to complete the adoption which also each have their own staff and expenses to pay for.
Why Does Adoption Cost So Much?
If you are anything like me, seeing these big numbers ($30K, $40K and $50K!) makes you ask,
“Why on earth does adoption cost so much?”
This is another hard question to get a clear answer for. I would love see a dollar for dollar breakdown of exactly what gets paid for in a $30,000 (or $50,000!) adoption process. While I haven’t found that kind of detailed breakdown, I have started to piece together a good understanding of why adoptions cost so much. When you start adding up all of the line items involved it becomes easy to see how you can get to a number like $30,000 or $40,000.
I think it is helpful to think about it like this:
Adoption is the permanent legal transfer of parenthood over a human being from one set of parents to another set of parents. This process is overseen and regulated at the state and federal level. It is a process with significant emotional and psychological impact for all of parties involved and should be handled with great care under professional supervision.
This is just my own description of the adoption process with emphasis added for the components of that process which contribute to its expense.
Let's talk about some of the specific expenses that are involved.
There are many people involved in most adoptions. Many of those people are professionals who are paid salaries. Those people work in offices which must be paid for and heated or cooled. There are many hours of work that go into any single adoption. There are attorneys involved and as a result legal fees. There are also logistics related expenses for the adoptive parents. Expenses like paying for documents, fingerprints and background checks. As well as the cost of traveling to the hospital where the child is born.
Additionally, the birth mothers will often (though not always) receive assistance with their own medical expenses. They may receive professional counseling through the adoption agency. Sometimes they receive help with living expenses during their pregnancy.
There are a ton of individual expenses that quickly add up and contribute to the overall expense of adoption.
Help Funding Your Adoption
We are still in the middle of figuring out how to fully fund our own adoption and there is a lot we have left to learn. I do want to mention two specific things related to help with funding:
- There are a lot of resources out there to help you fund your adoption. Loans, grants, fundraising platforms, etc… Do a little research and you will find more options than you know what to do with. A few Google searches go a long way.
- One of the largest sources of help with financing an adoption that is available to everyone is the Federal tax credit. It’s currently around ~$12,000 that the Federal government will credit you on your tax return in order to reimburse you for adoption expenses. This is a huge help for anyone that is adopting in the United States.
One way to raise funds to help pay for your adoption is to reach out to your network of family and friends and ask for help. If fundraising is something you are considering, we really like AdoptTogether.org which is a really cool crowd-funding platform for adoptive families. You can see our own AdoptTogether.org profile here. Coming to the decision to raise funds in order to finance our own adoption was not an easy decision. However, I am learning that there is a lot of beauty and humility to be found in being willing to say "We need help!" when facing something as monumental as the process and expense of adoption. I would encourage you to seriously consider reaching out to your family, friends and spiritual community if you need help.
Some Moral and Ethical Questions
There is another important issue that I want to address regarding funding adoption. The fee structure and total cost that a licensed adoption agency will charge for handling an adoption is not something that is regulated at either the state or federal level in the United States. This allows each agency to structure their fees the way that they see fit. This freedom and flexibility can be a good thing for upstanding agencies with morally upright founders who work to make adoptions smooth, healthy processes for everyone involved and want to place as many children in good homes as possible. However, that freedom can also allow for ethically questionable agencies to prey on adoptive and birth parents in order to make money in the process.
One of the most intimidating aspects of this process for me has been not knowing how much we should be willing to pay for an adoption or who to trust. At the start of this process I had no idea how to judge if the expenses we were being asked to pay were in fact fair or reasonable. I personally want every penny we pay to in some way benefit the wholeness of the adoption process and to go towards helping the birth parent(s) and our adopted child.
I think that it is SO important for you to do a lot of research and do your best to make sure you adopt through reputable, honest and financially efficient organizations. These organizations should only charge you fair and legitimate costs which are in fact contributing to the quality and wholeness of the adoption process.
I still have a lot to learn about how to vett an adoption agency but the two big recommendations that I have for anyone navigating this process are:
- Try to get several referrals from others who have worked with the organization. The ideal scenario would be to get referrals from both sides of the adoption equation. Referrals from adoptive parents may be easier to come by. It will likely be difficult to find referrals from birth parents as there are privacy and legal issues issues involved. The agency may not be able to put you in touch directly with either adoptive parents or birth parents. You may need to do online research and ask around in order to find people to talk to. Some birth mothers do end up writing about their experiences or concerns online so a little online research can go a long ways.
- Learn a little about how to read a non-profit’s 990 tax form and look into organizations such as charitynavigator.org who evaluate the financial reports of various non-profits. Most reputable adoption agencies will be non-profit organizations and as such are required to file a 990 tax form with the IRS. They are required to make this form available to the general public as well. While this form won't give you a definitive answer on whether an organization is completely ethical or not, it will allow you to look for red flags which you can choose to either dig into or may just prompt you to steer clear of a questionable organization.
As Melissa wrote about in Our Path of Adoption, we decided to work with an adoption consultant. We made this decision partially in order to help us navigate some of these ethical questions and concerns. So far we are very happy with that decision and feel good about our adoption process and the expenses involved.
If you have any specific questions about funding an adoption please feel free to connect with us. You can always reach us via the contact button at the top of the blog. We would be happy to share everything we know and also try to point you to people who know things we just haven’t learned yet. I hope that the information I have shared is more helpful and informative than overwhelming for you.
If there is one thing I hope you have taken away it's that while funding an adoption can feel overwhelming you should not let it scare you away from what is an amazing and life-changing experience. The financial component of adoption can feel like a huge burden but I promise that if you choose jump over the mental hurdle of “How will we ever afford this?” and start looking into the practical ways you can make an adoption happen you will get there.