Would-be parents turn to foster kids as adoption costs rise
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
The recession has pushed the high cost of private adoptions out of
reach for many prospective parents, prompting more of them to look
into adopting hard-to-place foster children.
At Adoption-Link in Oak Park, Ill., a lot of people call to inquire
about private adoptions, but when told the fees, they say, "Oh my
goodness, I can't afford that," says director Margaret Fleming. She
refers them to foster care.
Private adoptions can cost $20,000 or more because of agency, travel
and birth-mother expenses. Many parents want healthy newborns, so
demand typically exceeds supply. Foster-care adoptions can cost
nothing because states pick up the tab. Many of the 129,000 foster
kids available for adoption are older — median age is 8 — and are more
likely to have emotional or physical problems.
Applications for private adoptions are slowing, but those for foster
care are holding steady or increasing, according to interviews with
state officials and more than a dozen large adoption agencies.
"The pendulum is swinging," says Sharen Ford, of Colorado's Department
of Human Services. She sees two primary reasons: cost and the decline
in the number of foreign-born orphans available since several
governments changed their adoption policies. Guatemala and Vietnam
have stopped taking new U.S. applications; Russia and China have
In November, Ford says, an adoption fair in Colorado Springs drew
1,300 people, and 260 decided to adopt foster children. Ford says many
were surprised to learn that the adoptions cost nothing and that most
of the kids get state health insurance and monthly subsidies. She says
Colorado's foster-child adoptions are on pace to increase 8% this
In Michigan, the number of families given new licenses to become
foster parents, often the first step toward adoption, increased from
65 in November to 122 in January, says Edward Woods of the Michigan
Department of Human Services.
"Our adoption inquiry rate is as high as it's ever been," says Dixie
Davis, president of The Adoption Exchange, a national organization.
She says it got 3,284 inquiries in March, up 9% from a year ago.
There are no current national figures on adoption of foster children.
In 2007, the most recent year for which government figures are
available, there were 51,000 adoptions of foster children, a number
largely unchanged since 2002. There are about 80,000 private adoptions
each year, the National Council for Adoption says.
Agencies report increased interest in foster kids:
• Arizona Adoption & Foster Care, a private agency in Mason, Ariz.,
has 79 families approved and waiting to adopt from foster care, up
from 49 a year ago. Its number of such adoptions doubled last year to
30, and so far this year it has handled 19, director Marcia Reck says.
• Adoptions Together in Silver Spring, Md., is getting 50 inquiries a
month, up from 40 a month less than a year ago.
• At Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Mich., adoptions from
foster care rose from 402 in 2007 to 459 last year. Kinship Center, a
private agency in Salinas, Calif., has been getting 20% more inquiries
for foster care in the past six months, executive vice president Carol
Parents who adopt foster kids say the subsidies, which can range from
$300 to $1,000, are helpful, but what motivates them is their desire
to give children a home.
"I knew there was a real need," says Shauna Brown, who adopted two
sisters, now 6 and 9, from foster care last year. In Texas, Terra
Coyle, 50, says she felt drawn to picture ads of needy foster kids.
Last year, she and her husband adopted two girls, each of whom gets a
$400 monthly subsidy. She views the money as "icing on the cake." She
says adoption is "the best thing I've ever done." Her 8-year-old told
her, "I just love being part of this family."