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Does adoption cost too much?


The cost of adoption is something that universally comes up in adoption conversations.  Sometimes it’s from an insensitive stranger who feels compelled to ask, “How much did he cost.”  Sometimes it’s the shock of a couple who thought because there are children that need homes and couples who want them, there shouldn’t be such a high cost associated with a mutual meeting of needs.  It can be really frustrating if you’re trying to explain why you need to save up or fundraise for an adoption and people are expressing surprise that people aren’t handing these kids out for free.  So here are my quick thoughts on the cost of adoption:

1) It doesn’t have to be expensive!  Adoption from foster care is essentially free.  Some adoption agencies are donor supported and have no fees (The Nebraska Children’s Home Society in our area is one example).  Financial constraints don’t have to keep you from adopting.

2)  A lot of the adoption costs make sense.  Giving birth is expensive.  Legal contracts are expensive.  Immigration is expensive.  Add all those costs together and you have some idea about why adoption is so pricey.  Add onto that post-placement services for adoptive families and birthmothers, administrative costs of having orphanage staff or stateside staff, costs associated with caring for kids who will never be adopted or providing counseling and services to women who will eventually choose to parent.  Maybe you don’t feel like adoptive parents should shoulder those costs, but unless your agency is donor supported, that’s how it’s going to work.

3)  It’s not a bad thing to put your money where your mouth is.  The fact that adoption is expensive may help people fully think through the ramifications.  Collecting the money can take time, which also gives you time to get educated.  You may have to rely on some community support, which will also be an important resource after your child comes home.  Requiring this level of investment may weed out people who aren’t fully committed.  We were so blessed by friends who contributed substantially to our adoption and it was an amazing example of God’s graciousness to us.  It helped us realize we couldn’t do this on our own in a way nothing else could.  It was an important lesson we needed to help us prepare for the many times we’d need to ask for help and seek out resources later.

4) The adoption tax credit may contribute to the inflation of adoption prices.  This is totally my own theory, but I’ve been hanging on to it for nearly a decade, so I’m going to stick with it 🙂  The adoption tax credit is an amazing gift to adoptive families as far as helping them recoup costs, but I remember having this icky feeling about it when we were first looking into domestic adoption.  I felt like the agency was saying we should just borrow the money, pay them, and then we’d get the money back from the government.  Everybody wins!  I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were partially basing what they told us this “cost” on exactly what they knew we could get back.  I’m not sure how the costs associated with adoption would change if they knew this financial safety-net no longer existed.

5) You should know where your money is going.  Ask your agency for a breakdown of your total costs so you know what you’re paying for.  Does it make sense?  One agency we looked into had a sliding-fee scale (which lots of them do) and this bothered me to no end, even though as a “lower income” couple we would have benefitted from it.  It just felt like there was no accounting for where this money was actually going or what the costs were that we were paying.  If it costs one amount for me and a different amount for you, what exactly are we paying for?  While I can understand how this practice makes sense and how it benefits those who will have difficulty affording adoption, it still makes me feel weird.

6) Sometimes you get what you pay for.  This isn’t an absolute, but it sure does seem like the most reputable, ethical agencies are often the most expensive.  They know what they’re doing and attempting to be aboveboard.  Your domestic adoption may be more expensive because your costs include birthparent counseling.  Just hiring a private lawyer may be cheaper, but don’t you want your child’s first parents to have someone to help walk them through their grief?  You may be frustrated at having to pay a large orphanage donation, but when given to an ethical agency that donation may help cover the medical needs of children who will be at the orphanage more longterm.  This helps the agency develop positive relationships with their community.  Maybe you don’t think that matters to you, but your opinion may change when you arrive in country and see the children being helped or hear what the locals have to say about your agency.  When people look for the cheapest option, they may end up paying for it long-term if they can’t defend how ethically their adoption was done.  We paid a higher price for the agency that did our home study for the international adoption, but when we had trouble with immigration they worked tirelessly to help get us through it.  I’m not sure the cheaper options would have been so willing to help.

7) Adoption is not more expensive than infertility treatments.  When we compared the cost and outcomes of infertility treatments (very pricey, no guarantees) versus the cost and outcomes of international adoption (pricey, but if we waited long enough and qualified we would be parents), there was no doubt what we needed to do.

People will often argue that adoption should be free.  That money corrupts the process.  It would be great if adoption was more affordable and finances weren’t an obstacle to good families or a greed motivation for agencies.  If you feel strongly about this, maybe it’s time to look into how to contribute to the mission of donor-supported agencies or work on helping to fund adoptions for those families who are qualified, but struggling with the financial element.  I’d love to recommend looking here (adopting from Uganda) or here (families bringing home special needs kids) for opportunities to help precious kids by buying some beautiful handmade gifts.  Enjoy!

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  1. Because of the Nebraska adoption tax credit we were able to CONSIDER the possibility of adopting our 3 grandchildren…something we would NEVER have been able to accomplish/afford without the tax. :(! Once we decided to take on the responsibility of adopting the kids the financial reality of it all sunk in…there were beds to purchase, clothing, car seats, high chairs, diapers, etc…..We also had to figure out how to “stretch” our current home to accomodate 3 extra lives into our home…rooms were needing to be refurnished a larger car was necessary as well as a larger refrigerator. All of these expenses weren’t exactly FREE! With the help of the adoption tax we were able to “pay ourselves back” and catch up on bills that we had gotten behind on! We were also given the luxury of being able to put up much needed $$ for the children’s future college educations.

    • We have benefitted so much from it too, Sally! I’m thankful it exists and has helped both our families be able to afford to pursue adoption and provide for our kids. I sure wouldn’t argue against it, I just think it’s good to look at it in light of the other financial factors at work. Adoption does work like any other market- supply and demand and market factors that effect the costs- even if it shouldn’t.
      Thanks for your feedback!

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