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Special Report: Adoption and the Economy

Is the current economic crisis affecting one of the biggest decisions families make--the decision to parent a child? Here's what more than 1,000 of you said in our recent survey. By Lisa Milbrand

The economy seems to top every news program and color every conversation we have these days. As job losses mount and 401(k) balances plummet, we've seen many people forced to make changes in their lives. We at Adoptive Families wondered how the recession is affecting one of the biggest decisions families make--the decision to parent a child.

We asked, and more than 1,000 of you answered. The responses were eye-opening--nearly half of all respondents said that the economy has affected their ability to afford an adoption, as well as the sources of funding for it. And 36 percent of all respondents said the economic downturn has sent them on a different path toward their child than the one they'd originally intended. No one knows what the next weeks and months will bring, but here's what you had to say as of April 2009.

Choosing a different path
More than one-third of families we surveyed have found themselves reconsidering their adoption route. For many, it's not just the economy that's steering them down a different path. Stumbling blocks have been mounting in international adoption for two years now. Several countries, including Guatemala and Vietnam, are currently closed to U.S. adoptions; the wait to adopt from China is three years and growing; and the cost to adopt from many of the countries that remain viable, like Russia and Kazakhstan, has soared into the $40,000+ range. The upshot: More prospective parents are building their families from within the U.S.

As AF has found from our annual Cost and Timing of Adoption Surveys, the cost to adopt a newborn domestically has consistently averaged between $20,000 and $25,000. "I always thought that, if we were to adopt again, we would adopt a second child from Ethiopia," says one reader. "While we are still considering that, I have found myself intrigued by domestic adoption. The costs involved in a foster or newborn adoption seem more in line with what we can afford."

Families who adopt domestically have found more flexibility in the process to minimize expenses. "After my husband was laid off, we needed to reassess our adoption plan," says Caitlin Dunphy. "We still plan to adopt domestically, but we have a smaller budget for birthmother expenses, so we may have to consider only very quick placements--within one week or so." Such scenarios are not unusual. In our 2007/2008 Cost and Timing  Survey, one-third of families were matched one month or less before the birthmother's due date, and 19 percent were matched after birth, incurring minimal or no birthmother medical expenses. Some families have decreased their budgets for advertising to find birthmothers.

Adopting from the U.S. foster system is an even lower-cost option. Costs are minimal to begin with, and, depending on your state's policies, you may be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses. Many families are eligible to receive ongoing subsidies to cover education and health-care expenses until their children turn 18.

Heather Howe-Dennett planned to adopt from China, but was convinced to choose a new path. "The cost to complete the China adoption would have been huge, in the current economy, and we also did not want to wait upwards of five years to start our family, after years of infertility," she says. "Our state's Fost-Adopt program is phenomenal, and we have a gorgeous son."

"Our 'emergency fund,' in case one of us loses our job, and our 'adoption fund' are now one and the same. This makes us nervous, but we're moving forward anyway." --Laura Smith

Staying the course
Just over half of the families who took our survey, however, said the economy hasn't affected their ability to afford an adoption--yet. "We chose a plan that we could follow and just knew we would make it work," says Jenn, from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, who's adopting domestically. "My husband and I are both fortunate to have stable jobs, and we've been able to save. I know that other families have had to delay their plans, however, and I'm pretty sure we moved up the wait list faster than we would have if the economy were better."

Becky and Vinnie, from the Twin Cities, have managed to keep their income stable by diversifying their employment. Becky holds two part-time positions, and her husband, who works full-time, earns extra money as a musician. "It's helped to have our hands in a few different areas and not be pigeon-holed into one industry," she says. They're moving ahead with their adoption plans, though, as Becky points out, "We were planning on domestic adoption, which tends to be less expensive."

Some waiting parents try to put a positive spin on their situation. "My husband and I agreed that we would never borrow money to go through an adoption process, and we're sticking to that," says Janeen Cameron, of Perth, Australia. She's trying to keep the high cost and long wait to adopt from China in perspective: "We have longer to save for the airfares and orphanage donation."

"We will be adopting again--maybe just a bit later than originally planned. However tight things are, we know we want another little one at home. We will never be able to ‘afford' to have children, but who really can?" --Lisa Mayberry

New avenues for financing
Whether families stay the course or choose another, affording an adoption has become more challenging for everyone. Savings may be depleted by layoffs or underemployment, and other methods to pay for adoption, such as credit cards, 401(k)s, or home-equity loans, may no longer be available. "I just got a notice from my bank, saying they have put a hold on my home-equity line of credit, due to the downturn in property values," says Leigh Ann Hiatt, of Lexington, Kentucky, who is in the process of adopting from Kazakhstan. "I have paid for nearly half of my adoption, but was counting on using this credit to fund the remainder."

Hiatt is fortunate to be able to get loans from family members, which she'll repay once she receives the federal adoption tax credit. Other families are not so lucky. "My parents assisted me on my first adoption, but they're near retirement and are suffering from the fall in stocks. This time, I know they won't be able to help," says adoptive mom Erica Gilday, who is in the process of completing an adoption from China.

Many families are exploring other avenues for financing their adoptions, including grants and fundraising. "We are trying to fundraise for our adoption," says Stephanie Schuster, who is adopting from Korea. "But it's been hard--other people are in the same boat financially."

Some families are making larger sacrifices to fund their adoption dreams. "My husband and I figured out how we were going to finance our adoption without loans," says Judy Salacuse, of Spring Hill, Tennessee. "We downsized and sold everything of any value that we were not using. I got a third job, and all of that money goes toward adoption expenses."

"Making concessions and doing without was what allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom. With this mindset, and the low cost to adopt from foster care, there's no reason we can't pursue adoption." --Brian and Jennifer Davis

Dreams delayed--or denied
For some families, the financial crisis has derailed their dreams of adopting--whether that means dropping out in the middle of the process or postponing plans. "My husband is currently looking for work, and we will have to wait until our financial situation improves before we can even think about a second adoption," says Michelle Bast, of Lexington Park, Maryland. Their wait has been especially hard because they find themselves "aging out of many countries' programs for infants and toddlers."

Others give up their dreams altogether. "I lost my job in the middle of the process, so we are begging and borrowing to continue with our adoption," says Holly Wakefield. "And, although we always thought we'd adopt more than one child, now that won't be possible."

The decision to abandon an adoption plan is even more heartbreaking for families who are several years into the process. "Our dossier was logged in China in December 2006, but last year my husband was caught in a company downsizing," says Lori Rotert. Her husband managed to find a new job, but at a significant pay cut--and the couple have many more months to wait for a match. "I'm not sure it's even feasible to take the trip to China, given the expense, in addition to the [recently increased] $5,000 orphanage donation."

More families needed
Anecdotally, some agencies are reporting an increase in interest among potential birthmothers in the U.S.--and a few expect that, as the recession continues, more children will be placed in orphanages internationally.

"Our agency has African-American expectant mothers who want to place and few, if any, family profiles to show them," says Laurie Cuchens. "We are perfect candidates because we are already a multiracial home, but we can't afford to adopt again for at least another year or two."

Other agencies say that it's too early to identify a trend. "We have seen an increase in birthparent inquiries since January, but our staffers aren't hearing a difference in the reasons why women are thinking of placing babies for adoption," says Helene Lauffer, associate executive director of programs for Spence-Chapin, in New York City. "Generally speaking, our birthparents face economic hardship, and that's continued to be the case. It's hard to ascertain why the number of birthparent referrals goes up or down."

Still, Lauffer insists that the recession may have little impact on the adoption landscape. "Adoption may be somewhat ‘recession-proof,' because families consider adoption to be a priority in their lives, not a luxury," Lauffer says. "They expect the process to be costly, and they plan ways to finance it."

Many of our survey respondents said they were going forward with their adoption plans, and were looking for ways to tighten their family budgets. As Suzanne, from Alberta, Canada, said: "Financial matters are just one of the factors you have to consider carefully before you adopt. It costs a lot of money to adopt and raise children. And I can't imagine anything more worth it." 

Lisa Milbrand is a freelance writer and editor, and mom of two children adopted internationally. Read her family's ongoing story at

Funding Strategies
Several organizations offer adoption-specific grants, loans, and funding programs.


  • Gift of Adoption Singles and married couples pursuing domestic adoption or adoption from a Hague-compliant country may apply for grants from $500 to $7,500.
  • Married couples and singles may apply for financial awards ranging from $500 to $15,000.
  • National Adoption Foundation Singles and married couples may apply for grants ranging from $500 to $2,500.
  • Shaohannah's Hope Singer Steven Curtis Chapman's organization awards grants of $2,000 to $7,000 to Christian families pursuing adoption.
  • Parenthood for Me Grants are available for parents building their families through adoption or assisted reproductive technologies; founded by AF reader Erica Walther Schlaefer.


  • A Child Waits International adopters may apply for loans of up to $10,000, with a five-percent interest rate; grants are available for special-needs children.
  • International Association of Hebrew Free Loans The organization's website offers state-by-state listings of interest-free adoption loans available to Jewish families.
  • Oxford Adoption Foundation Loans of up to $5,000 per child adopted internationally are interest-free for the first three years.
  • The ABBA Fund Christian couples may apply for interest-free adoption loans.

Family Donations

  • Create a personalized webpage where friends and relatives can contribute to agency fees, medical costs, travel funds, and more.
  • Register for baby gifts and request monetary donations to fund your adoption.

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My husband and I are adopting a sibling group the Dept. of Social Services where we live. The state has certain guidelines for providing post-adoption services to children if they are considered "special needs." We were adopting 3 children then we decided to adopt a 4th sibling. There are 3 others that have not been adopted. We would consider adopting another child in the future if we had more room. Although our little house is tight, we are quite happy with our crew. We also have two college aged children who visit us in the summer and holidays. We are a working family with a modest income. The state guidelines are post-adoption assistance is great if your income is low. A family does not need any assiatnce if their income is high. Our issue is that we fall in the middle and the guidelines have changed about 4 times in teh last 3 years. We would like to change homes so we could at least have the other children stay while they are awaiting adoption placements. Perhaps we would even consider adopting 1 or more of them if a placement is not found; however, we do not know how soon we would be able to sell our home, how long we would have to pay 2 mortgages, and whether or not the legislation would change in our favor. We really want to help this family. We love to help the children stay in touch and to be able to spend some time with their siblings. Do you know of any agencies that offer grants, low interest loans, housing assistance, transitional or otherwise, that could help us to make a smoother transition during the adoption process? Thank you.

Posted by: Adoption Assistance at 1:49pm Aug 1

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