What Is the Least Expensive Way to Adopt a Child?

For most families, the least expensive way to adopt a child is to go through the state’s public child welfare system, either through a foster-to-adopt arrangement or immediate adoption 1. While private and international adoptions may cost families between $15,000 and $40,000, according to Adoptions.com, adopting a child through public state agencies generally costs no more than $3,500 1.

Types of Public Adoptions

Public child welfare agencies offer families two routes to adopting a child: to begin as foster parents or to adopt a child without prior placement.

Prospective adoptive parents who choose to serve as foster parent may not have the option of adopting their foster child immediately 1. Because the foster care system strives to preserve biological families, it may take from one to two years to terminate the rights of the child’s natural parents. In the case of orphaned children or minors whose parents have had their rights terminated prior to placement, adoptions can be facilitated within three to four months.

Adoption Process

To adopt a child through a public agency, the family must first complete an adoption home study, which assesses the prospective family’s fitness to care for a child, the safety of their home environment and their understanding of the special needs of an adopted child 1. In many states, the prospective adoptive parents will also need to complete a pre-adoption course through the state child welfare department. The cost of the home study and course is often subsidized by the state.

After the prospective adoptive family has been approved to adopt a child, an adoptions counselor matches a child with the family based on the child's needs, desires and lifestyle. Once a child is matched with the family, he will be placed with the family and supervised by a social worker to ensure that the placement is suitable for all parties.

If the social worker determines that the placement is meeting the child’s needs and that the prospective adoptive parents seem satisfied with the arrangement, the family will need to retain an attorney to handle the legal aspects of the adoption 1. Provided that the birth parents’ parental rights have been terminated, the legal adoption procedure is simple, and typically involves a single ceremonial court hearing. For this type of proceeding, an adoption attorney may charge between $800 and $2,000.

Other Cost-Saving Strategies

It is generally less expensive for families to adopt an older child (over age 3), sibling group, or a child who has special medical needs. Since it is more difficult for agencies to find permanent homes for these children, many states offer special adoption subsidies and financial assistance to facilitate the adoption.