By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
It may seem like children with special needs would wait longer for a permanent home; however, according to Michael Hill, associate director at Adoption Star, Inc., an increasing number of potential adopting families express interest in adopting a special needs child.
Hill said that the 2012 adoptive placements comprised of 73 percent healthy newborns, 15 percent at-risk for developing special needs, and 12 percent born with special needs.
In 2017, the agency placed 63 percent healthy newborns, 26 percent at risk for developing special needs and 11 percent born with special needs.
He explained that in general, the agency has a larger pool of children who have or may potentially have special needs, in part because of the opioid epidemic exposing babies to drugs in the womb and causing them to be form addicted to opioids.
The agency has also made mandatory an adoptive parent training weekend.
“Part of that is sharing a lot of information about kids at risk for special needs or who have special needs,” Hill said. “Because everyone has to come for classes, we can talk all about situations where a pregnant woman has pre-identified issues and that may affect the child. We can share uniform, consistent information on parenting a special needs child. Being able to educate people on the topic makes families more open to adopting a special needs child.”
While that’s good news for the agency and children they serve, Hill wants more families to understand the differences between general adoption and special needs adoption.
Adoption Star is based in Amherst, Western New York, but places kids statewide.
“Particularly over the course of the last five years, we’re finding at our agencies there are more and more prospective adoptive families who are willing to adopt a special needs child or one who potentially will have special needs,” Hill said.
The agency’s Shining Star program offers financial assistance to help cover special needs adoption costs so adoptive families can allocate more funds toward their new child’s needs.
Some may need early intervention services, specific medical care or additional assistance for home health or childcare.
The Family Star program helps link adoptive parents to the resources that can help them meet their child’s needs, providing information, referrals and support groups for parents.
New York state also provides regional permanency resource centers. These state-funded centers provide post-adoption support services, which include respite care, support groups, medical care, and, as needed, referrals.
Hill encourages prospective adoptive parents to do their own research on the children they may parent, both into the child’s medical records and history as provided by the adoption agency, and how these can affect the child’s development.
“It’s important to collect and review that information,” Hill said. “Go into parenting with eyes wide open, regardless of whether you’re adopting or it’s your biological child. Prenatal records and medical history of the biological family help you understand the potential challenges that may exist.”
Hill said that some pediatricians can help prospective parents review the records and understand their implications. Sites such as March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.org), Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org) may also help.
Patricia Pennock, senior case worker in the family services unit for Oswego County Department of Social Services in Mexico, said that one reason some people don’t consider special needs adoption is because these children “require more care and time and there are so many more options for people to become parents with IVF and surrogacy.”
But her organization does provide training classes, referrals to support services and ongoing support such as a parent support group and training sessions.
Pennock wants parents considering adoption of a special needs child to talk with someone who provides social services at an agency.
“It only takes a little time to learn more,” she said. “Do some reading. There’s a lot of good materials out there. Talk with family and friends and explore it. There are special needs children who need a good home and there are a lot of people who could meet that need but need more information.”
To meet the challenges in special needs adoption, Judy Geyer, interim executive director at New Hope Family Services in Syracuse, said that many options for assistance exist.
“Special needs children almost always come with assistance from the state,” Geyer said. “They usually qualify for that, but you have to apply. Parents receive something from the state to help with expenses with a special needs child.”
The agency also counsels potential parents about the additional responsibilities for a particular child.
“We’ve been blessed over the years to have families that want to adopt a special needs child,” Geyer said, “but there aren’t as many couples who are willing to adopt a child with special needs as a healthy child.”
New Hope primarily places healthy newborns but will contact other entities if they cannot find a placement for a child with special needs.
“It’s self-sacrificing,” Geyer said. “They have to have love and devotion to that child. Any of the parents would say, they’re the ones being blessed. Each child is created in God’s image and is precious. Whether born healthy or not, that child has a definite purpose. It’s wonderful there are couples who will step up and say, ‘We will adopt a child with special needs.”