Whether you’re a birth parent or an adoptive one, having children is costly. Given the variety of expenses prospective adoptive parents face, they must consider whether they have the savings to handle the costs of the process. One of the biggest factors that determines how much it costs to adopt a child is the type of adoption. Adoption is generally categorized into three broad groups: private domestic adoptions, international adoptions and foster care adoptions.
Below, we take a closer look at the three types of adoption considering national and state trends and average costs for each. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
- Total adoptions in the U.S. have declined. According to findings from the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), there were more than 130,000 adoptions in 2007 and only just above 110,000 in 2014, the last year in which adoptions across all types were counted. This marks a decrease of about 17% over that eight-year period.
- Private domestic and international adoptions are costly. Both private domestic and international adoptions typically cost more than $40,000. Specifically, according to the Adoption Cost and Timing Survey, from 2016 to 2017 the average private domestic adoption through an agency cost $43,239 and the average international adoption to the U.S. cost $44,000. However, the adoption tax credit may be an opportunity for adoptive parents to save. Take a look at our tips section below for more information on this.
Private Domestic Adoptions
Domestic adoptions, excluding those through the foster care system, are arranged privately by either agencies or attorneys and may take place between related or nonrelated parents and children. Agencies typically provide more support in the process of adoption than attorneys, though they also are generally more selective in terms of parent requirements. While adoption attorneys generally follow the laws of the state or states where the prospective adoption parents and birth parents live, adoption agencies may have additional qualification requirements.
National and State Trends
Since 1975, the federal government has stopped requiring states to track the number of private domestic adoptions within their jurisdictions. However, NCFA continues to provide estimates every five years. Most recently, NCFA reported a total of 63,279 private domestic adoptions for the fiscal year 2014. Relative to the number of households in the U.S. reported by the Census Bureau, this is about 5.2 private domestic adoptions per 10,000 households.
Utah, Alaska and Indiana had the highest number of domestic adoptions per 10,000 households of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using data from the NCFA and Census, we found that there were more than 11 private domestic adoptions per 10,000 households in all three of those states, which is more than double the national average.
According to the Adoption Cost and Timing Survey published by Adoptive Families Magazine, the average cost of adopting a newborn through an adoption agency from 2016 to 2017 was $43,239. The average reported cost of adopting a newborn through an adoption attorney was $37,829. Though this average is approximately $5,000 less than that of agencies, costs tend to be more variable when using an attorney. For example, costs may be minimal if parents and a birth mother match through word of mouth and the legal procedure is straightforward. However, expenses can also be much higher if the family uses a consultant or online service to find the match. Some of the biggest average costs for adoptions through both agencies and attorneys are described below:
- Agency Fees/Program Application: $18,826
- Attorney Fees: $4,435
- Birth Mother Expenses: $3,411
- Advertising/Networking: $2,067
- Agency Fees/Program Application: $4,429
- Attorney Fees: $13,780
- Birth Mother Expenses: $5,604
- Advertising/Networking: $1,005
Unsurprisingly, agency and program application fees are much higher when using an agency as opposed to an attorney. It is important to note, though, that the breakdown for adoption through an attorney includes agency fees, as some families began working with an agency but then switched to an attorney. Additionally, some families may have needed to work with an agency for the placement. Other typical costs for both types of private domestic adoptions include a home study fee, adoption consultant fees, birth family counseling and travel expenses.
Every year, U.S. citizens adopt children from abroad and families from other counties adopt children from the U.S. These adoptions are tracked by both the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State. They are reported annually.
National and State Trends
Adoptions from other countries to the U.S. have fallen by almost 70% since 2009, according to data from the State Department. In 2009, there were a total of 12,708 international adoptions to the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but in 2018, there were only 4,043. In fact, according to research from NCFA, more than half of the decline in total U.S. adoptions may be attributed to the steep decline in intercountry adoptions.
For the reporting year 2018, specifically October 2017 through September 2018, Tennessee had the most international adoptions per 10,000 households, 0.63, of any state. Alabama and Minnesota followed closely with 0.62 international adoptions per 10,000 households. Though significantly less common than private domestic adoptions, these rates are much higher than the national average of international adoptions per 10,000 households, 0.33.
Like prospective parents hoping to adopt domestically through an agency or independently, those looking to adopt a child from another country may need to save more. According to the 2016-2017 Adoption Cost and Timing Survey, of adoptions finalized in the last two years, international adoptions cost an average of $44,000, but may vary by country. In 2016, the top three sending countries for international adoptions to the U.S. were China, Ukraine and South Korea. Below, we delineate the average total costs by country:
- China: $36,441
- Ukraine: $35,000
- South Korea: $48,329
The biggest costs when broken down for international adoptions tend to be adoption agency application, program fees and travel expenses. Average adoption agency application and program fees for parents adopting from South Korea were much higher in 2016 and 2017 than they were for families adopting from China and Ukraine. Specifically, families adopting from China and Ukraine spent an average of $10,509 and $5,000, respectively, on adoption agency application and program fees. By contrast, the average adoption agency application and program fees for families adopting from South Korea in 2016 and 2017 was $26,928.
Foster Care Adoptions
Counted annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), foster care adoptions are normally arranged by state governments or social service agencies.
National and State Trends
The number of foster care adoptions has increased nationally over the past 10 years. In 2009, there were a total of 56,985 foster adoptions according to AFCARS data, and in 2018, there were 63,084, an increase of almost 11%. States saw varying increases and decreases over that same time period. The annual number of foster care adoptions more than doubled in West Virginia, Arizona and Montana, but it declined by more than 50% in Maryland. Oregon, Michigan and Connecticut also saw relatively large decreases in the annual number of foster care adoptions, all exceeding 35%.
With the large increases in West Virginia, Arizona and Montana, they all ranked in the top 10 states with the highest rates of foster care adoptions per 10,000 households in 2018. West Virginia had the most foster care adoptions per 10,000 households, 19.04, of any state. This is almost four times the national average of 5.19.
The cost to adopt a child from foster care is much lower than other types of private domestic adoptions and international adoptions. Data from the Adoption Cost and Timing Survey showed that the average costs reported by families that adoption through U.S. foster care was $2,938. The breakdown of average costs is below:
- Home Study Fee: $248
- All Other Document Preparation and Paperwork Fees: $135
- Attorney Fees: $947
- Travel Expenses: $256
- All Other Expenses: $1,352
Though many families reported $0 in expenses when adopting through the foster care system, others reported relatively high expenses, skewing averages higher.
Other Factors to Consider
Beyond cost, the timeline of adoption is often an important consideration for families. Adoption timelines are extremely variable, not only by broad types of adoption but also according to other factors within each type. Additionally, adoptions are governed by state law rather than federal. It is important to understand your state’s policies when beginning the process of adoption. Adoptive Families Magazine’s website provides a good resource for this here.
Data and Methodology
Data and research for this report comes from a variety of sources. All data on average cost by type of adoption and the breakdown of those costs comes from the Adoption Cost and Timing Survey published by Adoptive Families Magazine and is for 2016-2017. Data on national and state trends by type of adoption comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey, the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), the U.S. State Department and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Data on the number of private domestic adoptions is for 2014 while numbers of international and foster care adoptions are for 2018.
Tips for Savings for an Adoption
- Invest early. Adoption requires early planning. By planning and saving early you can take advantage of compound interest. Take a look at our investment calculator to see how your investment can grow over time.
- Adoption tax credit. The average costs listed above for all three of the types of adoptions are total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit. The 2018 tax code provides an adoption tax credit of up to $13,810 of qualified expenses for each child adopted.
- Consider a financial advisor. A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions to be in better control of your money and get previous debt under control. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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