Traditional Adoption vs Foster Care – Cost

After five years of feeling like we had so little progress in traditional adoption, we decided pursue something we had always wanted to do after we had already started our family, i.e. become foster parents with the goal of adopting.

But now, seemingly out of the blue, we have been contacted by a birth mother.  Coincidentally, this happened right around the time we were finalizing our foster care licensing.   Will the adoption work out? We have no idea.  But the timing of all of this is leading to some very difficult decisions.  As a result of such, I thought it would be good to do a series of blog posts about some of the differences between traditional adoption and adoption through foster care.


Most of the following are my personal observations and experiences.  If I have any facts wrong or you are a kind person who wants to educate me on this or share differing personal experiences, please comment.

I probably get overly concerned about what readers will think of me after writing  post. But I feel like a little clarification here makes my intentions clearer.  I hope amongst all the discussion of costs that it does not convey that I am obsessed with money or don’t truly care about being an adoptive parent or just want to get the best deal I can.  This is all still about love, about being a parent, and most importantly providing a good home for a child.

Money.  You always hear statistics about how much is costs to raise a child, but when you are adopting the cost of even getting the child becomes a major factor.  Sure, if your children come directly as the fruits of your own loins, there are some costs – hospital bills, doctor visits, etc.

As much as I would like it not to be, the cost of an adoption is an important matter to consider.  The impact of that cost could have ramifications for being able to take care of my family after the adoption.

Traditional Adoption

When it isn’t fruit from your own loins though, there are potentially a lot of extra costs.  And where you can usually get a ballpark estimate of what it costs at any given hospital, with adoption you might not even be sure what state the ballpark is in.

When we started, the service we were using was relatively affordable.  Prices were income based ranging from $5,000 – $10,000.  I believe this is part of the reason they stopped offering services around the actual adoption (they still offer birth mother counseling, aide, and we can go to them with questions and to get general adoption help – we just can’t take care of all the legal stuff through them anymore).  They had a lot of couples looking to adopt and very few birth mothers looking to place.

Other adoption agencies tend to be far more expensive.  We have had many loving and supportive friends and family members share adoption opportunities with us on Facebook.  We find out quickly that either the child has already been adopted or that the cost will be $40,000 or more and likely has some major extenuating circumstances to consider (e.g. child born with a disease that will likely greatly shorten his or her life).

If money were no object, I’d like to think we would gladly take all of these children in.  Unfortunately, for most of us who are not independently wealth, money is a huge object.

So that’s the higher end. I am sure adoptions can get much more expensive, but we haven’t personally seen that yet.  On the lower end, we have heard if one uses private attorneys, the whole thing could be done close to our original anticipate price range.  Typically it is far more difficult to find birth mothers willing to place as they tend to go to agencies that offer them services.  And as far as I can tell those services get paid by the adoptive couples via higher adoption fees.

And that’s just the cost of the adoption.  In many cases, you will have instances where you will help pay the medical bills for the birth mother and possibly aide them with rent and food.  This also means we are susceptible to scams.  It’s sad, but true – there are people who will fake a pregnancy or fake willingness to place to get adoptive parents to pay some expenses.  Sometimes a birth mother changes her mind.  That’s a mothers right, but there typically isn’t a legally enforceable way for the adoptive parents to recoup those costs.

Foster to Adopt

With foster care, we essentially become volunteers to the state.  The state has children that have had to be removed from their current homes and need new homes.  I believe this is always done for the safety of the child.  If there are not family members who can provide a home for these children, then the “volunteers” are considered.

I don’t want to get too much into the details of being a foster parent yet, since this post is focused on the costs.

In short the costs are very low.

It is true that foster parents do receive a stipend/reimbursement (I’m probably using the wrong term here) to help take care of a child in their care.

I have seen in the media they depict individuals becoming foster parents as a source of income.  This idea plays into a plot point into one of my favorite episodes of Monk, Mr. Monk and the Kid.

In our training, they made it very clear that there is no way to actually make an income from this.  You will always spend more taking care of the child than the small amount you will receive.

If a child in your care becomes available for adoption, preference is always given to the family that has been providing them a home.  This is less traumatic for the child and (to me at least) makes sense.  Additionally, the actual cost of the adoption to the adoptive parents is relatively low or even free. Plus, there is the potential to adopt a sibling group – it’s like a buy one get one or more deal!

But seriously, there are many other, non-monetary costs to consider.  Many foster children aren’t ready to adopt for at least a year after placement.  See, the state doesn’t just take the children away with no hope of being reunited with their birth parents.  Typically, the birth parents have up to a year to restore a safe environment for their children.  And that feels right to me.  But it adds that intangible cost/risk of losing that child from your home.

There is a lot of time and effort that comes into play when foster parenting.  Often, these children have to attend court proceedings.  And if you are a good foster parent, you aren’t going to drop them off and say “Pick you up in an hour” (and I highly doubt you would remain a foster parent after that).  It means you have court proceedings to attend.  These children often need therapy.

Now do I think these costs add up to more than $40,000?  Probably not.  And even if the adoption doesn’t happen, you were still a part of that child’s life and you helped them.  You helped their family.  And that is a huge part of why we always wanted to be foster parents, even if we had had our own children the biological way.


To be honest, we had essentially given up on traditional adoption.  It just didn’t seem like it was going to happen.  Many we know have taken years for an adoption to happen, but they had at least been contacted by a birth mother during that time.  It felt like wanting to get married without having gone on any dates for five years.

The decreased cost of the adoption itself was one of the things we used to comfort ourselves at the idea of not becoming the parents of a child shortly after their birth.  The idea that we could get a sibling group also made us feel better about the decision from a purely adoption perspective.

It seems strange to me to frame it this way, but in some ways it felt like we were settling for foster care and were looking for ways of feeling the like this “settling” was good and probably even better than traditional adoption.

And then it all changed…

And then we were contacted by a birth mother.

What do we do now?

I’ll come clean.  We haven’t done the best job of saving up for an adoption.  We knew we could work some things out to get the money if we really needed it.  I could take out a loan against my 401k, or just a personal loan.  We could use credit cards to float some expenses.  Many cards have very reasonable interest rates on cash advances (0% for a year with a 2% fee).  We have actually spent most of the last five years cleaning up old debts.

We could do some sort of a fundraiser.  Have a yard sale or do a Go Fund Me.  I struggle with that simply because I don’t feel like we are in dire need and we do have other avenues.  But I think I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I would rather let people help us if they want to.  And if we do need loans, I would much rather pay that interest to family or friends than to a bank.

I guess we shall see.

Any thoughts?  Please comment if you do.

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