As many as 134,000 children with special needs await adoption across the United States, according to the National Adoption Center. “Special needs” not only refers to kids with disabilities but those whose age, background or other characteristics make them harder to place.

Experts estimate that nearly half of all children in this category have a developmental disability, leading many prospective parents to believe they don’t have the ability to care for them properly. However, for many, adopting a special needs child can be even more rewarding.

Defining “special needs”

Many people think of “special needs” as a child who requires special education or has a disability. However, the term is defined differently in adoption, such as children who:

  • Are older
  • Have a history of abuse or neglect
  • Have health issues
  • Have emotional difficulties
  • Have siblings who need to be adopted as a group
  • Were exposed to drugs or alcohol prenatally

Nearly all children in this category are available for adoption and live in the public foster care system. Since 1990, more than 7,000 Indiana special needs children have been placed with adoptive families.

Take a self-assessment before considering

Any prospective adoptive parent with the commitment, skills and preparation may be considered. Parents should ask themselves these questions before deciding whether to adopt:

  • What types of disabilities or emotional, physical, mental or behavioral challenges can I deal with?
  • Is my lifestyle flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the child?
  • Can my family or friends provide support when I need it?
  • Would I be comfortable with contact with the child’s birth relatives?
  • How many children can I adopt?

Requirements for adopting a special needs child tend to be less restrictive than for a healthy infant but are different depending upon the agency. Factors such as divorce, having physical challenges, or a history of personal counseling aren’t usually disqualifying, and applicants don’t need to own a home or be rich.

Help for building a family

While each individual’s or family’s situation is different, adopting a special needs child can be extremely rewarding. The process can be complicated with tons of paperwork, where any mistake can cause sometimes-costly delays.

That’s why it’s essential to work with an experienced adoption attorney, especially one who devotes their entire practice to helping adoptive parents. Your lawyer can also help you take advantage of the financial benefits offered through the Indiana State Adoption Assistance Program.