Why Is Adoption So Expensive?

I just wrote a large check for the next step in our adoption process. This is probably the last time we’ll be able to just write a check to cover the costs (unless some miraculous provision happens).

A lot of people have asked what it costs to adopt and a few people have been shocked and a bit miffed at the high price tag. It’s about equivalent to buying a new car. And considering we don’t have a second car, that works out pretty nicely. Let’s take a look at what it costs and why.

As a bit of a disclaimer, these are the numbers our agency currently has. These can vary by agency, and may be broken out differently.

Here’s the basic break down of costs for each program:

Domestic Adoption

  • Registration Fee – $45
  • Application Processing Fee – $500
  • Adoption Study Fee – $500-$3,000 (depending on income)
  • Processing and Placement Fee – $4,600
  • Domestic Infant Program Services Fee – $7,800
  • Foster Care (if applicable) – $1,000

Total: $13,445-16,945

International Adoption

  • Registration Fee – $45
  • Application Processing Fee – $500
  • Adoption Study Fee – $500-$3,000 (depending on income)
  • Processing and Placement Fee – $4,600
  • Country Program Costs – $4,000-22,500 (varies country to country)
  • Document & Travel Fees – varies

Total: $9,645-30,645 + documents & travel

Obviously international adoption can be pricey, especially since documents and travel aren’t accounted for (which could run another $10,000). One of the reasons it’s done so often over the comparatively cheaper domestic adoption is because the turn around time can be much faster.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the U.S. government offers a $10,000 tax credit for adoption. As I understand it, you can only claim it after the process is over, so you do need the cash up front. But that’s a nice bit of help.

So Why Does It Cost This Much?
A lot of people complain that this is a lot of money to pay for a child when you can just have one for free. And it is a lot of money. But the simple fact is that it’s not your child. Making it your child, fully and legally, is not a cheap process.

First off, the authorities involved need to be sure that adoptive parents are good parents. They need to weed out the people who will potentially be abusive or unable to provide for a child. They are placing this child in a home, and they have a duty to make sure it’s a good home. Figuring all of that out and double-checking it has a cost.

A few people have pointed out that nobody does background checks on parents giving birth, there’s no certification that natural parents have to go through. And that’s true. But that’s kind of an odd question. I can’t help but wonder if the people who ask that question want those kind of policies in place. Should we have an authoritarian system in place, one that would encroach on citizen’s rights even more so than China’s one-child policy? Starts to sound like 1984 or Brave New World.

With adoption there’s added responsibility. You are caring for someone else’s child, and they’re not just going to hand this child over to anyone.

Secondly, adoption requires a lot of legal hoops, and for good reason. A lot of what you’re paying for is the peace of mind that the child you adopt is now fully and legally yours. If you don’t follow all the proper legal procedures, if the birth mother isn’t fully aware of her rights, if she doesn’t sign the right documents or isn’t told the right thing at the right time, if you haven’t dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s than the new child you adopted could be taken away. A judge could declare the adoption null and void and you lose. How much would that suck?

Again, this all comes down to protection and fulfilling the sacred responsibility that comes with caring for someone else’s child. Imagine if you gave up your own child. Do you think you just hand the kid over and say, ‘OK, you can be the parent’? Should it be that simple? No, you owe it to yourself and to your child to make sure this is the right decision, to make sure the new parents are good for that child, to make sure you’re not going to change your mind and jerk the poor kid back and forth between parents.

These legal hoops may seem excessive, but they’re pretty important to protect everyone. And if you’ve ever paid a lawyer, you know how quickly those fees can add up.

Natural Birth is Expensive Too
A final thing people forget when they consider the cost of adoption is that natural birth isn’t free. Most people have health insurance so they never realize the full cost of giving birth in the hospital. I think the total cost for Lexi’s birth approached $15,000, thanks to a few complications. We paid about a grand, thanks to good insurance.

Child for Sale Mentality
I think part of what’s so hard about the high cost of adoption is that it brings to mind the frightening idea of buying a child (especially when you see the catalogs of kids needing to be adopted, complete with pictures and descriptions). That’s not what’s happening here, and most agencies seem to go to great lengths to make that clear. The birth mother is not receiving a payment (though her medical bills, legal and counseling needs will be covered). The adoption agency is not getting rich (our agency pointed out that their nice new building was funded completely by donations–not a penny of adoption fees went to the construction costs).

The process tries to be very transparent so that it can’t be seen as a human trafficking endeavor. As I’ve tried to explain above (probably poorly), there’s a lot involved in taking the responsibility of another’s child. That’s a huge step, and it doesn’t seem you can take that step without great cost. That kind of value for the child being adopted makes this the complete opposite of a child-for-sale situation.

OK, Almost Done
It’s all rather complicated. And expensive. But in some ways it seems like it should be that way. You can’t enter into this lightly. It will take a lot of your money and a lot of your time. But I think you owe it to the child. And that makes the check a lot easier to write.

59 thoughts on “Why Is Adoption So Expensive?”

  1. Abel, the very fact that you phrased it like that, that “a child… should be in the range of 10k to 30k” proves you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

    A child doesn’t cost any amount of money, they are priceless. The process of adoption, however, does.

    If you knew anything about what’s involved in adoption, you’d also realize the very real costs involved. There are safeguards in place, paperwork in place to guarantee those safeguards, and people who have to process all of that. There’s a reason social work is one of the lowest paid careers. No, adoption workers are not getting rich.

    Are there corrupt organizations and individuals who are ripping people off and making money? Certainly. And they’re to be avoided at all costs. Ensuring that adoption is not human trafficking, which should be important to everyone involved, is not a cheap or easy process.

  2. Wow! A lot of the people commenting on here are just vicious. Kevin, thank you for your post. My husband and I recently began the adoption process and are working with a very reputable nonprofit agency that we trust and respect. Adoption is an incredibly personal and important decision for any family to make, especially one that is unable to conceive a child naturally. I think it is incredibly insensitive, ignorant and downright nasty for people to come to your blog and criticize this process. It is cruel to liken adoption to human trafficking and to suggest that people who make this important decision are somehow doing something wrong. Adoption is expensive. I wish it were less expensive, and I am aware of the far less expensive foster to adopt and waiting child programs. EVERY potential parent has the right to choose the form of adoption that is most comfortable for them. For my husband and me, this means the extremely expensive domestic infant adoption. What right does ANYONE have to criticize or second guess the decision that we have made? I applaud your thick skin – mine is not as thick. Shame on those who have chosen to criticize and attack!!

  3. I admit that I didn’t read the comments, so maybe this has already come up, but…one thing you didn’t mention in the original post is that part of the LARGE fee goes toward the actual care of the child. We’re talking about 2+years in many cases. It’s not just the care of the child from referral to placement; it’s from the time the child came into care. Medical care, food, clothing, housing, counseling in many cases, language teachers, etc.

    I answered the same question in my on blog post “Adoption Q&A” and here was my comparatively brief response.

    “I think most people understand the basic application fees, homestudy fees, and such. It’s the large country fee that people really don’t understand. Much like the question “Why does it take so long?” there is just a lot of paperwork, a lot of applications, a lot of approvals that must be obtained. All of those cost money. You are paying for an original birth record, an updated birth record with your name on it, a passport for the child, a Visa for the child, immigration expenses, lots of translating fees, lots of foreign notaries, 6 months to 2+ years of food, clothing, housing, medical and child care, etc.” From ransomsinchina.com

  4. Someone can give us a break down of who charges for what and how much, but the real reason why adoption is so expensive is because people who can’t have children on their own are desperate for children and are willing to pay whatever they have to pay, and all of the people involved in the adoption industry are aware of that. That’s the real reason why adoption is so expensive.

  5. How much of the cost actually goes to legal fees? Im going into my second yr of law school and would like to adopt in about 3-4 years. Once I pass the bar I will be able to do most of the legal work myself, but coming from the foster system I would love to do pro bono work. Is this type of work something that is needed for lower income families? Are there not lawyers who are willing to do the work for free or on at a discount? Do you have a break down of what legal fees you paid? Sorry for all the questions

  6. Joshua, I don’t have a breakdown of how much of it is legal fees. In most cases, I think the agencies hire laywers to take care of whatever needs to be done and it’s part of your process and placement fees. So I don’t know if you’d be able to do that part yourself–you’d have to talk to an agency.

    There are also many private adoptions where the lawyer fees are the bulk of the cost, and I’m sure there’d be room for pro bono work there.

  7. Was my comment not good enough for you? Well, here it is again. I agree with Randy and all of the other hurt, sad, angry comments. Adoption is unreasonably expensive. It is a game of popularity. Children deserve homes and loving families. Children should not have a price tag! Adoption agencies prices should be regulated. You, Kevin, are a pinheaded little hipster who thinks he is doing “God’s work”. Your new agey church is full of health and wealth preaching, but that’s not in my King James Bible. Yes, I’m desperate. I want a baby. I have been crushed by an adoption agency and one of its “volunteer mentors”. I have been driven down even further by other adoption agencies and the exorbitant adoption fees. My favorite: “We need to do your home study. We can’t accept the perfectly god home study that you have. It has to be done by our people. Oh, and that will cost you two to three times what you paid for your original home study.” Don’t tell me it isn’t about the money.

  8. No, Lorraine, your other comment wasn’t good enough for me and I deleted it. You were being rude and refusing to actually engage with what’s being said.

    It’s my blog, I can do that. Deal with it.

    I’m replying now because I feel the need to address the personal attack and set a few things straight.

    First, I think it’s hilarious that you describe me as a “pinheaded little hipster.” If only you knew me.

    Second, it’s equally hilarious that you describe my church as “new agey” and full of “health and wealth preaching.” Not exactly topics the Episcopal Church covers.

    As for your comments on adoption, yes it is expensive. And no there shouldn’t be a price on a human life. But as I’ve explained above, repeatedly, there are serious issues and honest reasons that require certain costs. The legal work involved in bringing a child into your family is no small thing. Someone has to do that work. Someone has to pay for it. Maybe our system is screwed up, and there are broken things about it, but that reality is true: things cost money and it has to come from somewhere.

    I’m sorry you’ve had poor experiences with adoption agencies, but that doesn’t mean they’re all terrible. Researching agencies is one of the most important things you can do–there’s a lot of unethical agencies out there, a lot of people doing illegal and immoral things. And it can be a lot to wade through, trying to figure out you can trust. But it’s a job you have to do. And if you don’t like their fees or you think they’re being unethical, leave.

    Are some agencies doing it for the money? Sure. You’ll find unethical people in every area of life. But there are many agencies doing the good work of finding kids families. And they’re not doing it to get rich. If they were, these agencies wouldn’t be constantly struggling to stay afloat.

    I get frustrated when people me that because of their crap experience all these adoptions are corrupt and anyone involved in the industry is only interested in money. Your bad experience sucks, and I’m sorry, and I hope people can learn from that, but don’t crap all over everyone else.

    It should also be pointed out to those who balk over the costs that there are tons of kids in foster care in desperate need of families. In most states adopting kids from foster care is radically cheaper than any private or international adoption. In my state many of the fees are waived and the state actually helps you with a lot of the costs.

    So don’t let money and high costs hold you back. If you want to grow your family through adoption, there are kids who need you and ways to make happen.

    And with that, I’m going to close the comments on this post. I can only repeat myself so many times and I’m getting tired of responding to those who only want to push their agenda and refuse to understand the deeper issues here.

    As I’ve said before, if you don’t like that, too bad. It’s my blog, and I think keeping comments open and responding to them for seven years is more than generous.

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