WHO ARE "SPECIAL NEEDS" CHILDREN?

A child is considered to be "Special Needs" if he or she is in one of the following categories:

1. The child is of black heritage and 1 year or older;

2. The child is 8 years old or older and of any other ethnicity;

3. Any child with documented, physical, emotional or mental problems or limitations;

4. The child is one of a group of 2 siblings and at least one of the children meets the requirements of 1, 2 or 3 above; or

5. The child to be adopted is one of a group of 3 or more siblings (brothers and sisters) to be placed together.

IS THERE ANY TYPE OF ASSISTANCE FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS?

Yes. Adoption assistance may be available for "special needs children" under certain circumstances. This assistance is provided through the local Department of Family & Children Services.

WHAT TYPE OF ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE?

There are four types of assistance:

1.   Monthly Maintenance Assistance. 

This is usually called the “adoption subsidy.” This monthly check is designed to help you with meeting the child’s special needs.  The money is intended to cover expenses such as clothing, special dietary needs, ordinary medical and dental care, special education needs, and preschool daycare. 

The current basic monthly amounts are:
(a) $387 for a child 5 years old or younger,
(b) $410 for a child 11 years old or younger, and
(c) $433 for a child 12 years old or older, up to 18. 

The child may qualify for a higher amount if the child has severe needs.  If you think your child has serious needs, ask your caseworker about a “level of care determination.”

2.   Medicaid. 

You can get this important health insurance coverage if your child qualifies for the monthly subsidy.

3. Nonrecurring Adoption Assistance Benefits. 

You can get this important benefit to help pay for the adoption.  It covers attorney’s fees, court costs, and other one-time expenses
directly related to the adoption of a child with special needs.  The maximum amount you can get is to $2,000 per child.  The reimbursement amount cannot include any costs or fees related to termination or surrender of parental rights.  You will have to send your caseworker a copy of the bill from your attorney or ask your attorney to send the bill directly to your caseworker.

4.   Special Services Adoption Assistance. 

This benefit is a one-time special benefit.  It can cover expenses not covered by Medicaid or by the monthly subsidy or through
community resources.  Expenses that might qualify include expenses for orthodontics, prosthetics, psychological counseling, daycare, and respite care.

This benefit is generally only available to children who have been previously in the custody of DHR.  This benefit is not available to every child every year because approval depends on the amount of money available each year.  Unlike other adoption assistance benefits, DHR may take the adoptive parents’ income and resources into account when determining the amount of the benefit.

ARE THERE ANY OTHER REQUIREMENTS TO GET THE MONTHLY SUBSIDY?

Yes.  To get the monthly subsidy, the child must be special needs (see above). 

The child must also meet one of the following requirements:

1. The child is dependent and needy.  The child is dependent if he or she is not being cared for by his or her parents and is living with a relative OR would have been living with a relative but has been moved by agreement of the parent or a court order.  The child is needy if he or she is eligible for TANF, but not necessarily getting it.  OR

2. The child is getting SSI.  OR

3. The child is adopted from foster care.  OR

4. The child was adopted before and qualified for the monthly subsidy after the previous adoption.

CAN DFCS CONSIDER MY INCOME?

In general, no.  Your income does not matter for the monthly subsidy.  There are two exceptions:

1. You are asking for more than the basic monthly amount for the monthly subsidy.

2. You are asking for special services adoption assistance.

HOW DO I APPLY?

You should go to the Department of Family and Children Services office in the same county that you are adopting.  You will have to complete an Adoption Assistance Agreement.  You must fill out this form after you have filed the adoption with the court but before you get the adoption order.  Ask the caseworker for a copy of all papers you sign.  If DFCS will not let you apply, call the State Office of Adoptions at (404) 657-3558.

WHAT IF I AM DENIED BENEFITS?

If you are denied benefits, you have the right to appeal.  Once you get a letter or other papers denying your application, you have 30 days from the date on the letter or papers to appeal. 

To appeal, you should send a letter to your adoption assistance benefits caseworker and to:

Amelia Feuss, Appeal Reviewer
Department of Human Resources
2 Peachtree Street
Suite 29-210
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

Gail Greer, Deputy Director
State Office of Adoptions   
Suite 8-407 
2 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

In your letter, you should ask for a “fair hearing” on your denial.  It is a good idea to send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested.  This way, you will have proof that you sent the letter, and that it was received.

SOURCE: Atlanta Legal Aid