Adoption and Special Needs Children: The Numbers, Heart, and Preparation Involved

By Sara Nutaitis, WFCF Blog Guest Author on Feb 15, 2019
Adoption and Special Needs Children: The Numbers, Heart, and Preparation Involved

Adoption. A word that in the past, was often associated solely with an individual or couple unable to have biological children of their own who sought to provide a loving home to a child in need. Today, that is still partly true, although the family dynamic has changed and it is becoming more-and-more common to see blended families, already comprised of full, half, and step siblings, adopting additional siblings into their family. For these families, the sibling bond is purely about love and not DNA.

Unfortunately, even though those with their own biological children looking to adopt has become more prevalent, the overall number of adoptions in America, especially for international adoptions, has been declining.

Why Is This?

Many of the countries where the most international adoptees are born (China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ethiopia) have revised their adoption protocols in recent years. For example, Russia, due to a diplomatic rift with the U.S. led to a ban of new American adoptions of Russian children as of 2013. On top of restrictions, there is also the stigma of adopting a child with cognitive and physical disabilities that still continues to be an issue in America and other countries worldwide, which has created not only an influx in the number of special needs children in need of adoption, but also the number of children initially adopted from overseas, and then put up for adoption a second time when the family is unable to meet the needs of these children.

The Numbers

So, let’s talk about the numbers, specifically, the number of special needs children needing adoption. According to, Adopt America Network, an agency that specializes in “hard-to-place” children, states that there are approximately 102,000 children in the U.S. foster care system alone, waiting to be adopted. They mention that the waiting list seems even longer for the children they place, due to their extreme special needs or situations. Including:

  • Victims of extreme neglect.
  • Victims of various types of abuse – sexual, physical, emotional.
  • Mentally or medically fragile children (from minor problems to terminal).
  • Part of a sibling group of two or more (the greater the number, the harder to find a permanent home).
  • Of minority or biracial heritage.
  • Older children with the associated problems of long-term care in the foster system.

As you can imagine, feeling like just “another number” and unwanted can add to their trauma, and possibly negative attitude towards life.

Adopt America Network lays out the groups of children they place. They state, “Children who are eligible for adoption are boys and girls whose biological parents and/or families are not able to care for them. Those who are considered special needs [are those children that]:

  • Have physical, mental, emotional and/or learning delays or disabilities.
  • Are siblings (groups of two or more) who want to remain together.
  • Are older children, especially teenagers.
  • Are physically, sexually or emotionally abused.
  • Are drug or HIV exposed.
  • Are minority children, who constitute 62% of their adoptable children.”

Of course, these are just some of the numbers in America. But what about worldwide? According to, Children of the World, there are an estimated 140 million children in need of adoption around the world. According to a non-profit, Brittany's Hope, specializing in placing special needs children from around the world, state that new rules and regulations are being implemented to ensure the children's safety throughout the adoption process. While these regulations are protective in nature and theory, they are having an inverse effect on the industry by bringing fewer children home to forever families.

This staggering number of orphaned children along with the concern for fewer adoptions due to regulations, can be eased slightly by stories such as this one that focuses on two ordinary people doing some extraordinary things when it comes to special needs children. Bob and Sue Quaid, from Tooele, Utah, already had several of their own children (5 in fact!), but still felt a calling to help even more children. An article titled, Meet the Incredible Parents Who Adopted 16 Children with Special Needs, posted in PEOPLE in 2015, details their story and how they have no plans to stop helping children until they are no longer able to. They feel a sense of purpose in homing children otherwise deemed “hard-to-adopt”.

Sue and Bob already have children, so why adopt more? Especially special needs children that presumably have more medical and other costs associated with them?

Heart. Adoption is usually about heart, and the desire to help; whether it is animals or humans, heart is needed to adopt another living being into your home. American Adoptions agrees. In fact, they list 23 reasons as to why one should adopt, because they state that, adoption is a very personal decision for prospective parents to make. It’s impossible to say there is one reason why people adopt because, in actuality, every family is different, and every family chooses adoption for different reasons. That is all very true. But there is one common core value, in my opinion, and that is having the heart to do so.

Whether or not a person chooses to adopt a child from America or abroad is a lifechanging decision for everyone involved and it is important that they do their research and adequately prepare for the experience as best they can. They should make sure that they are truly ready to adopt and have all the proper spaces, equipment, and knowledge needed to adequately care for a child. “Hard-to-adopt” and non “hard-to-adopt” children are all very much deserving of love.

So, there may not be one singular answer as to why people adopt children, but it’s safe to say that their desire to help is impactful.


Children of the World. Web. 14 February 2019.

Adopt America Network. Web. 14 February 2019.

Brittany’s Hope. Web. 14 February 2019.

“23 Reasons to Adopt a Child”. Web. 14 February 2019.

American Adoptions. Web. 14 February 2019.

Emmanuele, J. “Meet the Incredible Parents Who Adopted 16 Children with Special Needs.” 13 October 2015. Web. 14 February 2019.

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