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Adoption Assistance for Drug-Exposed Infants

Adoption, Attorneys & Courts, Foster Parents

Adoption assistance is a program to assist adoptive families of special needs children. The program is state-administered with the majority of funding from the federal government and a state contribution as well. The benefits are usually a monthly stipend and health insurance, which may be secondary where private insurance is available.  There are some technical requirements for adoption assistance concerning the exact needs of the child and the financial situation of the birth parent at removal. However, there is no “means test” for the adoptive parents, which means the adoptive parents’ income and assets are not considered for the eligibility determination.

A broad overview of navigating adoption assistance is found at

But here are 3 important things to know about adoption assistance for newborns who were exposed to drugs before birth.

  • Adoption assistance is never available in a private adoption, where the child is placed directly from the birth parent to the adoptive parent(s) with no agency, state or private, in between.
  • Private agencies may apply for adoption assistance on behalf of private agency clients, but the state of Tennessee administers those applications and doesn’t make it easy. Still, at least this path can work, and it is particularly effective for children premature or sick enough to qualify for the Social Security program SSI. If you want to try this path, you will need a lawyer familiar with this process very early in the adoption planning.
  • Children who are in the guardianship of the state of Tennessee and who were exposed to drugs before birth are almost always qualified for at least deferred adoption assistance. Deferred adoption assistance usually means that the door is left open for the adoptive parents to apply for adoption assistance when the child manifests problems that require treatment. It may or may not also include payment of legal fees and even access to health insurance. But it does not include a cash stipend.

But if the child is “Receiving Services” at the time adoption assistance is calculated the child should be eligible for the stipend and the other benefits. So, the key for pre-adoptive parents or drug-exposed children is for the child to be receiving services when assistance is determined. Services are things like therapy with TEIS, regular supervision of a medical condition by a doctor, physical, speech, feeding, or occupational therapy.  Sometimes, foster parents will take a break from therapy or fail to promptly follow up on a medical referral thinking that they will proceed after the adoption is finalized. Avoiding any interruption in the child’s services is a far better approach if the foster parents don’t want to undermine the child’s eligibility for adoption assistance.  

— Dawn Coppock — March 2024

About Dawn Coppock

Tennessee Adoption Attorney and Author

For over 30 years, Dawn has been an adoption and child-welfare advocate nationally and in Tennessee. She knows where the system is working and the many places that it is not. When she provides her frank assessment to policy makers, they listen. She has drafted and passed many child-welfare bills in the Tennessee Legislature, founded, encouraged and supported advocacy organizations, educated lawyers and judges on good practice, and pointed out places that we can do better for our children, openly and behind the scenes at every opportunity.

Dawn Coppock, Adoption Attorney

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