Today, I head to Joliet for a meeting with our Exec’s at the Executive Forum. On the agenda is
Employment First and Integrated Care presentation by IlliniCare. After that, I head to Chicago,
for a meeting on the public transit.Good story on adoptions from today’s Chicago Tribune.
Groups assist families opting to add a child with a disability
By Leslie Mann Special to the Tribune
Adopting a healthy child can put a huge dent into your bank account. If you adopt a
special needs child, you add a lifetime of medical bills.
Fortunately, help is available. In the last decade, many nonprofit associations have been
formed to grant money to help with the adoption of special needs children. Other funds and
financial resources are availablethrough adoption agencies and the state and federal
governments. Each organization has different criteria, though, so parents must do their homework.
“People rule out special needs adoption because they think they have to be Hollywood stars
to afford it, but you don’t,” said Jenna Fernandez, of Naperville. She and her husband, Ray,
adopted a daughter, now 5, who has developmental delays and cerebral palsy, and a son, now
11 months. “You may have to make sacrifices; we’ve delayed buying a home. But there’s help.”
To defray adoption legal fees, the Fernandezes received a grant from North-brook-based
Gift of Adoption. And they took advantage of the federal adoption tax credit ( irs.gov ),
which has a current maximum of $12,650.
According to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, adopting a child can cost as
much as $50,000. Raising a special needs child includes many costs other parents don’t have,
such as pediatric wheelchairs and car ramps. Even with health insurance, the families must pay
for each child’s deductible and for uncovered expenses.
Many organizations that grant money to adoptees have adoption stories behind them.
Show Hope in Franklin, Tenn., for example, was named for the girl (Shaohannah) who was adopted
from China in 2000 by singer Steven Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth.
“They started the organization so they could use their celebrity to help more families adopt,”
said executive director Scott Hasenbalg.
Some adoption agencies have their own programs to help parents finance special needs adoptions.
Families who adopt through Bethany Christian Services ( bethany.org ) in Palos Heights can tap the
agency’s Caring Connection fund. The Finding Families for Children fund helps parents of “medically fragile”
children who are adopted through the Cradle in Evanston.
Chicagoans Leila and John Adams tapped the Finding Families for Children fund for the
$200-amonth cost of food supplementsprescribed for their daughter, Ruby, now age 2.
The Cradle did the homestudy for their adoption.
Through the agency that facilitated Ruby’s adoption from Armenia, the Adamses learned about
Illinois’ Early Intervention program (dhs. state.il.us), which provides testing for children through age 3.
Although Ruby may evade the “special needs” label in the long term, she needs help battling the
effects of her low birth weight (2 pounds) and her “failure to thrive” early diagnosis.
“Because of limited resources they had in Armenia, she has a complicated combination of
problems,” Leila said.
Leila’s advice to other parents: If possible, switch your health insurance plan from an HMO to
a PPO to broaden your choices of service providers.
“For example, it’s hard to draw blood from her because of her malnourishment, so now we
can go to a specialist in Chicago who can do it,” she said.
Some special needs children qualify for federal Supplemental Security Income ( ssa.gov ).
The state uses the federal criteria to determine if a child is eligible for the Illinois Adoption
Assistance Program (state.il.us/dcfs), which is available for domestic special needs adoptees.
The state program includes a one-time reimbursement for adoption expenses, monthly
assistance from $400 to $980 and a medical card for doctor visits and drugs. The sticky point:
A child must be approved for the state program before his or her adoption is finalized.
To take full advantage of the governmental programs, “hire an attorney who specializes in
adoption law, because the eligibility rules are complicated,” advised Christina Schneider,
attorney at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Many adoptive parents also get reimbursements from employers. The larger the employer,
the more likely it offers this benefit.
“Even if the company doesn’t offer anything officially, it doesn’t hurt to ask,” said Gloria Hochman,
spokeswoman for the Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center, which educates parents
about financial resources. “More and more employers offer adoption benefits because it’s a win-win
situation. It doesn’t cost the employer much, because it affects a relatively small number of employees,
but it tells the employee that the company looks kindly toward adoption.”
To find the top 100 adoption-friendly employers, see the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
(davethomasfoundation.org ), named for the Wendy’s Co. founder, who was an adoptee.
Military families qualify for adoption fee reimbursements of up to $2,000 ( militaryfamily.org ).
And many groups also provide aid to assist in the adoption of healthy older children, especially
when the adoption involves siblings.
Some nonprofits, including Gaithersburg, Md.- based Reece’s Rainbow, serve as intermediaries so
contributions from donors, even if they are friends and family, are tax deductible. Donors contribute
to funds established for the children, whether or not they have been matched with adoptive parents.
When they are adopted, the money follows them for their care.
Before Carla and Paul Dobrovits, of Frankfort, adopted their 13-monthold son, Henry, from
Ukraine, they launched a grass-roots campaign to channel money toward Henry’s Reece’s fund.
Henry was born with several medical problems and was very sick when he arrived.
The couple sent notes to everyone on their Christmas card list, explaining the Reece’s program.
They hosted a barbecue attended by 300 and a massive garage sale.
“I ran around for six weeks picking up everyone’s treadmills and baby gear,” Carla said.
They launched bringing henryhome.blogspot.com . Their six biological children worked summer
jobs and sold homemade jewelry.
The family raised $24,000 toward Henry’s adoption fees. Unfortunately, Henry died at age 2, after eight surgeries. Still, the Dobrovitses cherished the time they had with Henry and did all they could for him. And their time with Henry made them want to adopt again. They are in the process of adopting three siblings from Ukraine, who also are listed with Reece’s Rainbow.
“You can’t go over there and see the waiting kids and not adopt again,” Carla said. “Henry was such a joy. The kids are beyond excited about meeting their new siblings.”
In addition to tapping formal and informal sources for funds, Carla advises other adoptive parents to network. “Moms’ groups, social networks, blogs — they all helped me tremendously,” she said.
Jane Teeter, reutilization manager for the Springfield-based Illinois Assistive Technology Program ( iltech.org ), which loans, for free, equipment ranging from reading software to adapted toys, said, “Until you have a family member with a special need, you don’t know how much money you will have to spend to care for them. Parents of special needs children are already cash-strapped, so using organizations like ours helps. By networking they can find other nonprofit groups and programs too.”
“Some biological parents tell me adopting is the easy way to have kids. Ha!” Fernandez said. “Adoption is a lot of emotional and financial stress. But it’s worth it. (Our children) needed a home. And we needed them.”
NUCCIO DINUZZO/TRIBUNE PHOTO John Adams, left, gets a kiss from his adopted special needs daughter, Ruby, 2, on his arrival home from work, while his wife, Leila, watches outside their Rogers Park home.
NUCCIO DINUZZO/TRIBUNE PHOTO John and Leila Adams play with their adopted daughter, Ruby, a special needs child who weighed just 2 pounds when she was born.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
• Brittany’s Hope, brittanys hope.org , 717-367-9614. Awards $400,000 a year to older and special needs international adoptees through its affiliate agencies, which include Bethany Christian Services in Illinois.
• Gift of Adoption Fund, giftof adoption.org , 877-905-2367. Awards up to $7,500 to people who adopt special needs or older children, domestically or internationally.
• Lifesong for Orphans, lifesong fororphans.org , 309-747-4527 Gives matching grants ($2,500 to $5,000) and interest-free loans ($4,000 to $8,000) to families adopting special needs and healthy children, domestically and internationally. Applicants must profess Christ as their personal lord and savior.
• Project Hopeful, project hopeful.org . Donors earmark donations to special needs children, then Project Hopeful disperses the money to the children or their medical service providers.
• Reece’s Rainbow, reeces rainbow.org , 240-780-2120. Donors contribute to waiting, international special needs children through this website, then the money helps pay for their adoptions and medical care.
• Show Hope, showhope.org , 615-550-5600. Applications must include letters from church leaders validating applicants’ Christian values.
• UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation, uhccf.org , 855-698-4223. Covers gaps between what is covered by medical insurance and costs incurred by parents of healthy and special needs children, adopted and biological. Applicants need not be customers of UnitedHealthcare. Covers up to $5,000 a year per family.
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423