Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Unforseen Costs of Special Needs Adoption: Family Income

Part 2 in a series on the unforeseen financial costs of special needs International adoption.

Highly educated moms with a career outside the home are a norm in International adoption. Many families, at the time they embark on their International adoption journey, have two wage earners. It is also common that one parent plans to take a career sabbatical for a few years while their children are young, planning to return to work later. Other families count on a child care arrangements that will allow them to continue working while raising young children.

The realities of parenting a child with special needs may force families to radically adjust their plans.

In International adoption, while a child's referral may come with known risk factors and/or outright diagnoses, many country programs do not permit parents to travel and meet the child prior to committing to the adoption (and in many cases, not at all until the child is ready to go home). This limits parents' ability to accurately gauge the potential impact of the special needs on the family. Families who adopt special needs kids Internationally need to be able to afford (in all sense of that word) a worst case scenario, even while hoping for the best.

Some possible outcomes include:
  • dropping from two incomes to one (Can you afford this given your adoption financing? Your insurance options? Given the significance of your career in your life?)
  • dropping from full time to part time work
  • needing to find work with flexible hours
  • needing to find a job you can do from home
  • needing special needs child care, also called therapeutic (or developmental) day care or preschool if you continue to work or go back to work. (What options exist near you? Can you afford the extra cost?)
If you've never before operated as a family on a single income, know that there are some hidden costs:
  • The spouse who stays home may lose eligibility for previously earned Social Security if he/she remains outside the workforce for too long. (Ironically, disability coverage for both parents is even more important for families raising special needs kids.)
  • The employment options for the wage-earning spouse may be more limited because:
    • your geographic proximity to your child's providers and your support network may limit relocation options
    • you may not be able to be flexible about offered insurance plans unless you can afford private and/or supplemental insurance
    • the unusual demands on family life may limit the wage-earner's ability to travel and/or work customary hours
  • You may need to be able to afford supplementary insurance and increased life insurance premiums on one income.
    • in families with special needs kids, both spouses are counseled to carry equal (and high) life insurance policies.
    • insurers are finicky about pre-existing conditions and family risk factors so it may cost much more than you expect to take out a new policy or increase existing coverage.
    • (I'll discuss supplementary or secondary insurance in a separate post.)
  • Thus the wage-earning spouse may feel stuck in less favorable employment conditions or may not be able to pursue an anticipated career path. This is not only stressful for the spouse who feels stuck, but can disrupt equilibrium for the whole family.
If you haven't already clicked over to The Final Maze post on how special needs adoptions affect families financially (the post I linked at the top of Part I in this series), it fleshes out some real-world examples of the hidden financial toll on wage earners. The comments on FosterAbba's post are helpful, too.

Last, please know that I am not sharing these things to discourage you from adopting a child with special needs. Rather, I hope you will --and will find yourself more fully informed and prepared than we were.

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