Updated July 2020
Below you can find information about the adoption assistance benefits that may be available to families who adopt children from foster care in California. Adoption subsidy policies and practices are, for the most part, dependent on the state where the child was in foster care before the adoption.
Adoptions Services Bureau
Children and Family Services Division
Department of Social Services (DSS)
744 P Street, M.S. 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814
Morgan Hill, CA
What Is Adoption Subsidy?
Parents who are thinking about or are in the process of adopting a child with special needs from foster care should know about adoption assistance (also known as adoption subsidy). Federal (Title IV-E) and state (often called non-IV-E) adoption assistance programs are designed to help parents meet their adopted children’s varied, and often costly, needs. Children can qualify for federal adoption assistance or state assistance, depending on the child’s history. Adoption subsidy policies and practices are, for the most part, dependent on the state in which the child was in foster care before the adoption.
Below is information related to definitions of special needs, benefits available, and procedures in California. Answers to select questions were made available by the Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (AAICAMA) through the Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov). Profiles for other states’ subsidy programs are available. If you have additional questions, please contact NACAC at 651-644-3036, 800-470-6665, or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have state-specific questions, please call your State Subsidy Contact Person or the NACAC Subsidy Representative (listed above) for more information.
For more information on Title IV-E eligibility, view our fact sheet Eligibility and Benefits for Federal Adoption Assistance.
General adoption information:
State-specific medical assistance:
California law related to adoption assistance (California Code, Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 16115-16124):
https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/index?__lrTS=20170907211845479&transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default) then click through the following links to access adoption assistance information:
- Title 22. Social Security
- Division 2. Department of Social Services–Dept. of Health Services.
- Subdivision 4¬. Institutions and Boarding Homes for Persons Aged 16+
- Chapter 3. Adoptions Program Regulations
- Subchapter 7. Adoption Assistance Program/Aid for the Adoption of Children (AAP/AAC).
Who is Eligible for Adoption Assistance or Subsidy?
1. How does California define special needs to determine eligibility?
A child must meet the following three requirements to be considered a child with special needs:
- The child cannot or should not be returned to his or her parents’ home as evidenced by a petition to terminate parental rights, a court order terminating parental rights, a signed relinquishment, or a tribal customary adoption order.
- The child has one or more of the following specific factors or conditions that make it reasonable to conclude the child cannot be adopted without providing adoption assistance:
- Three years of age or older
- Race, ethnicity, color, or language that is a barrier to adoption
- Member of a sibling group that should remain together
- Mental, physical, emotional, or medical disability certified by a licensed professional
- Parental background of a medical or behavioral nature that can be determined to adversely affect the development of the child
- The need for adoption assistance is shown by an unsuccessful search for an adoptive family who will take the child without financial assistance, unless such a search is against the child’s best interest.
2. Does the state-only funded adoption assistance program differ in any way from the Title IV-E program?
To be eligible for state-funded adoption assistance, a child must be the subject of an agency adoption and have at least one of the following circumstances apply:
- Be under the supervision of the County Welfare Department (CWD) as the ward of a legal guardianship or as a juvenile court dependent
- Have been relinquished to a licensed California private or public adoption agency or another public agency operating a Title IV-E program on behalf of the state, and would otherwise have been at risk of dependency as certified by the CWD
- Have been committed to the care of CDSS or a licensed private or public adoption agency pursuant to Family Code section 8805 or 8918.
3. Are children adopted from private agencies in California eligible for adoption assistance?
Yes, if the child meets the eligibility criteria. To apply for AAP, adoptive families must submit a completed Request for Adoption Assistance (AAP 1) to the responsible public agency. . This agency will determine if the child meets the eligibility criteria for AAP benefits. If the child is eligible, the responsible public agency will negotiate a signed adoption assistance agreement, or a deferred adoption assistance agreement will be executed with the adoptive parents, before the adoption finalization.
What Supports and Services Are Available?
4. What is the maximum basic monthly adoption assistance maintenance payment in California?
The maximum AAP payment is a negotiated rate based on the child’s special needs and the family’s circumstances. The following basic AAP rate structures are effective July 1, 2019:
For initial agreements signed before 1/1/08*
For initial agreements signed on or after 1/1/08 through 5/27/11 and the adoption finalized on or before 5/27/11*
For initial agreements signed and the adoption finalized on or after 5/27/11 and the adoption finalized on or after 5/27/11, but before 1/1/17
For initial agreements signed on or after 1/1/17
* For further information regarding AAP rates, visit the All County Letter 19-58 at
5. Does California provide specialized rates (based on the extraordinary needs of the child or the additional parenting skill needed to raise the child)?
If the child’s needs are greater and require a higher level of care and supervision, he or she may qualify for a Special Care Increment (SCI) in addition to the AAP basic rate listed above. The SCI rate varies county to county since each county has its own SCI rate schedule. A child who is developmentally delayed and a current consumer of California Regional Center (CRC) services may be eligible to recieve a dual agency rate not to exceed the maximum rate of $3,751 per month.
6. When do adoption assistance payments begin?
Adoption assistance payments and benefits may begin when the AAP agreement is signed by all parties either before or at the time the court issues the adoption decree.
7. When a child turns 18, which benefits, if any, continue?
A child’s AAP benefits terminate at age 18 unless the child has a mental or physical disability that warrants the continuation of benefits to age 21. Youth who have an initial AAP agreement signed on or after their 16th birthday may be eligible for the extension of AAP benefits to the age of 21, if the youth is:
- Currently completing high school or an equivalency program;
- Enrolled in a post-secondary or vocational school;
- Participating in a program or activity that promoters or removes barriers to employment;
- Employed at least 80 hours per month;
- Is incapable of participating in 1 through 4 above, due to a physical or mental disability.
The adoptive parents must request the the responsible public agency to evaluate the youth for continuation of benefits prior to the 18th birthday
8. Does California offer deferred adoption assistance agreements (agreements where initial monthly maintenance amount is $0 for children at risk of developing special needs later)?
If the child is AAP eligible and does not require immediate benefits or the adoptive parents choose not to use the AAP benefits, the adoptive parent is encouraged to sign a deferred adoption assistance agreement. A deferred agreement retains the child’s eligibility for AAP benefits, including Medi-Cal, at a future time if the special needs develop.
9. What Medicaid services are available in California?
For detailed information, families can contact the California Department of Health Services, Medical Care Services at 916-440-7800. Services include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment Services (EPSDT)
- Doctor’s services
- Laboratory, x-ray, and radiation treatment
- Clinic visits
- Inpatient hospital care
- Mental health services
- Ambulance and medical transportation services
- Confidential medical services
- Prescribed medication
- Family planning
- Prenatal care
- Hearing aids
10. What medical benefits are available for state-funded children? (Children who have federally funded/Title IV-E adoption assistance are automatically eligible for Medicaid benefits.)
Non-IV-E eligible children are eligible for state-only Medi-Cal benefits in California. These benefits cover the same services IV-E eligible children receive through Medicaid.
11. What mental health services are available?
Public mental health services for children in California are administered by the Department of Health Services, Department of Mental Health, through the state Medicaid program known as Medi-Cal. Services may include counseling, psychiatric services, medication, and mental health treatment for children and families.
Additional information on mental health services is available at:
- County Mental Health Departments: http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/individuals/Pages/MHPContactList.aspx
Not all services may be available in all cases. Families should contact their adoption assistance worker or medical assistance specialist for information about process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.
12. In California, what nonrecurring adoption expenses directly related to the finalization of an adoption may be reimbursed?
Parents may be reimbursed for up to $400 per child for eligible adoption expenses such as reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of the child. Families must apply for this reimbursement before adoption finalization. International adoptees are not eligible.
13. Is child care available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access child care?
14. Is respite care available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access respite care?
For developmentally disabled children, Regional Center programs contract with the state to coordinate a variety of services, including respite. Community-based and public agencies may also provide respite. Parents can search the ARCH National Respite Network Respite Locator Service (http://archrespite.org/respitelocator) by state to find respite options in California.
15. Is residential treatment available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access residential treatment services?
When an AAP-eligible child is placed in an approved out-of-home placement such as a group home or residential treatment facility, the placement should be part of a plan for the child’s return to the adoptive family’s home within 18 months. AAP may pay for an eligible out-of-home placement if the placement is justified by a specific episode or condition and does not exceed 18 months. After an initial authorized out-of-home placement, subsequent authorizations for payment for the out-of-home placement must be based on the child’s subsequent and specific episode or conditions.
The payment for the out-of-home placement may not exceed the maximum state-approved foster care facility rate for which the child is placed.
16. What other post-adoption services are available in California and how do families find out more about them?
Post-adoption services are available in many counties throughout California. In counties where agency adoption services are provided by the California Adoptions Services Bureau, they may be administered by the California Department of Social Services through contracted agencies or the public adoption agency.
Post-adoption services may include:
- Information and referrals
- Educational programs
- Support groups
- Respite care
- Crisis intervention
- Educational materials
- Resource library
Not all services may be available in all cases. Families should contact their state or county adoption assistance worker or post-adoption services contact for information process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.
17. If the assistance listed above in questions 13 to 16 are for specific services, must these services be explicitly identified in the adoption assistance agreement?
What Should Families Know About Applying for Subsidy?
18. Who initiates the adoption assistance agreement?
The responsible public agency is responsible for initiating the agreement. The AAP agreement is signed by the adoptive parents and the responsible public agency.
19. Who makes the final determination on an adoption assistance agreement?
The responsible public agency and the adoptive parents negotiate the AAP benefit amount based on the child’s needs and circumstances of the family.
20. How do families request adoption assistance after finalization of an adoption?
If an AAP eligibility determination was not made and an AAP agreement was not signed before adoption finalization, the adoptive parent may submit a completed Request for Adoption Assistance Program (AAP 1) form to the responsible public agency.
In cases of deferred AAP agreements, adoptive parents may contact the responsible public agency with which they signed the deferred agreement.
How Can a Family Adjust an Adoption Assistance Agreement?
21. Can adoptive parents ask to change an adoption assistance agreement?
Adoptive parents may request a change in the adoption assistance agreement at any time. Adoptive parents may submit their request in person, by phone or in writing to the responsible public agency. No form is necessary to request a change in the adoption assistance agreement, however parents may be asked to complete the Reassessment Information form (AAP 3), which is available at http://www.cdss.ca.gov/cdssweb/entres/forms/English/AAP3.pdf
22. What steps does a family go through to appeal an adoption assistance decision in California?
The county agency financially responsible for the adoption assistance payments sends a Notice of Action (NOA) to the adoptive parent(s) when granting, increasing, decreasing, or terminating adoption assistance payments. If the adoptive parent(s) disagrees with the proposed action, they may request a fair hearing by completing the written hearing request form on the NOA or by calling the California Department of Social Servcies at 800-952-5253 or 800-952-8349 (TDD).
Requests for a fair hearing must be made within 90 days from receipt of an adverse notice. An administrative law judge conducts fair hearings. The county representative will present the case for the change or denial of an increase, and adoptive parents have an opportunity to present their information and evidence to substantiate the request for change. A ruling will be made and sent to parents. Fair hearings can be conducted over the phone if the adoptive parent lives in another state or is unable to attend in person. For more information, contact the State Hearings Division at 800-743-8525.
To learn more about Your Hearing Rights, visit http://www.cdss.ca.gov/cdssweb/entres/forms/English/NABACK9.PDF
What Else do Families Need to Know?
23. How is the adoption assistance program operated and funded in California?
The responsible public agency (the department or public adoption agency) is responsible for determining AAP eligibility and initial and subsequent payment amounts. The income maintenance division in each county welfare department is responsible for federal eligibility determination and payment of AAP benefits.
The Financial Participation (FFP rate) for a Title IV-E eligible child is 50 percent. The remaining program costs are funded county funds. For non-IV-E children, the costs are covered with county funds..
24. Does California operate a subsidized guardianship program?
California offers subsidized guardianship, known as Kin-GAP. Parents should contact their county social worker for more information. To find more information about the program visit https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/foster-care/kinship-guardianship-assistance.
25. Does California offer a tuition waiver program?
No. However, the California Chafee ETV program provides up to $5,000 per year to meet the educational and training needs of youth aging out of foster care. This program may support adopted youth who were in foster care between the ages of 16 and 18. To qualify, youth must not reached their 22nd birthday by July 1 of the award year. Youth must be enrolled at least half time in an eligible career or technical school or college and maintain satisfactory academic progress.
For more information, visit the California Student Aid Commission’s Chafee Grant Program web site at https://www.csac.ca.gov/post/california-chafee-grant-program-commercial or call 888-224-7268.
26. Does California offer a state adoption tax credit?
Yes, California offers a state adoption tax credit. The credit is based on expenses incurred in the adoption.
27. Does California have any program to support an adoptee whose adoptive parents die until the child is adopted again?
For adopted children whose parents have died, California’s kinship, guardianship, and foster care programs may provide interim support before a subsequent adoption.
28. What is the payment schedule for adoption assistance? Who do I contact if I haven’t received my payment? Can I receive my adoption assistance through direct deposit?
Parents will need to contact the responsible public agency listed on the signed AAP agreement.
29. What else differentiates California’s adoption assistance program from others around the country?
If a child is placed with an adoptive family in another state, the adoptive family may choose to use California’s AAP rate structure or their state of residence’s AAP rate structure when negotiating the AAP rate.