Updated September 2020
Below you will find information about the adoption assistance benefits that may be available to families who adopt children from foster care in Pennsylvania. Adoption subsidy policies and practices are, for the most part, dependent on the state where the child was in foster care before the adoption.
Office of Children, Youth & Families
Department of Public Welfare
Annex, Health & Welfare Bldg.
P. O. Box 2675
Harrisburg, PA 17105
What Is Adoption Assistance?
Parents who are thinking about or are in the process of adopting a child from foster care should know about adoption assistance (also known as adoption subsidy). Adoption assistance programs are designed to help parents meet the needs of children they adopt from foster care. Children can qualify for federal adoption assistance or state assistance, depending on the child’s history. (For more information on federal adoption assistance (Title IV-E) eligibility, view our fact sheet Eligibility and Benefits for Federal Adoption Assistance.)
Answers to select questions were made available by the Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance through the Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov).
If you have state-specific questions, call your State Agency Adoption Assistance Contact or the NACAC Volunteer (listed above). If you have questions about a specific adoption assistance payment (such as the payment being late or you are changing addresses or bank account), call your State Agency Adoption Assistance contact or the general number for that agency.
For other questions, contact NACAC at 651-644-3036, 800-470-6665, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adoption Resources on the Web:
http://www.adoptpakids.org/ (Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange)
Pennsylvania’s state-specific medical assistance information:
Pennsylvania’s adoption assistance information:
http://www.taplink.org/post-placement-supports/finance-and-subsidy.aspx [Together as Adoptive Parents (TAP) has a website that describes support services in Pennsylvania by county.]
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR ADOPTION ASSISTANCE?
- How does Pennsylvania define special needs to determine eligibility?
A child with special needs is defined as a child who meets all three of the following criteria:
- The child is free for adoption.
- The child has a qualifying factor or condition (see list below).
- Reasonable efforts were made to place the child without adoption assistance unless it is not in the child’s best interest; for example, if there is the existence of significant emotional bond between the adoptee and the adoptive parents
For a child to be determined to have a qualifying factor or condition, he or she must meet at least one of the following circumstances:
- Be five years of age or older and under the age of 18 or 21
- Be a member of a racial or ethnic minority group
- Be a member of sibling group of two or more placed together in the same adoptive home
- Have a physical, mental, emotional condition or disability
- Have a genetic condition that indicates a high risk of developing a disease or disability
- Does the state-only funded adoption assistance program differ in any way from the Title IV-E program?
- Are children adopted from private agencies in Pennsylvania eligible for adoption assistance?
Children adopted through private agencies licensed by the Department of Public Welfare or independently through attorneys and who meet the special needs criteria may be eligible for adoption assistance. The county agency determines eligibility based on federal and state law and regulation.
WHAT SUPPORTS AND SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE?
- What is the maximum basic monthly adoption assistance maintenance payment in Pennsylvania?
Monthly adoption assistance maintenance payments cannot exceed the monthly foster care maintenance payment the child was receiving or would receive in foster care. The foster care maintenenance amount varies by county and is determined by the child’s needs and the allowable expenses for foster care maintenance reimbursement.
- Does Pennsylvania provide specialized rates (based on the extraordinary needs of the child or the additional parenting skill needed to raise the child)?
There are different types of foster care maintenance payments with various amounts available for children based on their needs. The County Children and Youth Agencies determine what type of foster care best meets the child’s needs. Adoption assistance benefits typically reflect foster care maintenance payments, but may be lower. They cannot exceed the foster care maintenance amount the child would receive in foster care.
- When do adoption assistance payments begin?
Adoption assistance payments and benefits begin on the effective date of the agreement. That date may be before adoption finalization when all four of the following criteria are met:
• Parental rights to the child under 18 years of age have been terminated.
• Child is placed in the prospective adoptive home.
• The adoption agreement has been signed.
• The adoption petition has been filed.
- When a child turns 18, which benefits, if any, continue?
Adoption assistance agreements either end for the child at the age of 18 if not eligible for the extension or at the age 21 if eligible for extension.
- Does Pennsylvania offer deferred adoption assistance agreements (agreements where initial monthly maintenance amount is $0 for children at risk of developing special needs later)?
Pennsylvania does not have offer deferred adoption assistance agreements for children at risk of developing special needs. However, if a child is eligible for assistance but the parents decline a monthly subsidy payment, they may sign an agreement with a $0 payment. This practice allows for renegotiation if the child’s or family’s circumstances change or the declining family requests a subsidy in the future.
- What Medicaid services are available in Pennsylvania?
Children on Medicaid in Pennsylvania are eligible for any medically necessary service. For more information about benefits, parents can call the Medicaid hotline at 800-692-7462.
Pennsylvania does not offer additional funding or services for medical or therapeutic needs not covered under the medical plan to children receiving adoption assistance. However, uncovered costs may prompt an adoptive family to request a renegotiation of their adoption assistance agreement, particularly if there has been a change in the needs of the child or family circumstances since the agreement was originally signed. (See Question 21 for more on renegotiating.) The county may not exceed the foster care maintenance payment the child would receive in foster care.
- 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.)
State-funded children (children not eligible for Title IV-E eligible adoption assistance) receive medical assistance.
- What mental health services are available?
Public mental health services for children in Pennsylvania are administered by county mental health or developmental disabilities programs, with funding available through the Department of Public Welfare Office of Medical Assistance Programs (OMAP), and Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS). Services may include:
- Behavioral health rehabilitation services
- Psychiatric inpatient, psychiatric outpatient clinic
- Psychological services, prescription drugs
- Targeted case management
- Drug/alcohol inpatient and outpatient care
For more information about services, parents can visit https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/MA-Mental-Health-and-Substance-Abuse.aspx
Not all services may be available in all cases. Parents should contact their adoption assistance worker or medical assistance specialist for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.
- In Pennsylvania, what nonrecurring adoption expenses directly related to the finalization of an adoption may be reimbursed?
Pre-adopt parents pursuing the adoption of a child meeting the special needs requirements may be reimbursed for up to $2,000 per child per adoption episode in nonrecurring adoption expenses, which are one-time expenses that include home study fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel (when necessary to complete the placement or adoption process).
Families should apply for reimbursement before adoption finalization. An adoption assistance agreement must be in effect prior to or during the time of adoption finalization in order to receive reimbursement of non-recurring expenses.
- Is child care available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access child care?
- Is respite care available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access respite care?
Yes. The Statewide Adoption Network (SWAN) provides respite care as ones of its post-permanency services for further information visit, http://www.adoptpakids.org/Respite.aspx. In addition, many private organizations offer respite options. Parents can search for Pennsylvania programs using the ARCH National Respite Network Respite Locator Service at http://archrespite.org/respitelocator.
- Is residential treatment available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access residential treatment services?
There are no special adoption assistance provisions for residential treatment costs, although Medicaid may cover some treatment. The financial responsibility for the child’s needs remains that of the adoptive family.
- What other post-adoption services are available in Pennsylvania and how do families find out more about them?
Post-adoption services are funded by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), Office of Children, Youth and Families through the Statewide Adoption Network (SWAN). SWAN post-permanency Services) include:
- Case advocacy for post-permanency services
- Support groups
- Respite care
Eligibility is open to all adoptive, kinship, and permanent legal custodian placements from the child welfare system. To request services, families can call SWAN at 800-585-SWAN (7926).
County and private agencies across the state also offer a variety of post-adoption services including:
- Information and referral
- Educational materials/newsletter
- Educational programs
- Lending libraries
- Support groups/programs
- Case management
Other post-adoption service providers include:
Pennsylvania Adoption Connections — http://adoptionconnectionpa.org/
Together as Adoptive Parents (TAPlink) offers a website with available support services (support groups, therapists, etc.) by county — http://www.taplink.org/; 215-256-0669.
Not all services may be available in all cases. Parents should contact their adoption assistance worker or post adoption services contact for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.
- 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?
Post-adoption services as described in Question 16 do not need to be listed in the agreement.
WHAT SHOULD FAMILIES KNOW ABOUT APPLYING FOR ADOPTION ASSISTANCE?
- Who initiates the adoption assistance agreement?
If a child in foster care is proceeding to adoption, the county agency should initiate the adoption assistance agreement. If a private agency licensed by the Department of Public Welfare is assisting a family with adopting a special needs child, the adoptive family must contact the appropriate children and youth agency to determine eligibility for adoption assistance and if appropriate initiate the adoption assistance agreement.
- Who makes the final determination on an adoption assistance agreement?
The county children and youth agency with the concurrence of the adoptive parents make the final determination on an adoption assistance agreement. If the adoptive parents and county children and youth agency do not agree with the adoption assistance determination, the adoptive parents may pursue the matter with the Bureau of Hearing and Appeals.
- How do families request adoption assistance after finalization of an adoption?
An adoption assistance agreement must be in effect prior to or at the time of adoption finalization in order for the adoptive parents to receive reimbursement of non-recurring expenses, a monthly subsidy, and medical coverage unless the Bureau of Hearing and Appeals determines otherwise. If the family has grounds to file an appeal, they may do so following the procedures in Question 22.
HOW CAN A FAMILY ADJUST AN ADOPTION ASSISTANCE AGREEMENT?
The County Children and Youth Agency (agency) or the adoptive parents may request a change in the adoption assistance agreement and renegotiate the terms of the agreement at any point while the agreement is in effect. The family must make a written request to the agency to change the monthly adoption assistance payment due to changes in the child’s needs or the family’s circumstances. The family must provide documentation related to the change(s) that support the requested change.
The agency is required to contact the parents annually to assess the child’s needs and the family’s circumstances. The agency may request a renegotiation if significant changes are reported. Any changes must be made with the agreement of the adoptive parents and the county agency. Changes in the terms of the adoption assistance agreement require an amended agreement be signed by both the county agency and the adoptive parents.
If a parent does not receive a requested change, the parent may appeal the agency’s decision. (See Question 22.)
To request a change, parents should contact their regional office, which can be found at https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/Regional-OCYF-Offices.aspx
or their county agency, which is listed at https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Children/Documents/Child%20Welfare%20Services/Child%20Welfare%20directory%20of%20services.pdf
- What steps does a family go through to appeal an adoption assistance decision in Pennsylvania?
The adoptive family can request a fair hearing whenever a Department of Public Welfare (DPW), county Children and Youth Agency decision affects their child’s adoption assistance benefits. Allegations that constitute grounds for a fair hearing include:
- Relevant facts regarding the child were known or should have been reasonably known by the public or private agency and were not presented to the adoptive parents before adoption finalization.
- Denial of assistance based upon a means test of the adoptive family.
- Adoptive family disagreement that a child is ineligible for adoption assistance.
- Failure by the agency to advise potential adoptive parents about the availability of adoption assistance for children in the state foster care system.
- Decrease in the amount of adoption assistance without the agreement of the adoptive parents.
- Denial of a request for a change in payment level due to a change in the adoptive parents’ or child’s circumstances.
The family must file the appeal in writing within 30 calendar days of receiving written notice of an adverse decision from the County Children and Youth Agency. Upon receipt of the appeal, the agency shall date stamp the appeal and submit it with a copy of the agency action being appealed to the DPW Bureau of Hearing and Appeals within three work days. The bureau has exclusive authority to grant or dismiss the appeal. Any existing benefit in an adoption assistance agreement continues during the appeal process.
If the appeal is denied by the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, the family may request, within 15 days of the denial, that the Secretary of Public Welfare reconsider the decision. The family may also file a Petition for Review with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court within 30 days of the mailing of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals decision. Both of these options may be pursued at the same time.
WHAT ELSE DO FAMILIES NEED TO KNOW?
- How is the adoption assistance program operated and funded in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has a state-supervised/county-administered child welfare system. This means that personnel at the state office are responsible for making policy decisions regarding the adoption assistance program, and provide guidance to county offices. The counties make decisions related to children’s eligibility. Pennsylvania establishes program and administrative regulations that apply to 67 county agencies. Public agencies are accountable for adoption assistance eligibility determination and program implementation.
The adoption assistance program is funded through federal, state, and local dollars. The federal contribution to Title IV-E-eligible children—known as the Federal Financial Participation or FFP rate—is 51.82% in Pennsylvania. There is an 80/20 split between the state and county for a state adoption monthly subsidy.
- Does Pennsylvania operate a subsidized guardianship program?
Yes. Pennsylvania provides assistance for children who are in the custody of a public children and youth agency and who leave the child welfare system with a court-approved permanent legal custodian. The eligibility requirements must be met for Title IV-E or state subsidy. The amount may not exceed the foster care maitenance payment which may differ by county.
- Does Pennsylvania offer a tuition waiver program?
No. But the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association (PSRFA) has a scholarship program open to high school seniors who are presently in care through a private or public foster care agency in Pennsylvania or whose parents are active members of the association. An application and further information is at http://www.psrfa.org/education/the-parfa-scholarship/
The Chafee Education and Training Grant Program offers grant assistance to Pennsylvania undergraduate students aging out of foster care who are attending a postsecondary institution approved for the Federal Title IV student financial assistance programs. For eligibility requirements, application form, and more information, parents and students can visit www.pheaa.org/funding-opportunities/other-educational-aid/chafee-program.shtml.
- Does Pennsylvania offer a state adoption tax credit?
- Does Pennsylvania have any program to support an adoptee whose adoptive parents die until the child is adopted again?
No, unless the child is under the care and responsibility of the county children and youth agency.
- What else differentiates Pennsylvania’s adoption assistance program from others around the country?
Pennsylvania Legal Sources:
Pennsylvania Adoption Act:http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/23/23.HTM
Pennsylvania Code, 55 Pa. Code 3140.201 to 3140.210