Updated February 2021
Below you will find information about the adoption assistance benefits that may be available to families who adopt children from foster care in Wisconsin. Adoption subsidy policies and practices are, for the most part, dependent on the state where the child was in foster care before the adoption.
Yolanda Shelton-Morris, MSW
Adoption Services Supervisor
Bureau of Permanency and Out of Home Care
Department of Children and Families
P.O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53703
Coalition for Children, Youth and Families
6682 W. Greenfield Avenue, Suite 310
Milwaukee, WI 53214
Office: 414-475-1246 / 800-762-8063
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:
Wisconsin’s state-specific medical assistance information:
https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/adoption/assistanceAdoption Assistance resources on the web:
Who Is Eligible for Adoption Assistance?
- How does Wisconsin define special needs to determine eligibility?
A child with special needs is defined as a child who has at least one of the following needs or circumstances that may be a barrier to placement or adoption without financial assistance:
- Is 10 years of age or older (if age is the only factor in determining eligibility)
- Is a child of color, where the child is of a race or ethnic background that makes adoption more difficult
NOTE: A child that is a member of an Indian tribe or is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe would meet this elegibility requirement.
- Is a member of a sibling group of three or more children who must be placed together at the same time
- The child exhibits special need characteristics judged to be moderate or intensive under the schedule of difficulty-of-care levels specified in s. DCF 50.042 (3) and characteristics were identified prior to July 1, 2011; if after July 1, 2011, the child has a total of 5 or more needs that have been identified as moderate or intensive in the areas listed in s. DCF 56.23 (2) (a) 1. a. to e. in the rate schedule under s. DCF 56.23 (2) (a) .
Wisconsin Administrative Code Health and Family Services DCF 50:
Wisconsin Administrative Code Health and Family Services DCF 56:
- At high risk of developing a moderate or intensive level of special needs (see page 2 of https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/publications/pdf/0105.pdf for more information about the high-risk definition)
Note: Children must be legally free for adoption to be eligible for adoption assistance.
- 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 Wisconsin eligible for adoption assistance?
Yes. Private agency workers should follow the same procedures as their public agency counterparts.
What Supports and Services Are Available?
- What is the maximum basic monthly adoption assistance maintenance payment in Wisconsin?
Rates are based on applicable foster care rates. Link to Understanding the Uniform Foster Care Brochure (provides the current rate)- https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/fostercare/ufcr
- Does Wisconsin provide specialized rates (based on the extraordinary needs of the child or the additional parenting skill needed to raise the child)?
“Supplemental” rates are based on an assessment of a child’s emotional, behavioral, and physical characteristics using the CANS assessment.
“Exceptional” rates are paid when needed to avoid institutionalization of a child. The maximum is $2,000 per month, which includes the basic rate. Exceptional rates are only possible with the original adoption assistance agreement.
Link to Level of Cares (CANS Assessment Tool): https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cans
and DCF 56.22(1) Assessment of Needs and Strengths and 56.23 Supplemental payments, exceptional payments: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/dcf/021_099/56/23
- When do adoption assistance payments begin?
Adoption assistance payments and benefits may begin at adoptive placement and must begin no later than the date of adoption finalization.
- When a child turns 18, which benefits, if any, continue?
Assistance will continue until a youth reaches age 18 if eligibility otherwise continues. Payments may continue until a youth turns 19 if the adoptee is a full-time high school student or its equivalent. OR payments may continue until the youth turns 21 if all of the following requirements in DCF 50.06(3)(b)are met OR assistance may be continued for an adopted person
- Is 18 years of age or over, but under 21 years of age and meet all of the below requirements:
- Adopted person is a full-time student at a secondary school or its vocational or technical equivalent
- There is an individualized education program in effect for the adopted person
- The adoption assistance agreement became effective after the adopted person attained 16 years of age
NOTE: Assistance may be reinstated following termination of assistance by adoptive parents when the adopted person was 18 years of age or over if the adopted person meets the above requirement.
- Does Wisconsin offer deferred adoption assistance agreements (agreements where initial monthly maintenance amount is $0 for children at risk of developing special needs later)?
Yes, eligibility is established and any potential payment or benefits may be deferred to a later date as requested by the adoptive parents. Wisconsin offers deferred adoption assistance for children at high risk of developing special care needs, with the agreement beginning the month the adoption is finalized. The adoption assistance agreement will specify $0 in monthly payment benefits and elegibility for medical assistance is established.
- What Medicaid services are available in Wisconsin?
Families can call 800-362-3002 with questions regarding Medicaid-covered health care services or visit http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/medicaid. If families currently receive Wisconsin Medicaid and need to report address or insurance changes, they can contact Adoption Assistance Medical Benefits Program Specialist, Bureau of Permanence and Out-of-Home Care at 866-666-5532
- 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.)
Benefit coverage is the same for both groups.
- What mental health services are available?
Public mental health services for children in Wisconsin are administered by the Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Medicaid. DHS Medicaid services include the following examples of care: inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility, and intermediate care facility services for patients in institutions for mental illnesses; mental health and medical day treatment; mental health and psychosocial rehabilitative services, including case management services, provided by staff of a certified community support program; physician services; and prescription drugs.
- In Wisconsin, what nonrecurring adoption expenses directly related to the finalization of an adoption may be reimbursed?
Families may request up to $2,000 per child in nonrecurring adoption expenses following the finalization for all children adopted from the state of Wisconsin with adoption assistance. Nonrecurring adoption expenses are reasonable and incurred adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs that are not incurred in violation of state or federal law. Expenses may include the agency fee for the adoption study and supervision of the placement before adoption, transportation to home study meetings or required preplacement visits with the child, costs of lodging and food for the child to be adopted and the adoptive family when participating in activities required by the adoption social worker that are necessary to complete the adoption process, required health and psychological examinations for the adoptive parents if they are not paid for by insurance, necessary long distance telephone calls (e.g., to the adoption agency), and the fee for obtaining a new birth certificate.
Families may request reimbursement following adoption finalization and for up to two years after their adoption is completed.
Additional information is available at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/publications/pdf/0747.pdf
- Is childcare available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access childcare?
No, not under the adoption assistance program. There may be other community resources available.
- Is respite care available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access respite care?
Many private organizations offer respite options. Families can search for Wisconsin respite programs using the ARCH National Respite Network Respite Locator Service at https://archrespite.org/respitelocator.
- Is residential treatment available? If yes, who is eligible and how do families access residential treatment services?
Residential treatment placements occur through the social or human service agency in the family’s county of residence. The cost to the family would not be greater than the amount of adoption assistance received, unless the county court deems otherwise. Families needing residential treatment for their child who receives adoption assistance should contact local county social or human service agency.
- What other post-adoption services are available in Wisconsin and how do families find out more about them?
Post adoption services in Wisconsin are administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) through six Post-Adoption Resource Centers located throughout the state. Families can find their local center by visiting https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/adoption/resources
Post-adoption services include education, support activities, and services for adoptive families. The centers also seek to:
- Improve community awareness of adoption, and promoting a positive image of adoption.
- Strive to create a better understanding of the unique issues facing adoptive families among public and private human service providers, schools and medical care providers.
- Increase the availability of services for adoptive families, including respite care, crisis intervention, day care, after-school care, legal help, family counseling, support groups related to adoption, access to Title XIX service providers and planning for the transition of an adopted child to adulthood.
- Establish collaborative efforts among public and private organizations and the general public to address the needs of adoptive families in the regional area.
Note: Not all services may be available in all cases. Parents should contact their 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?
N/A – see response to question 13 and 16.
What Should Families Know about Applying for Adoption assistance?
- Who initiates the adoption assistance agreement?
The adoption social worker submits the necessary adoption assistance application materials, on behalf of the adoptive parents, to the Department of Children and Families for eligibility determination. If the child is eligible for adoption assistance, the adoption social worker and supervisor will determine a monthly dollar amount based on the child’s needs.
- Who makes the final determination on an adoption assistance agreement?
See #18 above.
- How do families request adoption assistance after finalization of an adoption?
Adoption assistance must be finalized prior to the adoption finalization. A determination or re-determination of elgibility will be considered under the following circumstances:
- The conditions for eligibility for adoption assistance existed at the time adoption became final;
- One of the following circumstances occurred:
- Facts regarding the child, the child’s biological family, or the child’s background that were relevant to the proposed adoption were known to the adoption worker or agency but were not presented to the adoptive parents by the agency or by another source (such as the child’s physician) before the adoption became final;
- Adoption assistance was denied based upon a means test of the adoptive family;
- The determination by the department that the child was ineligible for adoption assistance was erroneous; or
- The adoptive parents were not advised by the adoption agency or by another source, such as a social worker or another adoptive parent, about the availability of adoption assistance and had not previously adopted with adoption assistance; and
- It has been less than three years since the adoptive parent knew or reasonably should have known of the circumstance that is the basis for the hearing request under 2 above.
For more information, parents should contact the Adoption Assistance Program Specialist at 866-666-5532.
How Can a Family Adjust an Adoption Assistance Agreement?
- Can adoptive parents ask to change an adoption assistance agreement?
Adoption assistance agreements can be redetermined at any time before adoption finalization if adoptive parents believe the child’s special care needs have changed.
Before adoption finalization, if an applicant for adoption assistance is not satisfied with the action taken by the department on the application, or if a prospective adoptive parent who has been approved for or is receiving adoption assistance is not satisfied with the conditions governing the award, the applicant or prospective adoptive parent may request a review of the decision by the division administrator or designee or to the department’s office of administrative hearings.
A request for review of a decision should be addressed to one of the below:
Division of Safety and Permanence
P.O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708
Division of Hearings and Appeals
P.O. Box 7875
Madison, WI 53707
After adoption finalization, parents must wait 12 months from the date of adoption (or previous amendment) to request an amendment to their original adoption assistance agreement if they believe a substantial change in circumstance has occurred since the initial agreement was signed.
Changes to adoption assistance agreements are known as amendments, which are only approved for 12 months at a time. Parents interested in pursuing an amendment should contact the Adoption Assistance Program Specialist at 866-666-5532 to discuss the process and obtain the necessary information.
The family must complete and return the request for adoption assistance amendment form (information available at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/publications/pdf/4063.pdf) to record the family’s observations of the child’s physical, behavioral, and emotional needs. Professional documentation of the child’s current special needs is also required for verification of a substantial change in circumstance.
More information regarding a request to amend the adoption assistance agreement is in Wisconsin’s Administrative Code Chapter HFS 50, Facilitating the Adoption of Children with Special Needs, Sections 50.044(2) and 50.045(2), which is at
Additional information is available at: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/publications/pdf/4063.pdf.
- What steps does a family go through to appeal an adoption assistance decision in Wisconsin?
There are two sets of procedures for parents seeking a fair hearing regarding adoption assistance in Wisconsin. One set is the appeal process before adoption is final and the second set is after the adoption is final.
The process for seeking changes before finalization is outlined in question 20 above. More information about the appeal process can be found under Ch. 227, Wis. Stats – http://www.legis.state.wi.us/statutes/Stat0227.pdf.
What Else Do Families Need to Know?
- How is the adoption assistance program operated and funded in Wisconsin?
The program is state supervised and state administered, which means that both policy and eligibility decisions are made by personnel at the state office. Licensed private adoption agencies are authorized to provide adoption services and seek approval for adoption assistance.
The adoption assistance program is State and Federal funded.
- Does Wisconsin operate a subsidized guardianship program?
Yes. Information can be located at: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/guardian/subsidized
- Does Wisconsin offer a tuition waiver program?
The Wisconsin Education and Training Voucher (ETV) Program provides funding to youth who are or were in foster care. Funding may cover up to $4,000 per year while youth are in college or a vocational or technical training program. To qualify, youth must be meet all of the following criteria found at: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/cwportal/policy/pdf/memos/2018-37i.pdf
Independent Living Coordinator
Department of Children and Families
P.O. Box 8916
Madison WI 53708-8916
608-267-7287 • fax: 608-264-6750
- Does Wisconsin offer a state adoption tax credit?
- Does Wisconsin have any program to support an adoptee whose adoptive parents die until the child is adopted again?
Wisconsin does not have a specific program for children without a parent/guardian but may be elegible for services through the County Human Services. . More information on other options is available at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/publications/pdf/4113.pdf
- What else differentiates Wisconsin’s adoption assistance program from others around the country?
Wisconsin Legal Resources:
Wisconsin Statutes §48.975:
Wisconsin Administrative Code Department of Children and Families DCF 50: