Photo: Gourmet Photography/Fotolia
by Peter McParlin
When you are considering adopting, one crucial piece of information you need to know is whether you can afford to bring up the child.
That’s not just about whether you can meet the direct costs from your present income, but if you or your partner might have to consider working part-time or possibly coming out of work altogether. This is more likely if your child has known special needs or a disability.
It can become even more difficult when the child’s needs are not diagnosed until after the adoption is finalised. There is clear evidence of the substantial extra cost of caring for a child with additional needs. In the case of my own family, my adopted son was initially denied CAMHS treatment, meaning we spent thousands on the services of a private consultant psychiatrist before eventually getting the decision by the local health authority reversed.
From the start of the process of applying and training to be adoptive parents, there are real tensions about raising the issue of financial security. Many prospective adopters feel embarrassed about asking questions in relation to financial benefits and security.
There’s also the fear that you could be misunderstood. Will the people who are assessing your suitability as adoptive parents think you are too interested in money? The truth is that it is very hard to be a good parent on an inadequate income, as studies of parenting in poverty have shown.
Moreover, the complexity of benefits and allowances is so great that even an ordinary tax adviser or personal accountant may not be able to steer you through any projection of your financial state once you adopt.
For example, if you receive income such as a carer’s allowance, try matching this with the fostering/adoption allowance to be received from the adoption agency where your child is referred from. As soon as a declaration is made on one aspect of your money – for example carer’s allowance, tax credit, child benefit, child tax credit, working tax credit – the fostering/adoption allowance changes, thus promoting a change.
Who will help you to complete annual assessments and understand the rules – for instance that your adoption allowance and DWP benefits will not count as taxable income nor DWP benefits, but your carers allowance will?
Who will tell you that you can get reductions on council tax and utilities payments? Or that there are travel concessions for disabled children, which can help with visits to clinics and outpatient appointments? Or that if you have working tax credits you may be entitled to free school dinners and milk?
Adoptive parents also often have no idea if their child was awarded the Child Trust Fund at birth, because no one mentions it to them; nor are many contacted by any relevant authority to become the trustee.
Lack of crucial expertise
The intricacies of benefits and allowances affecting a new adoptive parent’s financial resources are complex and hard to fathom. There is a peculiar balancing act between the entitlement and awarding of benefits that needs to be explained by a real expert with years of experience.
That expert is, unfortunately, unlikely to be found within your adoption agency. In my experience, officers’ training tends to have more to do with placement matching and assessing your suitability to be an adoptive parent.
Even more financially trained administrative staff at your agency are unlikely to know the ins and outs of how your financial life will be affected by adoption – and it is exactly this area that is fundamental to decisions about moving forward with adoption training and application.
Without expert advice, most people would be lucky to know about the considerable number of benefits and special allowances for which they might be eligible as adoptive parents of a child with a disability or complex needs.
At the point of adoption about 60% of children adopted from care come into this category, and even more later on when undiagnosed special needs often come to light. Having access to this much-needed financial assistance should be an entitlement, not a matter of luck.
Need for change
All agencies need to have an officer, specially appointed to look into the financial lives of applicants and how they can be supported in their prospective adoption by available benefits and allowances.
Staff should not be using rough rules of thumb, or hearsay, or general guiding principles but have a high level of specialist knowledge. Each case should, if required, be examined in great detail to ensure that potential adoptive parents know exactly what benefits they might be eligible for and how and where to apply for them.
The ability to provide highly skilled and specific financial advice should be an important feature of the service offered by the adoption agency and one of its assets in attracting potential adoptive parent.
I would like to see the appointment of an expert financial officer become mandatory in all adoption agencies within the next two years, so all adoptive and pre adoptive parents can receive well-informed financial advice precisely tailored to their individual situation.
Peter McParlin is a consultant child psychologist, adoptive parent and adoptee.