Links updated, January 2018

My duty is to care for her; my love explains the manner of my days. 

—Jane Wiley

Giving a child a home is a remarkable gift. This page is written for the families who’ve adopted children with disabilities (and without!) and those who offer them safe haven through fostering. It’s also written for those who work in state agencies or in private organizations who find foster homes and adoptive families for so many children. Table of Contents


About Foster Care

A crayon drawing of a house.Quick Facts:

Foster care is “a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birthparent is unable to care for them. Foster care is not where juvenile delinquents go. It is where children go when their parents cannot, for a variety of reasons, care for them. Foster care can be informal or arranged through the courts or a social service agency. The goal for a child in the foster care system is usually reunification with the birthfamily, but may be changed to adoption when this is seen as in the child’s best interest. While foster care is temporary, adoption is permanent. (1)

The U.S. Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, estimates that, in September 2015, there were approximately 427,910 children in foster care in the United States and that approximately 53,549 children were adopted with public child welfare agency involvement. (2)

These statistics tell us that there are a lot of remarkable children and families out there touched by foster care and adoption!  It’s also estimated that at least one-third of the children and youth in foster care today likely have disabilities. (3)

When disability is involved, it’s not the least surprising that families will have questions, concerns, and an immediate need for specific information about the disability. Information can help! To that end, the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) is honored to offer guidance about disabilities in children and the systems of help that address disability-related needs.  These resources are likely to be helpful to those in the child welfare system as well, as they place children in foster homes and with adoptive families.  Back to top

Addressing Disability

This first section tells you where, on CPIR’s website, you can find information about disabilities. We’ve tried to anticipate what type of information you might be looking for; you’ll find this framed as a “lead-in” statement or question matched to a resource on our site that would answer that question. We hope this helps you speed to the info you want. If a “lead-in” doesn’t apply to you, go to the next one and see if that’s it, that’s what I want to know, bingo!

I want to know more about a specific disability. CPIR offers a series of fact sheets on the more commonly occuring disabilities. Are you looking for info on one of these disabilities? If so, click on its name and go to that fact sheet.

AD/HD |   autism spectrum disorder |    blindness/visual impairment |   cerebral palsy

deafness and hearing loss |        deaf-blindness |       developmental delay

diabetesDown syndrome |     emotional disorders |    epilepsy

heart conditions |    hemophilia |    intellectual disability  |  lead poisoning

learning disabilities |   leukemia |    nephritis |    rheumatic fever

multiple disabilities |  sickle cell anemia |    speech/language impairments

spina bifidaTourette Syndrome |    traumatic brain injury

But there’s no fact sheet on the disability I’m interested in! CPIR has a vast library of materials on many, many other disabilities, including rare disorders.  Use the SEARCH box on our site. Enter the name of the disability of interest. The SEARCH should identify organizations specializing in the disability in which you’re interested.

I think this baby or toddler in my care may have a disability or a developmental delay (or I know so). It’s really important to follow through and see if the young child does have a disability or delay. If so, he or she would benefit greatly from early intervention services, which are designed to address very young children’s developmental and disability-related needs. To find out more about what to do, we’d suggest you take a look at these CPIR resources first:

Developmental Milestones

What’s a developmental delay?

Overview of Early Intervention

I’m caring for a preschool-aged child who has a disability or delay (or I think so). What should I do? It’s important to find out if the child does indeed have a disability or developmental delay.  If you’re right and there is a disability involved, the child will most likely be eligible for special education and related services, which can really help children.  Schools are responsible for evaluating children suspected of having a disability, even preschoolers (ages 3-5). The evaluation is provided free of charge. To learn more about the steps you might take, you may wish to read:

Special Education Services for Preschoolers with Disabilities

Evaluating Children for Disability

I’m concerned that a foster/adoptive child who’s doing so poorly in school because of a disability. What should I do?

If you are concerned that the child’s school performance is being affected by a disability, you’ll first need to find out if he or she really does have a disability.

If you’re right and there is a disability involved, the child will most likely be eligible for special education and related services, which can really help children struggling in school.  Schools are responsible for evaluating children suspected of having a disability. The evaluation is provided free of charge to families. Start the process by asking the school (preferably in writing) to evaluate your foster/adoptive child under IDEA to see if there’s a disability involved. To understand more about the steps to take, we’d recommend you read these two webpages:

The 10 Basic Steps in Special Education

Evaluating Children for Disability

Behavior is a real problem for my foster/adoptive child, in school and at home both. Help! You may want to visit our Behavior Suite, a series of five resource webpages that all address behavior challenges.

My foster/adoptive child with a disability is in high school now. Shouldn’t we be planning ahead to life after high school? Yes, indeed. In fact, under IDEA, transition planning is required no later than when a youth with a disability turns 16. To learn more about transition planning, visit these CPIR resource pages:

Transition Planning in the IEP.

Transition Suite. A series of 9 resource pages on all topics “transition.”

What’s available in my state to help me address the disability needs of my foster/adoptive child? Great question! In fact, there’s a huge amount of help in every state for children with disabilities. It is made available through state agencies, disability-specific organizations, and organizations especially for parents (including foster and adoptive parents). We highly recommend you in touch with your state’s Parent Center, which specializes in helping families of children who have disabilities. Find your Parent Center, at:

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Organizations Focused on Adoption and Foster Parenting

There are several organizations that foster and adoptive parents may be especially interested in, because of their focus on foster care and adoptive parenting. We’ve listed these below.

National Council on Adoption The Council states that its mission is: “Passionately committed to the belief that every child deserves to thrive in a nurturing, permanent family, National Council For Adoption’s mission is to meet the diverse needs of children, birth parents, adopted individuals, adoptive families, and all those touched by adoption through global advocacy, education, research, legislative action, and collaboration.” The Council offers publications for adoption professionals, for families, for birthparents, and others. This organization hosts multiple websites on adoption and is a popular adoption information destination because of the richness and depth of its information for families (both birth and adoptive) and for adoption professionals.

Child Welfare Information Gateway The Child Welfare Information Gateway connects child welfare and related professionals to comprehensive information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families. The Gateway features the latest on topics from prevention to permanency, including child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption. Toll free: 1.800.422.4453. Information is available in Spanish.

Adoptive Families Magazine Adoptive Families is an award-winning national adoption magazine and a leading adoption information source for families before, during, and after adoption.

Comeunity This website on adoption and special needs treats the two subjects separately, but offers a wealth of information and links on both.

Adopt America Network AAN is dedicated to helping place children with special circumstances, whether they are physical, emotional or something else (for instance, older children and/or siblings). If you’re looking to adopt, this would be one connection worth pursuing.

National Foster Parent Association This mission of the NFPA is to be a respected national voice for foster, kinship, and adoptive families through networking, education, and advocacy. NFPA’s website features state-level information (both state foster parent associations and foster parent regulations for the state), information for foster parents, and an extensive list of “foster parent links.”  A toll-free number is available at: 1.800.557.5238.

Foster Care and Adoptive Community FCAC Online Training offers 154 courses (5 interactive) with new topics added continuously. English and Spanish training modules are offered, so that you can “complete mandated training hours from the comfort of your home.” Lots of other information is available, including state-level contacts.

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Finding Disability Support Groups

In addition to exploring the support available from adoptive parent groups (which you can identify from the websites above), parents often find that joining a support group of parents with experience in raising children with disabilities can be very helpful. Other parents of children with disabilities can share their insights, suggestions, and observations about how they address their child’s disability needs, what agencies or organizations they’ve found helpful, and where to go for particular types of information or assistance. There are several types of disability support groups for parents in the U.S., including:

  • Support groups (such as Parent-to-Parent) for families of children with disabilities, which can match you with another parent whose child has the same disability as yours or whose circumstances are similar;
  • Parent training and information (PTI) centers and community parent resource centers (CPRC) in every state (funded by the federal government), which are dedicated to helping parents understand their rights, work with the school system as an advocate for their child with a disability, and much more; and
  • Groups concerned with a specific disability, such as United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc. (UCPA) or the Arc (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens).

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1 -National Adoption Center. (n.d.). What is foster care? Philadelphia, PA: Author. Online at:

2-Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). (2016, June). The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY1 2015 Estimates as of June 2016 [No. 23]. Washington, DC: Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Online at:

3- United Cerebral Palsy and Children’s Rights. (2006). Forgotten children: A case for action for children and youth with disabilities in foster care. New York, NY: Authors. Online at:

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