Adoption FAQ: “What is a “special need?’”


WACAP Information Specialist, Debbie

When I talk with families about the individual needs (or “special needs”) a child may have, I’m often asked a few recurring questions: “What is a ‘special need?’” “What do you consider ‘minor?’” “What can my family handle?”

Children’s needs may be age-related, medical, or may pertain to challenges in their past or present. What’s “minor” to one family may be more significant to another. In talking about these questions with families, it’s always been valuable to dig a little deeper, and I recently had the opportunity to do just that, sitting down with WACAP’s Family Finders manager Jo Reed.

Below, Jo expounds on what she shares with families considering these questions, and as an adoptive parent responding to her daughter, she leaves us with an important answer.

Please read on for Jo’s response to this frequently-asked question:

A “minor” medical need is one a family feels comfortable with; one they know they have the resources to care for and to parent the child effectively. Many families are open to conditions that are surgically correctable, such as milder heart conditions, cleft lip/palate, hernias, etc. Others are open to considering a need that is stable; if it doesn’t become worse—such as a limb difference or a missing eye—it’s easier to plan for what the child will need.

It’s important to know every type of medical need occurs in minor forms, significant forms and everything in between. A child with cerebral palsy may have a tremor in one hand or could be in a wheelchair, a child with a cleft palate may need one surgery or up to eight surgeries, a child who’s behind developmentally may do very well or need lifelong care. My colleagues and I encourage families to consider a child’s information on a case-by-case basis, with the help of a medical specialist, to determine whether they have the resources and comfort level to be a good fit for that particular child.

We provide guidance and help families learn about the various types of individual needs we see in children who need families. We can connect families with other families who have adopted kids with the types of needs they’re considering to give them perspective on how a medical need actually affects day to day family life.

We also see children who are school-age who may not have any known health conditions. The “special needs” of these children are their history of loss and inconsistent care. For these children, WACAP provides training and support for families to understand the effects of trauma on children who have lost their first families and tools to help their children heal.

I encourage families to talk to us about what they’re comfortable with, what their hopes and dreams are for the child they adopt. If you’re considering adoption—or have questions—WACAP staff can help you sort through it to figure out what “special needs” align with the support your family can offer a child. And we can help start you on the path that brings that child and your family together.

When my daughter asked me anxiously one day whether she had special needs, I had to smile. I told her “We all have special needs, honey.” As a family it’s our job to help each other when we can and love each other anyway.

I’m gratified every day to see families adopt the children we advocate for here. WACAP will do everything we can to help a family determine what needs are manageable for them and to prepare them to adopt the child waiting to become part of their story.

Jo Reed of WACAP's Family Finders Team smilesAbout WACAP’s Family Finders Program Manager, Jo Reed: Jo came to WACAP in 2004 and with her, an unyielding commitment to bringing children and families together. An adoptive parent of two girls herself, Jo is also a daily advocate for every child growing up without permanency. Through her work with WACAP’s Family Finders, she has helped share the stories of thousands of children who needed advocates and a family.  


WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents) is one of the largest and most experienced international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies in the United States. Since 1976, we’ve placed over 10,000 children with loving adoptive parents and provided food, medical care and education to more than 200,000 children around the world.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Adoption FAQ, Domestic Adoption, International Adoption, Staff/Board Spotlight, Support Services and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Adoption FAQ: “What is a “special need?’”

  1. Pingback: Adopting From China | WACAP

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