What You Need to Know About Adoption Subsidies in California

California’s Adoption Assistance Program aims to provide permanency and stability for adopted children. Here’s everything you need to know about adoption subsidies in California.

Children who are eligible to receive Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) benefits may receive federally funded or state-funded benefits according to California specifications. In order for a child to receive AAP benefits, the request for benefits, determination of their eligibility, and agreement on the value of the benefits must be finalized.

Related: Adoption Laws in California: The Basics

How can families apply for adoption subsidies in California?

In order to request Adoption Assistance Program benefits, an adoptive family must submit a Request for AAP (also known as “AAP 1”) form to a California public agency. The public agency will initiate the AAP agreement, which must be signed by both the agency and the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents can also sign a deferral agreement, which is recommended for families that choose not to use AAP benefits, but want to keep the option open for adoptive children who are at risk of developing special needs later in life. Signing a deferred AAP agreement ensures that the child remains eligible for AAP benefits such as health insurance in the future.

What benefits does the Adoption Assistance Program provide?

A child who is eligible for AAP in California may receive a number of benefits, such as:

  • A monthly rate, which will be negotiated based on the needs of the child and the adoptive family. The purpose of this monthly check is to help the adoptive family attend to the lifelong needs of the child, rather than their short-term financial needs. The monthly rate cannot exceed what the child would have received had they remained in foster care. However, if the child needs more care than their AAP basic rate can provide, they may be approved to receive a Special Care Increment (SCI) as well. Children with developmental disabilities may also be eligible for California Regional Center services, in which case they would receive a “dual agency rate” (which cannot exceed $3,751/month).
  • Health insurance (Medicaid or Medi-Cal)
  • Reimbursement for adoption expenses (as long as they are not recurring expenses). These reimbursements may be up to $400 per child per adoption.
  • Reimbursement for out-of-home placements (so long as they are legally within California state guidelines).

Out of home placements

Out of home placements are court-ordered removals of children from the custody of their parents or guardians for a specific period of time. Out of home placements may be ordered for a variety of reasons. One such reason could be a Short-Term Residential Treatment Program for substance abuse or mental illness, or placements with court-approved guardians. According to California Welfare and Institutions Code 16000, California courts prioritize placing children with relatives as defined by California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 319. If the court fails to locate a social-worker-approved relative (or nonrelative extended family member), the child may be placed in a licensed foster family home for the duration of the out of home placement. The state of California may also offer services in order to prevent the need for future out of home placements, including (but not limited to) case management, in-home caretakers, parenting training, and transportation, according to social worker recommendations. If necessary, a California court may temporarily restrict the rights of parents or guardians from making decisions regarding the child’s development and education, and may appoint an approved adult to do so for the duration of the out of home placement.

It is important to note that child care is not included in AAP benefits, and that out of home placement reimbursement is included in AAP benefits so long as the intention of the placement is to return the child to their adoptive home within 18 months, and the placement is warranted due to a specific event or need. If a family is looking to apply for other post-adoption services in California including child care, the services available may depend on the county in which the adoptive family resides.

How much money is the AAP monthly rate?

According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the maximum monthly rates for AAP benefits depend on when the AAP agreement was signed and the age of the child. If the initial agreements were signed on or after January 1, 2017, then the maximum monthly rate for any child aged 0-18 is $1,037/month. For agreements signed before January 1, 2017, the maximum monthly rates for each age group can be found here.

How long can adoptive families receive AAP benefits?

Adoptive families can begin receiving AAP benefits once the agreement is signed by all of the involved parties, which can be before or after the adoption decree is issued. AAP benefits end once the adopted child reaches 18, unless the child has a mental or physical disability, in which case the AAP benefits continue until the age of 21. However, if the AAP agreement is signed on or after the child’s 16th birthday, then the adoptive family may be eligible to receive AAP benefits until the child reaches the age of 21 so long as one of the following are true:

  • The adopted child is enrolled in a high school or high school equivalency program
  • The adopted child is enrolled in a post-secondary school
  • The adopted child is a participant in a program that promotes or assists them in finding future employment
  • The adopted child is working at least 80 hours per month
  • If the adopted child cannot complete any of the aforementioned requirements due to a mental or physical disability, this would (as described above) automatically extend their benefits until the age of 21

Can the AAP agreement be changed?

Adoptive families can always choose to make changes to their AAP agreement by submitting a request to the adoption agency with which they made the agreement. Families requesting changes may be required to complete a Reassessment Information form, also known as “AAP 3”.

Appealing an AAP Decision

The public agency responsible for managing a family’s AAP benefits will always send a Notice of Action (“NOA”) to the family when any decisions are made regarding payments (rate modification, termination, and more). An example of a Notice of Action can be found here. In response, adoptive parents may choose to request a hearing to appeal the decision. Families can request the hearing on the NOA hearing request form, or they can contact the California Department of Social Services at 800-952-5253. Hearings must be requested within 90 days of receiving the NOA, unless the NOA was received by mail, in which case the time to appeal is extended by 5 days. In a hearing, a representative of the county agency will explain the decision, and the adoptive parents can present evidence to corroborate their request. Hearings can take place in person or over the phone according to the adoptive parents’ needs (for example, if a parent lives in another state). An administrative law judge will make a ruling and send it to the parents.

Families who want to learn more about the fair hearing process in California can contact the California State Hearings Division at 800-743-8525 or by email at SHDRFA@dss.ca.gov. A quick way to request a hearing is online through the California Department of Social Services website Appeals Case Management system, which can be found here. If families choose to submit their hearing requests by mail, the address of their respective county welfare department can be found on the Notice of Action, or they can send the request directly to the State Hearings Division at the following address:

California Department of Social Services
State Hearings Division
P.O. Box 944243, Mail Station 9-17-37
Sacramento, California 94244-2430

The California Department of Social Services recommends that adoptive parents keep a copy of their hearing requests. Families will be informed about the status of their request at least 15 days before the scheduled hearing date. They will receive a notice detailing the county representative assigned to oppose their case, and the date, time, and location of their hearing. Families will also be given the opportunity to explore their case with the opposing county representative prior to the hearing, and often the parties will come to an agreement before the hearing even takes place. If the representative agrees with the family, they may sign a Conditional Withdrawal and correct the previous decision made by the county agency.

Preparing for the Hearing

The case file and county representative’s written position statement will be available for adoptive families to pick up at least two days prior to the hearing date. At any point before the hearing, adoptive families can submit their own written position statements. The hearing may be administered by the California State Hearings Division or the Office of Administrative Hearings. Families should bring any documents that can back up their request and make copies for the judge and opposing side. They should also bring a written position statement and any witnesses that can support their case. The administrator of the hearing (also known as an Administrative Law Judge) may ask for information from the representative, the family, or the witnesses. The decision regarding the appeal will be sent to the adoptive family within a few months of the hearing. More resources regarding preparation for the hearings can be found in Sections 12:05-22 in this California Department of Social Services directive.

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