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​​1.5.7 Children with Special Needs

From a humanitarian perspective "Compassion for Orphans" has a particular interest in facilitating the placement of children who are considered difficult to place in a family due to health or other reasons.  The Chilean Central Authority regularly sends information to "Compassion for Orphans" about specific children who no one has applied to adopt.  If applicants are interested in adopting these children, "Compassion for Orphans" will work closely with Child Youth and Family, the Chilean Central Authority and the applicants to adopt a specified child/ren.  Applicants will need adequate preparation and additional assessment than otherwise required due to the special circumstances.

Below is information from the New Zealand Central Authority regarding Special Needs Children.  

"The term `special Needs' is used interchangeably with `waiting list children' 'waiting child programme' to describe children and young people who are on a designated list with the intention that their placement is expedited.

The manner in which special needs is used to refer to children in the intercountry adoption context is markedly different to what we understand the term to mean in New Zealand.

The number of children available for intercountry adoption who are considered special needs is growing as the number of healthy children under the age of one requiring intercountry adoption reduces world wide.


Many children with special needs are older children, carriers of a disease or disability who have been in a placement(s) for a long time, affected by past abuse or part of a sibling group. Special Needs is not always clearly defined and varies from country to country. Practice and processes that apply also vary between countries.

Definitions of what is meant by Special Needs appear to have the following characteristics in common:

  • children with serious or incurable medical conditions, diseases, developmental delay
  • children older than a specified age (age limit varies country to country)
  • a sibling group who are referred for adoption together

Chile consider all children have special needs 'due to their age and life experiences'. More specific information defines special needs as children who have minor developmental or medical conditions.

China break the special needs group into children with medical conditions and older aged children.

Medical conditions - Lithuania (L), China (C), Philippines (P), Thailand (T)

  • Downs Syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy (P)
  • Developmental disorders (P) (T)
  • Mental retardation (T)
  • Heart problems requiring surgery (C) (T)
  • Cleft palate in association with other needs (C) (L)
  • Mobility problems
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Phenylketonuria (metabolic disorder which results in neurological difficulties like epilepsy, eczema etc)
  • Deafness (C) (P) (T)
  • Blindness (P) (T)
  • Epilepsy
  • Spina Bifida
  • Athropgryposis
  • Limb differences (C)
  • Port wine stain (C)
  • Club Foot (C)
  • Strabismus (deviation of the eye) (C)
  • Scars (C)
  • Low vision (C)
  • Hepatitis B (C) (P)
  • Hernia (C)
  • Albinism (C)
  • HIV (P) (T)

Themes and research

Anecdotal information would suggest that there is growing interests in adopting children from special needs lists. This appears to be in large part driven by both the decreased availability and thus lengthened waiting times for `healthy children', and, the increased availability, expedited process and shortened waiting time associated with children placed for intercountry adoption off special needs lists.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the older children are at the time of adoption, the more likely they are to experience poor mental health, including behavioural and cognitive problems and issues to do with their self-esteem and identity such as a reduced sense of belonging and being loved 1. The research on older children strongly correlates with the research on special needs children.

There is considerable discrepancy relating to what is meant by 'older children'. Some countries put this at older than one year and others focus on children between 2-10, 5 and 8.

It is not age per se that produces difficulties for adapted children and their families, but rather, the quality of the pre-adoption care that children experience1.

Assessment of applicant's skills, experience and expectations specific to older and special needs children is critical as parenting these children brings extra complexities.

The research suggests that older adoptive parents with prior experience of adoption, fostering and/or the raising of biological children tend to attain better outcomes2.

Research also suggests that2:

Adequate preparation, and having realistic expectations of the adoption are also identified as significant family factors influencing the success of older/special needs adoption.

Families who utilise particular parenting strategies and attitudes report better outcomes with children with special needs.

The type and degree of support received by the adoptive family in the form of pre and post placement services and broader community and family support are also key predictors of success.

More information is needed by applicants to inform the decision they are making when contemplating children from a special needs list.

People need to understand that children with special needs require a `commitment for life'."

New Zealand Central Authority (June 2008)


1 Howe, D. (1997) Parent-reported problems in 211 adopted children: Some risks and protective factors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38 (4) 401-411.

2 Draft Bibliography: Older Children and Special Needs Children in Intercountry Adoption. Australian Central Authority. 2008.​