Adoption and Guardianship Assistance - California

Date: September 2023

What specific factors or conditions does your State consider to determine that a child cannot be placed with an adoptive family without providing financial assistance? ("What is your State definition of special needs?")

A child with special needs is defined as a child that has at least one of the following needs or circumstances that may be a barrier to placement or adoption without financial assistance:

  • Three years of age or older
  • Race, ethnicity, color, or language that is a barrier to adoption
  • Member of a sibling group that should remain together
  • Mental, physical, emotional, or medical disability certified by a licensed professional
  • Parental background of a medical or behavioral nature that can be determined to adversely affect the development of the child


What is the maximum amount a family may receive in non-recurring adoption expenses from your State? (Adoptive parents can receive reimbursement of certain approved, "one-time" adoption expenses incurred in the process of finalizing a special needs adoption.)

$400 per child


Does your State enter into deferred adoption assistance agreements? (In some States, adoptive parents can enter into an agreement in which they choose to defer the receipt of a Medicaid card, the monthly monetary payment, or both and can elect to receive the Medicaid card and/or monetary payment at another time.)

California offers deferred adoption assistance agreements. If the child is eligible for the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) and the adoptive family chooses not to apply for the AAP benefits, California requires the responsible public agency to encourage the family to sign a deferred adoption assistance agreement.


When can adoption assistance payments and benefits begin in your State?

Adoption assistance payments and benefits may begin in California when the adoption assistance payment agreement is signed by all parties. This may be prior to or at the time the adoption decree is issued by the court.


How are changes made to the adoption assistance agreement in your State?

  • When can a parent request a change in the adoption assistance agreement?
  • How does a parent request a change in the adoption assistance agreement?
  • What if a parent does not receive the change they request in the adoption assistance agreement?

Adoptive parents may request a change in the adoption assistance agreement at any time. Adoption assistance agreements are reassessed every two years. Adoptive parents may submit their request in person or in writing to the responsible public agency. If parents do not agree with the responsible public agency’s decision they have the right to request an administrative appeal, also known as a fair hearing.


What types of postadoption services are available in your State, and how do you find out more about them?

Post Adoption Services (PAS) in California are administered by individual counties. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) lists county contact information. In addition, the County Welfare Directors Association website includes links to county websites.

The CDSS, through its Adoptions Services Bureau (ASB) district offices also provides postadoption services to the adoptive families who reside in the counties served by the ASB. For more information, you may also call 916.651.8089.

External organizations also provide post adoption support services and many private organizations offer a variety of respite options. See the ARCH National Respite Network Respite Locator Service, search by state to locate California’s respite programs.

Note: Not all services may be available in all cases. Contact your adoption assistance worker or post adoption services contact for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.


What mental health services are provided by your State?

Public mental health services for children in California are administered by the Department of Health Services, Department of Mental Health, through the state Medicaid program known as Medi-Cal. Services include the following examples: counseling, psychiatric services, medication, and mental health treatment for children and families. The person receiving services and the mental health provider work in partnership to decide the appropriate services for that person.

The Children’s Mental Health Network provides The Children’s Mental Health Network promotes and supports high-quality services and solutions for children with mental health needs and their families.

The Network of Care for Mental Health offers information about mental health issues and related support services in local communities. To find local mental health services, contact your local county mental health agency.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Special education pupils may require mental health services in any of the 13 disability categories. To be eligible to receive services, they must have a current individualized education program (IEP) on file. The services must align with the child’s needs as identified in the IEP and are designed so that children will benefit from their educational programs. They are free to all eligible students regardless of family income or resources.

See Mental Health Services FAQ about services previously provided through County Mental Health Agencies for students with Individualized Education Programs.

Note: Not all services may be available in all cases. Contact your adoption assistance worker or medical assistance specialist for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.


Does your State provide additional finances or services for medical or therapeutic needs not covered under your State medical plan to children receiving adoption assistance?

California does not provide additional finances or services for medical or therapeutic needs not covered under their state medical plan to children receiving adoption assistance. California offers no subsidies or assistance over and above monthly maintenance payments, Medicaid, and reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses.


What is your State's process for applying for a fair hearing? (A fair hearing is a legal, administrative procedure that provides a forum to address disagreements with agency decisions.)

In California, the county agency financially responsible for the adoption assistance agreement sends a Notice of Action (NOA) to the adoptive family when granting, increasing, decreasing, or terminating adoption assistance payments. If the adoptive family disagrees with the proposed action, they can request a fair hearing by completing the written hearing request form on the back of the NOA or by calling 800.952.5253 or 800.952.8349 (TDD) to make a verbal request. Forms are to be sent to the address listed on the form, which will vary by county. The hearing will be conducted in the county of residence (where the family lives). Requests for fair hearing must generally be made within ninety days from receipt of an adverse notice.

An Administrative Law Judge conducts fair hearings. The county representative will present their case for the change or denial of an increase and parents have an opportunity to present their information and evidence to substantiate the request for change. A ruling will be made and sent to parents. Fair hearings can be conducted over the phone if the adoptive parent lives in another State or is, for some reason, unable to attend in person. Contact the State Hearings Division by calling: 1-800-743-8525.

See client’s rights under California Welfare Programs.


Does your state, territory, or tribe offer a guardianship subsidy or assistance (monthly payments and medical coverage) program?

Yes. Assistance is available regardless of the child’s title IV-E eligibility.

  • Does the guardianship assistance program differ from the adoption assistance program? Yes


What are the eligibility criteria for a child to receive guardianship assistance?

Eligibility is based on a child's specific circumstances at the time of determination. For more information, please view: Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment Program (Kin-GAP).


Do families have to meet a kinship definition to receive guardianship assistance? If yes, how is kinship defined?

Yes. "Relative" means an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, or affinity within the fifth degree of kinship, including stepparents, stepsiblings, and all relatives whose status is preceded by the words ‘great, ‘great-great,’ or ‘grand’ or the spouse of any of those persons even if the marriage was terminated by death or dissolution. More details may be found in the California Welfare and Institution Code Division 9 Public Social Services 11391(c).


If a specific question is not displayed, the State or Territory did not provide a response to that question.