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3 Biggest Differences Between Foster Care and Adoption

The differences between foster care and adoption can help hopeful parents decide which of the two is right for them.

These processes are similar in some ways, which is why so many families considering adoption will think about both. Is foster care right, or will working with an agency for a private adoption be better? It’s a hard question and a personal decision.

As we compare and contrast what’s different between adoption and foster care, it could begin to feel like one option is “better” than the other. This is not the case. Rather, this feeling could be a sign that a certain option is better for you. Foster care and adoption play important roles in the lives of children by providing safety and love. One is not better than the other, but one process could be right for you.

As you research your options to figure out your best choice, it’s important to understand these three distinct differences between adopting and fostering a child.

The Different Goals of Foster Care and Adoption

How is foster care different from adoption? In answering this question, we have to start with the goals of each process. This may come as a surprise to many, but the preferred outcomes of foster care and adoption are different.

So, what are the goals that make foster care different from adoption?

The primary aim of foster care is reunification — when a child re-enters the home and care of their biological family. The foster care system is based on the idea that connection to the biological family is of paramount importance, and the possibility of reunification is preserved as long as possible. Foster parents, then, are first and foremost caretakers of a child for a period of time, rather than permanent parents.

Adoption placements have only one goal: To create a family through permanent placement of a child. Once a child’s adoption has been finalized, that child is now legally and forever a part of that family. During the process, this is the sole aim of everyone involved.

The goals of reunification and permanent placement are the most significant differences between adopting and fostering a child.

Wait, you may be saying, I thought children were adopted through foster care? And you are correct. However, adoption through foster care is only an option after all possible routes to reunification have been closed. Most foster parents do not adopt the children they are placed with.

It’s important to note that although the means of accomplishing it are different, both adoption and foster care are trying to do the same thing: provide a permanent, safe, loving family for a child. Foster care simply tries to get there through reunification first.

This shouldn’t take away from foster parents at all, because a child couldn’t find this security through their biological family without the help of foster parents. Being a foster parent, even with no intent to adopt, is important, meaningful and life-changing.

What’s important to understand is not that foster care or adoption is better, but that you, as hopeful parents, play a different role in each process.

The Difference Between Foster and Adoption Costs

Studies have shown that money is the leading cause of anxiety in Americans. That means if you are like most Americans, you probably have questions about the cost associated with adoption. It’s good to go into this process with a clear understanding of your financial responsibility, and this happens to be one area with major differences between foster care and adoption.

First, let’s look at foster care. Becoming a foster parent costs little to nothing, and fostering to adopt typically costs less than $5,000. This cost is made up of legal fees and administrative costs for things like the home study. Here’s even more good news: most foster care adoptions are eligible for state-funded financial assistance.

There is an overwhelming need for foster parents in nearly every state. The largest need is for parents who are not looking to adopt, but rather are willing to play the pivotal role of temporary foster parent while a child’s reunification plan works out. Becoming a foster parent for this purpose costs nothing, and you could also receive financial assistance.

Private adoption has a higher cost than becoming a foster parent or adopting from foster care. While numbers can vary significantly from adoption to adoption, the average cost is $25,000 – $40,000. It’s a lot, we know. This cost has reasons behind it, such as:

  • Legal fees
  • Agency fees
  • Medical bills
  • Financial assistance for the prospective birth mother
  • Travel (and associated lodging)
  • Administrative work
  • And more

There are several ways to fund a private adoption — savings, fundraising, loans and grants are all tools that hopeful parents have found helpful.

This is a difference between foster care and adoption that many hopeful parents care about. How you respond to the cost associated with adoption, and how the cost influences your choice of type of adoption, is up to you.

The Different Age of Children in Foster Care and Adoption

This is a perfect example of how differences between foster care and adoption are neither good nor bad. Each process is unique and can be amazing for the right family.

The private adoption process usually involves hopeful parents adopting a newborn baby. Placement of the child with the adoptive parents often occurs at the hospital, hours or days after birth. The average age of a waiting child in foster care is eight years old. Hopeful parents who are adopting through foster care are more likely to be placed with an older child, as opposed to a newborn.

Every child needs a safe, loving family. Age has no impact on this truth. Adoption of any kind — just like parenting of any kind — will have unique joys and challenges. Some parents feel equipped to adopt a newborn, but not an older child. Other parents may not feel prepared for the needs of an infant, but do feel ready to parent a child who is seven or eight.

Which situation do you feel most excited about? The differences between foster care and adoption, as they pertain to age, are important to consider. Your answer could lead you toward one option or the other.

Differences between Adopting and Fostering: Making Your Choice

Which is going to be better for you — foster care or adoption?

  • Do you want to adopt a child into your family, or provide a loving, temporary home?
  • Are you prepared for the cost associated with the private adoption process?
  • Is adopting an infant, a toddler or a teen going to be better for your family?

Everyone will answer these questions differently. Your answers could point you in the right direction. If you are interested in private adoption and would like to speak to a professional, you can contact us today. Individuals with a desire to pursue foster care should contact their local child welfare agency to learn more about the next steps.