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Foster Care vs. International Adoption: Which is Right for You?

Foster care and international adoption are two distinct processes with one common goal: To provide a safe, loving home for a child.

Each process is unique. While the goal is the same, the way foster care vs. international adoption arrives at the goal is so different that it’s difficult to actually compare the two. However, if you are a hopeful parent, you are likely trying to figure out if one of these two options is best for your family.

Foster care and international adoption are two of the most common ways to start a family through adoption, with the other being domestic infant adoption. As you attempt to discern the best route for your family, it may be helpful to understand what makes foster care vs. international adoption so different.

This guide to foster care vs. international adoption will get you started with the most important facts about each type of adoption — how they differ and why one may be best for you.

What is Foster Care?

The foster care system is a major component of the child welfare system in the U.S. If a child’s home situation is no longer safe — due to things like neglect, abuse, lack of stable home, loss of job, addiction, or any number of factors — they may be temporarily removed from their biological family and placed with a foster family.

When a child is placed with a foster family, a social worker talks with the biological parents to create a reunification plan. The primary goal of foster care is for the child to return to their family after a temporary stay in foster care. However, there are some cases when a court decides to terminate the biological parents’ rights, making reunification impossible. When this happens, the child becomes a “waiting child” who is eligible for permanent adoption placement with a new family.

Hopeful parents considering foster care are pursuing the adoption of these waiting children through a foster care placement.

What is International Adoption?

It is estimated that there are more than 15 million children globally who are waiting for a family through adoption. These are children who have lost both biological parents. Many countries still use an orphanage system. If a child is placed in an orphanage, the caretakers will work with their country’s government, who in turn works with local and international adoption agencies in an attempt to place the child with a loving family.

Hopeful parents who want to adopt internationally will work with an international adoption agency to meet all requirements, choose a country, and be matched with a child. Once matched, travel will be planned and a complex legal process will begin.

How is Foster Care vs. International Adoption Different?

Foster care vs. international adoption, while ultimately seeking to benefit children who need families, are very different processes. While there are many areas we could focus on, these three differences are important to understand.

The Level of Risk in Foster Care vs. International Adoption

Foster care, while of course still being somewhat unpredictable, is a mostly stable process involving the U.S. government and private agencies. There are no travel logistics, international laws or immigration papers to fill out. For the most part, the process is well-regulated and safe for everyone involved, and strict licensing requirements are meant to ensure that everything is done according to ethical and legal standards.

International adoption is incredibly complicated, and recent geopolitical shifts (along with rising costs) have drastically increased the cost. The process involves navigating international laws, the immigration process and travel logistics. Several major scandals have been uncovered in the last decade — such as children being placed for adoption when their parents were actually still around — that have caused many countries to restrict international adoptions as they implement new safeguards to curb corruption.

Many international adoptions are beautiful. If adopting a child from another country is right for your family, you should pursue this option. However, an honest look at foster care vs. international adoption shows that the former is less risky than the latter.

The Cost of Foster Care vs. International Adoption

An additional difference (which many hopeful parents find very important) is the cost associated with the process.

Becoming a foster parent is free, and states typically offer financial assistance to foster parents. The foster-to-adopt process — when you move beyond temporary care into the process of adopting a waiting child — can cost up to $5,000. This cost is mostly made up of legal fees.

The average international adoption process costs around $40,000. It’s a lot, we know. But remember, the international adoption process involves a private agency, foreign governments, loads of paperwork and administrative tasks, plus international travel and lodging. It adds up quickly, which is a key distinction when considering foster care vs. international adoption.

The Age of Children in Foster Care vs. International Adoption

Finally, when considering foster care vs. international adoption, you should think about the age of the child you hope to adopt. This is somewhat outside of your control in each of these types of adoption. However, international adoption placements are more likely to be children under 4 years old, whereas the average age of waiting children in foster care is 8 years old.

There are younger children waiting in foster care and older children who need to be placed through international adoption. Generally speaking, the average age of children adopted internationally is younger than children adopted through foster care.

Learn More

Do you still have questions about foster care vs. international adoption? You can reach out to an international adoption agency or your local child welfare department to learn more about each option.