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Your Complete Guide to Foster Care vs. Adoption

There are many ways to start a family.

Family-building options and assisted reproductive technologies are becoming more common and accessible. Tens of thousands of hopeful parents look to routes other than biological childbirth each year. Adoption is one of the most popular ways to start or grow a family.

There are several distinctions within adoption that will radically alter your experience with the process. Perhaps no distinction is bigger than this: foster vs. adopt.

Foster care vs. adoption is a choice that many hopeful parents consider. Each is a beautiful way to start or grow a family. One isn’t necessarily “better” than the other — it all depends on your unique situation.

This guide is meant to serve anyone trying to decide between adoption or foster care. That’s a decision you’ll need to make on your own. We can provide helpful information and resources that can push you in the right direction.

Whichever route you take can be an amazing way to start your family.

How Foster Care vs. Adoption Differs

There are many differences in foster care versus adoption. To start, foster care can have several different goals. If you are fostering a child with the intent to adopt, then you may ultimately become a permanent family. However, many foster children are not available for adoption, and foster parents play an important role by providing a safe, loving, but temporary home. In these instances, the child will be reunited with their biological family at some point.

Adoption, on the other hand, has the sole goal of forming a permanent family. This is perhaps the largest difference when it comes to whether or not you want to foster or adopt a child.

There are other differences between foster care vs. adoption. Many types of adoption take place with the assistance of a private agency, whereas foster care works through state systems. The cost associated with foster care and foster care adoption is typically lower, while the process associated with private adoption is more streamlined.

The differences between adoption and foster care may push you toward one or the other, and you can read our complete guide to these differences for a deeper dive into the topic.

How it’s Similar to Foster or Adopt a Child

There are many similarities between these two family-building options, as well, which is why it’s a good idea for any hopeful parent to consider both.

Whether your life takes you to pursue becoming a foster parent or adoption of a child, you are doing something important. You are providing a safe, loving and secure place for a child. You are working to create a family — perhaps the most important thing in a child’s life.

You are also making a serious commitment. Adopting versus fostering is no different in this regard. It’s a massive responsibility; one that is incredibly challenging but also rewarding. Through your actions, a child will hopefully find safety and the space to thrive.

Foster care vs adoption isn’t so different in these ways and many more. Our guide to these similarities may give you a better understanding of each process.

Choosing a Foster Care vs. Adoption Agency

Hopeful parents work with professionals in order to complete the adoption or foster care process. The type of professional you work with will noticeably impact your process, which is why many hopeful parents wonder about the differences between foster care vs. an adoption agency.

Speaking broadly, adoption agencies are licensed, private organizations comprised of social workers, administrators, counselors and other staff members. Foster care adoption, on the other hand, is done primarily in coordination with your state’s child welfare agency.

While working with the state system for foster care, you may experience more uncertainty, but that comes with lower average cost associated with the process. A private adoption agency, on the other hand, will be able to offer a more streamlined process with a dedicated adoption specialist, although costs are usually higher.

Working with the state for foster care vs. an adoption agency for a private adoption can be very different, which you can learn more about in our complete guide on the subject.

Foster Care vs. Adoption Statistics

How many people are choosing foster care? What about private adoption?

Statistics can be helpful in providing context. Ultimately, they’re not great for making decisions. Your life is unique. You have specific desires and needs that can’t be summed up in a number. Statistics about adoption vs foster care can be a helpful information device, but they aren’t meant to be the deciding factor for any hopeful parent.

With that said, here’s a quick breakdown of foster care vs. adoption statistics*:

Trends in Foster Care vs. Adoption Statistics

Surprisingly (and thankfully!) the number of children in foster care dropped to its lowest level ever recorded at the end of FY 2018. This means more children are finding safety and permanency without the assistance of the foster care system. While this overall drop has occurred, the number of children waiting for adoption from foster care has actually increased, as have the number of adoptions from foster care.

Private adoption is an increasingly popular choice for hopeful parents. This fact paired with the trends in adoption vs. foster care statistics can show two things. First, families are finding the resources they need to appropriately care for their children. Second, expectant mothers who know that parenting isn’t an option are finding the assistance they need to create an adoption plan for their baby. Both of these things are good news.

*Based on the latest available foster care statistics, gather from October 2017 to September 2018

Other Adoption Choices

We’ve been primarily comparing adoption versus foster care with domestic infant adoption in mind, as both of these processes work with children in the U.S. There is another option for hopeful parents: international adoption.

International adoption is unique in many ways. As mentioned above, international adoption has been in decline for more than a decade. Changing laws, closing countries and more complicating factors have limited this option. It is, however, still a viable path for many families, which you can learn more about in our guide comparing fostering versus adoption from other countries.

How Can I Know What’s Best for Me? Foster Care or Adoption?

This is the ultimate question. We’d love to tell you exactly how to choose, but we can’t.

This is a choice you’ll have to make. If you’re reading this, that means you’re taking the time to research your options, and that means you are already on the right path. We’ve put together a more complete guide to anyone asking these questions, and we hope that can be a helpful resource for you.

Since we can’t tell you which type of adoption is going to be best for you, we’ll leave you with several questions to consider as you decide between foster care vs. adoption:

  • Is my goal to permanently adopt a child, or to provide a safe (but temporary) home?
  • Would I prefer working with the state or a private agency?
  • Am I financially prepared for the costs associated with private adoption?
  • Would adopting a newborn be best for my family?
  • Would adopting an older child work well for us?
  • Am I mentally, emotionally and fiscally prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood?
  • Am I ready to fully commit to whichever process I choose?

There are more resources available if these questions spark mark questions (which they probably will!). Please contact us at any time if you are interested in domestic infant adoption and we will connect you with an adoption specialist. If you would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent, contact your local child welfare agency.