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Private Adoption vs. Foster Care: What You Need to Know

What’s the best family-building option for me?

This life-changing question can consume the minds of hopeful parents as they seek to start the adoption process. If international adoption is ruled out, two primary choices are left: private adoption vs. foster care.

  • Is one better than the other?
  • All the processes really that different?
  • Which is more popular?
  • Which is better for me?

These are big questions with lifelong implications. Anyone considering private adoption or foster care has a lot to think about, and a lot to learn. This guide to private adoption vs. foster-adopt is meant to help you.

Our goal is not to push you one way or another — that’s a decision you will need to make. Rather, we hope this information provides a foundation for you to make the best choice for your life.

What is Private Adoption?

The private adoption process involves hopeful parents working with a private agency to adopt an infant in the U.S. or, less frequently, a child from a different country (this is called international or intercountry adoption, which we have a separate guide for). For the purposes of comparing private adoption vs. foster care, we’re going to focus on domestic infant adoption.

The domestic infant adoption process begins, on the one hand, when an expectant mother creates an adoption plan for her baby and, on the other, when hopeful parents begin working with an adoption agency. Each step of the process has plenty of details to unpack. Assuming that you already know adoption is right for you and have decided to pursue domestic infant adoption, this is what it takes to adopt a newborn:

Step 1: Choose an Adoption Professional

Rather than working with the state, you will work with a private adoption agency. This agency is your go-to resource and will guide you through each step.

Step 2: Complete Requirements to Become an Active Family

“Active families” are hopeful parents who are eligible to be selected by a prospective birth mother. In order to become an active family, you’ll need to do things like complete the home study and create an adoptive family profile. Your agency will help you do these things.

Step 3: Wait for an Adoption Opportunity

This is similar to waiting for a placement from foster care, with a few key differences. In both processes, you just have to wait for the moment. However, unlike foster care, you will be chosen by a prospective birth mother in adoption (rather than placed directly with a child). And in adoption, this is for a permanent placement, not a temporary one.

Step 4: Pre-Placement Contact and Placement

Once a prospective birth mother has chosen your family, there’s a good chance you will be able to have an open dialogue with her. The majority of domestic adoptions are at least semi-open, which allows for the opportunity to build a relationship and be on the same page with the prospective birth mother. When the time comes to give birth, her hospital plan will go into place. You will travel to the hospital to be placed with your newborn child.

Step 5: Adoption Finalization

After placement, you will coordinate with your agency and adoption to prepare for finalization, when you will go before a judge and receive your final decree of adoption.

What is Foster Care Adoption?

An important distinction must be made here: the primary goal of foster care is not adoption. The aim of foster care placements for most children is to find a way to reunite with the biological family.

If you are thinking of starting a family of your own, the process you are considering is known as foster-to-adopt or foster care adoption, which is slightly different than typical foster care placements.

There are some children in foster care whose biological parents’ rights have been terminated, meaning reunification is not possible. These children are waiting for a family through adoption, and families who intend to adopt from foster care will be placed with a waiting child.

If this is the process you are considering, the first thing you will do is become licensed foster parents in your state. Foster care is run at the state level. How your state handles placement may be slightly different than others, although there is some uniformity across the country.

Working with your social worker (and potentially a private foster care agency as well), you can establish your intent to adopt the child you have been placed with.

Once you have been placed with a child who is eligible for adoption, you will complete an adoption home study and work with an adoption attorney to have everything legally prepared. Once this has taken place, you will work with your state’s department of child welfare and a local court to finalize the adoption.

Domestic Adoption vs Foster-Adopt

So, what are the main differences between domestic infant adoption vs. foster-to-adopt? And which option is right for you?

As for the latter, it’s a personal choice. One is not clearly “better” than the other. These differences may help you understand the best type of adoption for your family.

The Age of the Child

The average age a child adopted through private adoption vs. foster care is significantly different. Almost all children placed in domestic infant adoptions are newborns or infants. With some exceptions, the adoptive parents will typically carry their baby out of the hospital.

Foster care placements have a much wider range of age. The average age of a waiting child in foster care is 8 years old. While children placed with families in foster-to-adopt situations can be anywhere from newborns to teenagers, this means that the average foster-to-adopt placement will involve an older child.

The Average Time Waiting for Placement

Each step of the adoption process has its own challenges. Perhaps no step is more discussed, blogged about or fretted over than the wait for an adoption placement.

Waiting can be so difficult because it feels out of your control. You put in the work to become a licensed foster parent or an active family, and now you just… hope. Sure, there are some proactive steps you can take. But for the most part, the waiting game is about just that — waiting.

It may be helpful to know that average wait times do vary between private adoption vs. foster care. In private adoptions, the wait time is a bit more controlled (depending on the adoption agency you work with). Some agencies average wait time is as short as one to 12 months. Foster care adoption can vary drastically on both ends of the spectrum. If you are open to a wide array of placements, you may be placed immediately. However, wait times for foster care placements can also last years.

Nothing in adoption is certain. Generally speaking, private adoption has a more controlled average wait time.

The Cost of the Process

You may have heard about the cost of adoption. That cost is different in private adoption vs. foster care, and this can sway some hopeful parents’ preference in type of adoption. A quick breakdown:

Clearly, foster care is a much less expensive option than private adoption. This should come as no surprise, as these are very different paths. Even though private adoption vs. foster care is compared as if they are the same, they are in fact very different. This is reflected in the cost associated with each process.

The Possibility of Openness

Did you know that more than 90% of domestic infant adoptions are at least semi-open? This means that contact with the birth mother is maintained post-placement through letters, photos, emails, phone calls or even in-person visits.

Research has found open adoption to be a healthy part of an adoptee’s development. As a child grows and thrives, this ongoing connection with their biological heritage helps answer big questions that are a part of forming a strong identity.

Open adoptions can be challenging, and some hopeful parents are scared by the idea, but they are ultimately good. The possibility of an open adoption in foster care is generally smaller, unfortunately, because of the circumstances leading up to the adoption placement.

Still Have Questions?

Do you have more questions about private adoption vs. foster care? Please contact us today if you are interested in private adoption. We will put you in touch with a helpful adoption specialist. Those who would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent should get in touch with their local child welfare department.