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Fostering vs. adoption: The differences explained

Fostering and adopting may sound like synonyms. After all, both involve providing care to a child. However, there are a few important differences between being a foster parent and being an adoptive parent. Read on for a breakdown on the differences between fostering and adopting. 

What does it mean to foster? 

Fostering a child involves stepping in and temporarily providing unconditional care and support traditionally attributed to birth or biological parents. 

A foster parent’s job doesn’t start and stop at TLC, however. Foster parents also advocate for their foster children, offer advice, construct age-appropriate boundaries, and help them work through unresolved trauma. 

A key feature of fostering is that it’s a temporary arrangement. That’s because state agencies believe that it isn’t in the child’s best interest to remain in the foster care system indefinitely. 

Usually, the long-term goal of foster care is for the child to return to their birth parent(s) or other original caregiver(s), also known as reunification.Here, foster care’s main function is to create space for the original caregivers time to get the ducks that would enable them to be more stable caregivers in a row. 

In instances where the original caregivers are unable to meet the standards set by the system however, foster care functions as a place-holder home before the child is adopted into a new, permanent family.

Okay, so what is adoption? 

Great question. Like fostering, adoption involves bringing a child into your home and caring for that child unconditionally. The key difference between fostering and adopting, however, is that while fostering is a temporary arrangement, adoption is not. 

Upon adoption, the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents forever, acting as the child’s support system as they grow up just as a biological parent would. Although we are primarily talking about adoption within U.S. state run systems, adoption is also possible as a private legal decision between individuals/agencies in the U.S. and certain countries’ agencies into the U.S.. 

Following adoption, the adoptive parents become responsible for their child’s medical care, education, extracurriculars, and other financial obligations. They also assume the right to decide what religious or spiritual services or groups the child becomes part of, if any.  

Who is adopting the child? 

The child may also be adopted by the individual(s) who was previously fostering them. (This is known as foster-to-adopt). Or, the child may be adopted by another state-approved parent. (This is known as adoption from foster care). 

Regardless, the individual or family who is doing the adopting will have been deemed safe and stable by the state. 

In order to become an adoptive parent, an individual must be approved to do so via an in-depth process replete with a written application, background check, series of interviews, educational series on parenting and fostering, home study, and series of conversations with your employers and other people who know you well. 

The takeaway

While fostering and adopting are both caretaker-child relationships marked by care and support, the two are not the same. Fostering is a temporary commitment of care, while adoption is a permanent commitment of care. 

In some cases known as foster to adoption, foster parents may choose to adopt their foster child down the line. But foster children may also end up returning to the homes of their birth parent or other original caretaker(s), or being adopted by another state-approved individual or family. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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