Foster Care

Foster Care vs. Adoption: What are the Differences?

Foster care and adoption are two important parts of providing children in care with a loving home environment. Learn how they differ in our blog.

Foster care and adoption are two important parts of providing children in care with a loving home environment.

However, the differences between the two are not always clear. They share some similarities on the surface, but adoption and foster care approach the needs of kids in care in two separate ways. 

Understanding Foster Care vs. Adoption

It’s important for potential foster parents to understand the key differences between the two forms of care. Both are important, but there are different levels of commitment and cost.

What is Foster Care?

Foster care provides temporary care to children in need — typically when their parents or the court decides that they need help to provide a safe and healthy home.

The primary goal of foster care is to reunite a child in care with their birth parents, if possible. In cases where this isn’t an option, adoptive parents may care for the child and provide them with the loving home they need to thrive. 

What is Adoption?

Adoption is a permanent placement for a child in care who needs a nurturing and loving home environment. There are several reasons why adoption is necessary — for example, when reuniting children with their birth parents isn’t possible. 

There are also different types of adoption.

  • Foster care adoption is a common form of adoption where kids in care are formally and legally adopted by their foster parents after parental rights have been terminated by the courts.
  • In domestic adoptions, the birth parents, child in care, and adoptive parents all live within the United States. The process of adoption is overseen by the state and often involves the consent of the birth parents. 
  • In international adoptions, families grow when parents based in the United States adopt children in care from other countries. This option can be one of the most challenging, because it also depends on the relationship between the United States and the child’s birth country. 

What’s the Difference Between Foster Care and Adoption?

Foster care and adoption share many similarities and have several differences — here are some of the biggest considerations.


The length of commitment with foster care and adoption is one of the biggest differences between the two forms of care. 

  • Foster care is meant to be a temporary form of care.
  • The end goal of foster care is to reunite a child in care with their family.
  • The time spent in foster care varies — kids in care spend an average of around a year and a half in foster care.
  • Time spent in care changes depending on the child’s family situation, background, and opportunities for adoption.

Adoption, on the other hand, is a permanent placement. Adoptive families intend to care for a child for the rest of their lives, providing a home full of love, care, and fulfillment. 

Length of Time to Adopt

Although both forms of care involve providing a stable and loving environment for children to grow, the process of becoming a foster parent is much different than adopting a child.

  • The timeline for adopting directly through foster care is shortest, with a waiting period that could be as little as nine months.
  • Every child in care has a unique history that can make this process take much longer or much shorter than a few months.
  • However, the process still typically takes less time than domestic or international adoption. 

Adopting a child outside of foster care is a much longer process. 

  • Many of the same steps are required to ensure that children in care are placed in a home that will help them thrive, but this placement is for their whole lives.
  • For domestic adoptions or international adoptions, the timeline could be as long as seven years.

Adopting a child in care through the foster-to-adopt process can also take much longer than adopting directly from foster care — in these cases, parental rights have not been terminated.

Families that choose the foster-to-adopt route may never experience a permanent placement if the child’s care plan includes reunification with their birth parents. This can create a much longer wait.


The cost of both foster care and adoption is very different.

  • In general, foster care costs are covered by the state — this includes preservice sessions and other steps for  a foster parent.
  • While you’re fostering a child, you will receive a stipend to help with the ongoing costs.
  • This amount will depend on your state, so it’s best to consult the organization you’re choosing to foster with.

With adoption, the costs are much higher to start — a domestic adoption or an international adoption can cost up to $45,000 in some cases. Once you adopt a child, you’ll also be responsible for any of the costs that come with raising a child. 

However, adoption through foster care can minimize the costs by a fair amount, with costs of anywhere from free to $2,500. 

Legal/Parental Rights

Parental and legal rights differ between foster care and adoption.

  • Children are placed in foster care by parents or the courts when help is needed to provide a loving and caring home.
  • In most cases, parents keep their parental rights — even after children enter foster care.
  • The end goal is to eventually reunite children with their parents when the time is right.

There are some cases where the state may take legal custody of children in foster care and terminate parental rights, but for the most part, the legal guardianship stays with their birth parents.

  • With adoption, applicants go through legal proceedings to get full custody of a child in care.
  • Once this is finished, the adoptive parents become the full-time parents of the child in care. Parental rights are no longer with their birth parents.
  • In the case of an open domestic adoption, birth parents may still develop relationships with and see their child after the adoption process is complete.  

Support Services

Support services for foster care and adoption are similar, but not quite the same.

  • With foster care, you’ll receive ongoing support while providing for kids in care. This can include a stipend and other services.
  • For example, therapy  may be provided as part of a care plan, such as in therapeutic foster care

There are support services for adoptive parents, too. You can find support groups led by other adoptive parents, respite care programs, and other forms of support that can help new adoptive parents. However, these are things that adoptive parents have to seek out themselves. 

Learn More About Foster Care vs. Adoption From Sevita

Sevita’s companies help foster parents provide an environment where children can thrive. Whether your goal is to adopt a child or provide a safe, temporary home for kids in care, Sevita’s companies are here to support you. 

Foster care is the first step in the process of connecting kids in care to loving homes. Discover more about how foster care services provided by Sevita’s companies connect kids in care with their future foster families! 

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