What is the Difference Between Adoption and Fostering?

Boy In Field

On the surface, fostering and adoption seem quite similar – both involve decision-making, creating a nurturing home environment and providing life-changing emotional support to vulnerable children. But although many people use the terms interchangeably, they have unique requirements and outcomes.

In this short guide, we explain the differences between adoption and fostering so you can decide what’s right for you.

What is fostering?

Fostering is a temporary arrangement where a family looks after a child short-term or long-term. Fostering periods can last anywhere between a few days to several years.

At a glance:

  • Fostering doesn’t give carers legal or parental rights.
  • Fostering is rarely permanent.
  • There are different types of foster care, including temporary, short-term, long-term and respite, to suit every child’s individual needs.
  • In many cases, foster children have regular contact with their birth parents.
  • Foster carers receive payments to cover the costs of fostering.
  • Foster carers are required to attend regular training sessions.

What is adoption?

Adoption is a permanent process which affords prospective parents all legal and parental rights. It involves bringing a child into your family and treating them the same as a biological child.

At a glance:

  • Adoptive parents take on all legal and parental responsibilities.
  • Adoption is usually non-reversible.
  • Children may or may not have contact with their birth parents.
  • The process can be lengthy as fewer children are available for adoption.
  • Families must undergo a two-part assessment process.
  • Adoptive parents assume all financial responsibility for their child.

Four differences between foster care and adoption

Now we’ve taken a brief look at what foster care and adoption involve, the next step is to consider the fundamental differences carefully, so you know which avenue to take.

Parental and legal rights

When you foster a child, you’re acting as a temporary steward, looking after them on behalf of the local authority, fostering agency and/or birth parents. As a result, you have no legal or parental rights, even though you’re accountable for the child’s day-to-day care.

No matter how long the foster child stays with you, you can’t make important decisions regarding medical care, education and religion without express consent from the supervising parties.

In contrast, when you adopt a child, you assume full parental responsibilities because that child is now a part of your family, with the same legal status as any other member. Adoptive parents are solely responsible for their child’s health, education, spiritual development and finances.


Foster care, regardless of the length of stay, is always temporary because the ultimate goal is to help the birth family overcome their challenges, so the child can eventually return home. Even in unfixable situations, where social workers can’t reunite children with their parents, close family members or friends often step In, with adoption as a last resort.

On the other hand, adoption is permanent and unbreakable – there’s no going back once the process is complete. It’s a legally binding relationship, granting the adoptee the same rights and privileges as a biological child. Ultimately, you’re parents now, providing a loving, safe and supportive forever home.

Financial support

While foster care is an incredibly rewarding experience, it’s also expensive, which is why local authorities or fostering agencies provide fees to cover any of the costs. The fostering allowance covers a professional fee for carers alongside a living allowance for children, on average amounting to £450 per week, regardless of the length of stay.

However, adoption doesn’t necessitate the same financial support, and prospective parents must cover the initial fees as well as the cost of raising a child. If you’re adopting a child from the UK, the agency won’t charge you a fee however there are other expenses to consider such as legal fees and police checks. In contrast, adopting a child from overseas, according to The Money Advice Service, usually incurs costs of up to £12,000.

Then, agencies assess families on their financial status to ensure they’re able to provide adequate support long-term. This is a vital part of the application process for those who don’t already have children.


Whether you want to foster or adopt, the approval process is unsurprisingly thorough, involving DBS checks and environmental assessments – even owning pets is taken into consideration. Nevertheless, there are some key differences when it comes to eligibility.

Foster carer requirements:

  • You must be at least 21 years old
  • You must be a UK resident or have indefinite leave to remain
  • Home ownership isn’t essential, but you need spare bedrooms for each child
  • You must be able to care for the child on a full-time basis
  • You need a recommendation from a social worker

In addition to these basic requirements, foster carers need to attend frequent training sessions, covering how to manage complex behavioural and emotional needs, and keep records on the child’s development.

Adoption requirements:

  • You must be at least 21 years old
  • You must have lived in the UK for a minimum of one year
  • You need a permanent home in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • You must undertake a two-part assessment process

The two-part adoption process, which usually takes six months, helps prospective parents get ready for their application. Stage one covers the basics of adoption, DBS and reference checks and a full medical. Phase two involves a more extensive assessment where social workers examine your family life, relationships (past and present), support networks and experience with children.

Adoption versus fostering – what’s right for you?

Choosing whether to foster or adopt is a difficult decision that involves so many aspects of your life. However, despite their differences, both are sure to change the lives of vulnerable children for the better.

If you’re still unsure which route to take, it might be helpful to reflect honestly on the following questions:

  1. Do you want a forever relationship with a child?
  2. Are you in a position to financially support a child?
  3. Are you ready to assume all legal rights for a child?

Becoming a foster carer

If you’ve made up your mind to start your fostering journey, or simply want to know more about the process, the team at Olive Branch Fostering is here to help. Contact us today for a more in-depth chat about fostering and your options.