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What is the difference between Fostering and Adoption?

There are several key differences between fostering and adoption, each with unique characteristics and responsibilities. Fostering and adoption are both pathways you can take to positively impact the life of a child who is unable to live with their birth family whilst also offering an opportunity to extend your family on a temporary or permanent basis.

In this blog, created in partnership with our colleagues at Adoption South East, we delve into the differences – and explore the processes, demand aspects, and legal considerations – to help you understand the best choice for you.

Different levels of commitment

When you adopt, a court permanently transfers all parental rights and responsibilities for caring for someone else’s child to you. You provide the child or children with a permanent home and they become part of your family. Adoption is life-changing, having significant legal, emotional and social consequences for everyone involved. To help with this journey, adopters receive support from the Social Work team until the Adoption Order is made. Once you have adopted there are many forms of post-adoption support available, including the Adoption Support Fund.

Fostering, on the other hand, involves providing a home and support network to a child who is unable to live with their birth family due to various circumstances. Fostering is typically intended to be a short-term solution until the child can reunite with their biological families, find a permanent adoptive family, or reach independence. However, that is not to say that in some cases where it is an option, Foster Carers can offer ‘permanency’ (caring for that child until they reach 18 – and usually remaining an important part of their lives well beyond that!) or adopt a child in their care.

The Approval Process

During the process of becoming a Foster Carer or Adoptive Parent, you will undergo a thorough assessment, which involves background checks, home visits and interviews to ensure you can provide a safe and nurturing home for a child. This process typically takes around four to six months for fostering and around six to 12 months for adoption, but this can vary depending on the individual

Demand for Foster Carers and Adoptive Parents

Typically fostering faces a higher demand UK-wide, with 83,840 children in foster care across the UK (to year ending 31 March 2024) – over 900 of these children are here in West Sussex – while the number of children adopted last year (April 2023-March 2024) was 2,960. Explore the data behind these numbers here.

Eligibility Requirements for Fostering and Adoption

In the UK, both fostering and adoption have specific eligibility criteria to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. Our criteria in West Sussex is as follows:  

To be a Foster Carer you need:

  • To be over the age of 21
  • A spare bedroom
  • To be a full-time resident in the UK (with leave to remain)
  • Free from criminal convictions involving children or violence
  • The desire and ability to provide a child with a safe, supportive and loving environment to help them through a challenging time in their lives.

To be an Adoptive Parent you need:

  • To be over the age of 21
  • To be a UK resident and ‘habitually resident’ in the UK for at least 1 year
  • Free from criminal convictions involving children or violence
  • The desire to welcome a child into your family permanently.

Waiting Times in Foster Care and Adoption

Fostering can provide a relatively quicker path for those eager to make a positive impact on a child’s life on a temporary and arranged basis. The waiting times can vary, but Foster Carers typically experience a quicker process compared to adoption. The urgent nature of foster care, driven by the immediate need for safe and supportive homes for children, often results in a faster turnaround from when you become an approved Foster Carer to welcoming your first child. In contrast, the adoption journey typically involves more extended waiting times due to several factors inherent to the adoption process, particularly meticulous matching to ensure long-term compatibility, legal proceedings and administrative steps.

Financial Support in Adoption vs Fostering

By becoming a Foster Carer, you are considered self-employed and will receive ongoing financial support to cover the time you spend caring for a child. This comprises a weekly allowance, skills fee, and additional payments to cover related costs, such as mileage, birthdays, and activities for the child in your care. By becoming a Foster Carer, you could receive up to £30,393 per child, per year, but this amount varies based on several factors, such as the child’s age and needs and how long you have been fostering. Typically, Adoptive Parents receive little to no financial support. For information on the financial support available to Adoptive Parents, please visit the Adoption South East website.

Adoption versus Permanency in Fostering

As a Foster Carer, the duration of the time a child remains in your care can vary significantly, ranging from as short as one day to a long-term (or ‘permanency’) solution that extends into adulthood. This depends on the type of fostering you decide to offer, and the specific needs of the child in your care. In long-term foster care arrangements, children remain until it is deemed safe for them to reunite with their birth family or until they choose to live independently. Typically, children aged 8 and over are unlikely to be adopted (other than by their Foster Carers!), for younger newborns and very young children specialised programmes like ‘Fostering for Adoption’ exist.

Permanency in fostering, bears similarities to adoption, providing a stable, long-term home, benefitting the child’s overall wellbeing and development, often with the acknowledgement that the child is unlikely to be reunited with their birth family. This stability can be paramount for a child’s growth, offering a profound sense of security and a positive sense of identity. However, decision-making responsibilities will lie with the child’s Social Worker and/or birth parent(s).

Foster for Adoption protects children from experiencing multiple moves within the care system. It provides children with good-quality, uninterrupted and consistent care while detailed assessments of their birth family are completed, and decisions are made about the plan for the child.

Children will live with approved adopters who have been assessed and approved as temporary Foster Carers for the child. These carers will provide day-to-day care and will continue to work with the child’s Social Worker to ensure that the child has all of their needs met. Many children continue to have supervised contact with their birth family. Throughout this time, a Supervising Social Worker provides advice and support. They will continue to offer support up until the point of an adoption matching panel or if the child leaves the Foster for Adoption home.

Making the right choice between Fostering and Adoption

Deciding between adoption and fostering is a deeply personal choice and depends on whether you have a desire to extend your family permanently or provide a temporary commitment. At Fostering West Sussex, we are here to offer you as much support and guidance as you need, ensuring that you make the right choice that aligns with your values and aspirations. If you would like to find out more information, our friendly team is just a phone call away. Similarly, our colleagues at Adoption South East would be very happy to answer any questions you may have.

We appreciate what a big decision this is, so please be reassured that there will never be any pressure to encourage you down a particular route – and we will always be respectful of, and hugely grateful to, anyone considering giving one (or more) of our children a home, whether as a Foster Carer or Adoptive Parent. Both fostering and adoption are incredibly important roles and are life changing for both the adults and children involved. We are here to support you, whichever path you choose.


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