Difference Between Fostering and Adoption

The main difference between fostering and adoption is that fostering is usually temporary whereas adoption is permanent.

When you foster a child, you are parenting on behalf of the Local Authority and the child’s birth family.  Foster carers have no legal rights or responsibilities in respect of the young person.  Although usually temporary, there are types of fostering that last many years, and some will become long-term.

At the time of writing, almost a third (32%) of children living with our foster carers do so on a long-term basis.  That means until independence.

When adopting a child, adopters become the young person’s legal parent.  This is permanent.  The child is given the same legal status as all other family members.

Adoption is mostly for very young children (under 4).  Applicants complete a thorough adoption assessment lasting 4-6 months, and the matching process can take 6-18 months.

Fostering is for supporting children of all ages, although most tend to be over 5 years old.  Foster assessments usually take 3-4 months to complete, but the fostering matching process is much faster – usually a month or two at most.


3,440 children were adopted last year, down 4% on the previous year.  The total number of children starting to be ‘looked after’ also decreased by 3%.

2020 gov.uk statistics


Adoption and Fostering Requirements

Adoption and fostering applications must meet certain criteria.  The requirements for adoption and fostering are quite similar, but there are some differences.

Fostering Requirements

  • Must have a spare bedroom
  • Must be over 21 years old (there is no upper age limit)
  • British Citizenship or indefinite leave to remain in the UK
  • Complete the fostering assessment
      • Within the assessment various checks will be carried out including medical checks, finance checks and criminal background
      • Your engagement during the assessment will be evaluated and you must complete pre-approval training


Adoption Requirements

  • Must have lived in the UK for at least 12-months prior to applying
  • Must be over 21 years old (no upper age limit)
  • One applicant must have a permanent home in the UK, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man
  • Complete a two-stage application and assessment process
      • Stage one involves initial checks and registration
      • Stage two is an assessment of your strengths by a qualified social worker


Applications submitted which do not meet the above criteria would not be accepted.

Although these are the requirements to apply for adoption and fostering, each individual application is different and there may be other reasons for an application to be rejected.

The easiest way to find out more is to have a chat with an advisor.  You can speak with our fostering team by calling 0800 5 677677 or submitting an enquiry online.  For adoption, you can search for a local adoption agency using this postcode searcher.


Adoption is mostly for supporting babies and toddlers, whereas fostering is caring for children of all ages


Choosing between adoption and fostering

Adoption and fostering both make a wonderful difference in children’s lives.  But they are very different in their own ways.

Here are three questions to consider when deciding between adoption and fostering:


What age of children can you care for?

If you are thinking about parenting a very young child under 4 years old to raise as part of your family, adoption is probably the right option for you.

2020 gov.uk statistics show the average age of a child adopted was 3 years old.

6% of adopted children last year were under 1 year old.

2020 gov.uk statistics

Remember adoption should be final, so you will be committing to care for that child until independence.

If you want to make a difference to vulnerable children of all ages who have not experienced childhood as they should, make a fostering enquiry.  The average age of children living with our families is currently 8 (as of April 2021).

Most children who need foster care will be aged 6-16, but there are still many opportunities to care for babies, toddlers, and very young children.  Several of our foster families have recently taken in very young children and siblings aged under 4.  Amanda and Stephen were supporting a brother and sister aged 2 and 3 just a few weeks after being approved!

You can potentially help dozens of children as a foster parent.  Check out Maureen’s story from Falkirk.


What does the support look like?

Adopters in England can apply for support from the Adoption Support Fund.  This starts with an assessment by the local authority to look at your family’s support needs.

Remember you will be classed as the legal parent, so make sure you are happy with the post-adoption support provided as each agency is different.

Foster carers are responsible for parenting children in their care, but legal parental responsibility is with the child’s local authority (i.e. Lancashire Council, Wolverhampton Council etc).

Our foster carers access 24/7 support from their social worker, in-house support services for young people including birth children, and our very own in-house therapy team, as well as full training.

Foster carers are paid career-level allowances, but there is no payment when you are not looking after a child.

Just like having your own children, you should be financially stable and comfortable with the inevitable expense child caring will bring.

Adopters will not receive a regular allowance, but they may be able to access some financial support from their agency.


What skills and experience do you have?

Similar skills are used by adoptive and foster parents, but some are in more demand than others.

For example, if you have a wealth of experience with troubled youth and teenagers, then fostering needs you.

If your skill set is with toddlers or babies and you want that long term commitment, adoption will likely give you that.  77% of adopted children in England last year were aged 1-4.

However, fostering can also be long term.  The average length of a placement at Family Care is 2.5 years and long term is a preference for many families.

Just be aware, fostering should not be seen as a route leading to adoption.

Also, consider your lifestyle and your life experience.

For example, have you already raised your own children and want to make the most of those acquired parenting skills?  Or perhaps you don’t fancy the sleepless nights accompanied by caring for very young toddlers or babies?!

Whatever your decision, make sure you do your research and talk to your friends and family about it.

For further reading about adoption from a trustworthy source, we recommend checking our Coram BAAF or Adoption UK Charity.

To learn more about fostering you can speak to our friendly fostering team on 0800 5 677 677.  Alternatively, submit an enquiry and we will contact you.


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