Fostering vs Adoption

What Is the Difference Between Fostering & Adoption?

Both fostering and adoption provide vulnerable children with a safe and nurturing environment to live in while they are unable to live with their birth family, which is why its easy to get the two confused. In this article, we’ll look at the fundamental differences between fostering and adoption in the UK, helping you understand the responsibilities involved with each – and what you should consider if you’re wondering whether to foster or adopt.
Fostering vs Adoption

The key difference between adoption and fostering is a legal one. An adoption order ends the child’s legal relationship with their birth family, whereas children living in foster care remain the legal responsibility of their Local Authority and their birth parents.

Below, we take an in-depth look at some of the chief similarities and differences between foster care.



For children who are unable to live with their birth family, fostering provides a secure, stable, and safe environment for them to live in. They still remain the legal responsibility of their birth family and Local Authority during this period, as foster carers do not have legal guardianship over their foster children.

While in foster care, children live in the home of their foster carer and are treated as a member of the family. The length of time they spend in the home varies with each individual case. Some foster children only spend a few days, weeks or months in the foster home, while others spend years with their foster families.

Fostering can be viewed as a partnership between the carer, Local Authority, various service professionals (such as Social workers) and the birth family of the child – all who work together as a team to achieve the best possible outcome for the child. Whilst in foster care, children benefit from specialised care, child-centred education, support, therapy and a range of positive experiences and opportunities.

There are various types of fostering arrangements available, including short-term fostering, long-term fostering, parent and child fostering and therapeutic fostering.


Similar to fostering, adoption provides vulnerable children with a safe and stable environment to grow up in when they can no longer live with their birth family. Like foster children, children who are adopted children will have likely suffered significant trauma, abuse or neglect throughout their childhood. However, unlike fostering, children who are adopted live permanently with their adoptive parents.

Once adopted, the child becomes the legal responsibility of their adoptive family. Their adoptive parents become their official legal guardians and must, by law, provide care for their adopted child until they reach adulthood.


Generally speaking, there is a much higher demand for fostering than there is for adoption in the UK.

There are around 76,000 foster carers in the UK and over 97,000 children in need of care – two-thirds of which are in foster care. In contrast, around 2,000-3,000 children are adopted yearly – a number that suggests a far higher demand for foster carers, rather than adoptive parents.

Unfortunately, there is currently a national shortage of foster carers in the UK. Every year thousands of new foster families are needed to provide life-changing support for vulnerable children and young people.


Children in foster care are all different, meaning the type of support and length of their fostering arrangement often differs. As aforementioned, children can spend anything between a few days to a few years in the foster home – however, the amount of time a child will spend in a foster carer’s home is always agreed upon before they enter the home.

Foster parents do not have the same rights over the child as their birth family, and simply provide safety, security, and care for as long as the child needs.

While there is some level of commitment to consider with fostering (especially with long-term arrangements), fostering is typically not a life-long commitment, as foster carers can choose to stop fostering at any time.

With adoption, however, the child becomes a permanent part of the family household, meaning they never move out or return to their birth family. Adoptive parents must be ready for this level of commitment and must ensure they are able to provide holistic care and support throughout the child’s life.

Financial Support

Many carers choose to foster as a career, meaning they dedicate themselves fully to caring for children in need. We recognise that caring for a young person has various financial implications, which is why, as a foster carer, you’re paid a fostering allowance.

Fostering allowances are made up of a professional fee for the foster carer, as well as a day-to-day living allowance for the child. This helps to cover the cost of raising a child in the UK. Foster carers also benefit from a range of other ongoing support, including high-quality training to help shape their professional and personal development.

Meanwhile, adoption doesn’t always allow this kind of financial support. In most cases, once the adoption is approved and finalised, the adoptive parents take on complete financial responsibility of the child. However, the needs of the child and adoptive family are always entitled to be assessed for further support, should they need it.

Can You Adopt a Foster Child?

We’re often asked about foster parent adoption, and whether you can adopt a foster child.

While it is possible, adopting a foster child can be quite complex and there are various things to consider. Remember, the goal of fostering is not adoption.

Rather, fostering aims to reunite foster children with their birth family at some point in the future once it is safe to do so. Typically speaking, foster children rarely become available for adoption, however, there is no ruling this out.

To find out more about whether or not you can adopt a foster child, click here.

Foster vs Adopt – Which Is Right for You?

Deciding whether you want to foster or adopt is a difficult, complex decision that requires plenty of consideration. We advise you to explore all avenues before coming to a decision about whether fostering /adoption is right for you.

To summarise, fostering is often used to provide temporary care for children while their birth families cannot care for them, while adoption is a much more permanent and long-term outcome with a greater level of commitment involved.

That’s not to say that fostering comes does not have a long-term impact on the lives of foster children. Foster carers can transform a child’s life, providing them with the security to grow, heal and develop into confident, self-assured young people.

This is especially the case with some of our long-term fostering arrangements at Compass Fostering. Many of our carers who offer such placements stay in touch with the young people they have cared for long after they have left the home. Many of these children also return at holiday times, or keep in touch after they have started a family of their own.

We hope that this article has helped you gain a better understanding of the difference between adoption and foster care.

If you’d like to find out more about fostering with Compass or how you can become a foster carer, get in touch with us to request your free digital brochure.

Alternatively, why not check out our Fostering Infocentre for more resources, articles and information on fostering.