What is the difference between fostering and adoption?

Fostering is often a temporary arrangement to provide children with a home while other arrangements are being made for them. Unlike with adoption the parental responsibility for the child is held by the local authority and the child's birth parents although some aspects of decision making will be shared by the local authority with the foster carers.

Adoption is a legal procedure in which all the parental responsibility is transferred to the adopter. When a child is adopted, they become a permanent part of their adoptive family.

Sometimes young people need to be fostered until adulthood. This is called, long-term or permanent fostering. Young people at 18 can also stay with their foster carers on a different arrangement until they reach 25 – this is known as Staying Put in England and Scotland and ‘When I’m Ready’ in Wales. See our fostering section to find out more about the different types of fostering.

Can I try fostering before adopting?

Fostering shouldn’t be seen as a route leading to adoption, because it may well be that the children you will foster will not need to be adopted. If you think you want to foster first before you adopt, make sure you have had all the information about the differences this will mean to you and your family. There are times when foster carers decide they want to adopt a child in their care but this would be after a bond has developed between them and there can be difficult issues to resolve e.g. where birth parents are aware who you are or where you live or there are other identified risk factors. Social workers would have to be satisfied that this was the best place for the child and you would then need to be reassessed and approved as adoptive parents.

There are other options which allow children to be fostered first and then adopted by their carers if adoption becomes the plan for them.

Find out more about what these options are.