As a foster parent, you are in the role of a parent but ultimately, the local authority and the child’s birth parents have responsibility for the child, though you may share some decision-making capabilities. However, when you adopt a child, you have full parental responsibility – and the child is a permanent member of your family.
So, should you choose to foster or adopt? Let’s look at the differences between being assessed and approved as a foster parent and an adoptive parent.
If you’re interested in learning the difference between adoption and fostering, it’s important to gain an understanding of the requirements for each approach.
Of course, there is a lot more to the approval processes – but looking at the bare bones of each process makes it easier to compare the two approaches:
Foster parent approval
There are five requirements to be approved as a foster carer:
The two-part adoption assessment process
The goal of the two-part process is to help would-be adopters get ready to apply to adopt in six months’ time. The first part involves learning about what adoption entails as well as giving the adoption agency time to check each applicant’s references. This takes about two months.
The second part takes about four months and is an extension of the assessment process, during which the potential adopters are prepared for the application process.
So, how do you know whether fostering or adoption is the right path for you? In many ways, both have similar processes. People wanting to step into the role of caring for children who may have been left vulnerable and traumatised must be aware of the changes this will make in their own lives. They also have to be deemed able to care for, love, and look after the child in a way that will create a positive life experience.
One major difference between fostering and adoption is that of demand. There are approximately 75,000 children and young people in foster care in the UK. Of these, 6,800 need a foster home. Because there is a shortage of foster carers across the country, these 6,800 children are in a very precarious situation.
It is not possible to crowd them all into approved foster homes. It is stressful and frightening for young people who have been removed from their families without having to wait for a foster home.
On the other hand, there are about 6,000 children in need of adoption every year.
When you are approved as a foster carer, your first placement is likely to take place quite quickly – and the situation is similar when an adopter is approved. This is because there are more foster children who need a home as soon as possible however, there is a better chance of having a placement who matches the carers’ preferences and skills.
It also should be noted that adopters may not find a suitable match as quickly. If a match in your geographical area is not found within a three-month period, your information goes to the National Adoption Register. The National Adoption Register matches children waiting to be adopted with approved adopters.
Chances are that when you make the decision to adopt, you have a preconceived notion of the child you will welcome into your family. During the assessment and evaluation period, you learn about the adoption process and this will challenge those notions. For example, in 2019, the average age of a child being adopted tends to be of school age and often there are sibling groups that need to be adopted.
In your initial consideration of becoming adoptive parents, you may have thought about who the children are that need adopting. Even so, you might be surprised to learn that many have been taken from their birth families because of abuse or neglect and that medical issues, learning disabilities, and behavioural problems are all too common.
Over your six months in the assessment process, you may find that you have to adjust your thinking about the child you are prepared to adopt and change the age range. You may also have to think about what medical challenges or disabilities you have the ability and skill to work with.
Adoption is a serious commitment. When the child becomes your child, you are the parent. This is a forever deal. Second-goes are not acceptable. The repercussions are legal, social, and emotional. While there is a period of time after the child is placed with you and before the adoption order is made when you have agency support, ultimately, this is your new family unit.
In fostering, your home is the child’s temporary home as the first approach is to help the birth family find a solution to their negative situation so that the child is able to go back to his or her family home. Sometimes, the child’s relatives are able to take the child into their home, while other outcomes involve permanent fostering or adoption.
Foster parents have a supervising social worker available at all times to help with any problems or concerns. They also receive an allowance that covers the cost of caring for the child. If the child has special needs, the foster parents reach out to the fostering agency for financial coverage to meet these needs.
Adoption allowances are means-tested – this means that some adoptive parents will not be eligible for adoption allowance. The maximum adoption allowance is decided in relation to the fostering allowance that would otherwise be payable for that child. As adoptive parents, you are entitled to an assessment of needs for your adopted child – however, there is no entitlement to funding for therapeutic or other services to meet those needs.
The cost of adoption
While foster carers are provided a weekly allowance per child, adoption can be costly.
The application process to adopt with the Independent Adoption Panel has a price tag of between £4,000 and £9,000. In addition, you need to pay the Department of Education £885 to process your application and provide your Certificate of Eligibility. If your income exceeds £45,000, this fee goes up to £1,775.
Part of the assessment process involves the agency learning about your financial status. It is important that when you adopt a child, you are able to provide the security the child deserves. If you do not already have children, it may surprise you to learn just how much it costs to raise a child.
Who can be adopted?
There are two requirements for a child to be adopted:
Both the child’s natural mother and father must consent to the adoption. There are circumstances when this consent can be waived. For example, if the parents cannot be found, are incapable of giving consent, or the child is at risk unless they are adopted, then the birth parents’ consent is not required.
Many of the children in the UK who are available for adoption emerge from the foster care system. There are several types of foster care:
Long-term fostering is also known as permanent fostering. Young people are rarely placed in permanent care from the onset of being fostered as, when they are taken into care, the expectation is that they will return home once the problems in their birth family are resolved.
It is only when the situation cannot be remedied that a court order is issued. This court order gives the local authority legal responsibility for the young person and, as the child’s guardian, the local authority must find a permanent home for the child. In some, but not all, cases, this means that the child is available for adoption.
The alternative is long-term fostering and the question is, why is long-term foster care chosen over adoption? This is because it may be deemed in the child’s interest to keep in contact with, and visit, his or her birth parents. Often, this is because of the child’s strong desire to maintain contact with his or her family.
The contact might be limited but it allows for a connection between the child and the birth parent or parents. If the child were adopted, the adoptive parents have exclusive parental rights and any link between the child and the birth parents would be severed.
The goal of fostering is not adoption. Fostering as a path toward adoption does not work very well, although it does happen. Typically, foster children do not become available for adoption. If you do foster a child who becomes adoptable, there are a couple of issues that you need to contend with.
First of all, being approved as a foster carer is not the same as being approved as an adoptive parent and so you will have to go through the approval process to adopt. Also, going from fostering to adoption can complicate the process of severing the birth parents’ link to the child – this is because, as a foster parent, the birth parents know who you are.
There is “Fostering for Adoption” where children in care are being assessed with a view to adoption as an outcome. Potential adopters may foster the child while the decision is being made as this protects the child from being moved and moved again.
This happens when the local authority or fostering agency takes a look at the approved adopters and accepts them as temporary foster carers for the child. This is referred to as dual approval. The dual approval family are treated as foster carers, which means that the local authority and birth family have parental responsibility. The foster carers are paid a fostering allowance. Adoption is not guaranteed however and there is the risk of the final decision not being that the child will be adopted.
Concurrent planning is similar to fostering for adoption in that the potential adopter fosters until the decision is made about the child’s future. Concurrent planning refers to babies and toddlers under the age of two and the same approach as with fostering for adoption holds true.
The concurrent carer is a foster carer while the decision is being made, and as such must work with the birth parents during the assessment. If the court decides that adoption is the best solution, the child stays with the concurrent carer who is then able to adopt the child.
Whether to foster or adopt is a difficult decision. It involves so many elements of your life. There are financial considerations. Foster parents are fully supported by the local authority or agency with whom they work. An independent fostering agency such as Capstone has a nationwide team of experts who are available to assist with special needs, behavioural problems, and learning disabilities.
You are not alone in your efforts to remain patient and supportive of your foster child. There is a strong network of carers as well with whom you can share experiences.
The greatest difference is between the number of children and young people who need you, indicating that as a foster carer you can help many children, where as an adoptive parent, you might look for a long time to find a child that is a good solid match to be a permanent member of your family.
Still need help deciding, or want to know more information about the difference between fostering and adoption? Get in touch with a member of our helpful team here at Capstone Foster Care.