Fostering versus adoption – which is right for me?
The primary difference between fostering and adoption is that fostering is usually temporary. 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. When you adopt a child on the other hand, you have full parental responsibility and the child is a permanent member of your family.
Let’s look at the differences between being assessed and approved as a foster parent and an adoptive parent.
Foster parent approval
There are five requirements to be approved as a foster carer:
- You must have a spare bedroom for each foster child
- You should be at least 25 years old
- Your health must be good
- A social worker must provide a recommendation to the foster panel
- You must attend training sessions
Of course, there is a lot more to the approval process but looking at the barebones process makes it easier to compare the two approaches.
- Must have lived in the UK for a minimum of one year
- Must be at least 21 years old
- One partner must have a permanent home in the UK, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man
- Must undergo a two-part assessment and preparation process
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.
Fostering versus adoption
In many ways, both have similar processes. People wanting to step into the role of caring for children who 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 80,000 children and young people in foster care in the UK. Of these, 8,000 need a foster home. Because there is a shortage of foster carers across the country these 8,000 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 4,000 children available for adoption every year.
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Bringing a child home
When you are approved as a foster carer, your first placement is likely to take place quite quickly – the situation is similar when an adopter is approved. As 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.
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 2015, the average age of a child being adopted tends to be three years and three months 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.
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. The child must be under the age of 18 and can’t have been married or in a civil partnership when the adoption application is made.
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.
- The child has been caught up in an urgent situation and needs a safe haven for a few nights.
- Short-term. The short-term can be a matter of several weeks or a few months while a permanent solution is determined for the child.
- Respite Care. Children with special needs, disabilities, or behavioural difficulties are regularly placed for short visits with a foster family so that their parents or foster carers may have a break.
- Children remanded by a court require foster carers with special training.
- Family and friends. Also known as kinship foster care refers to a situation where the child is placed with people they already know, typically a family member.
- Specialist therapeutic. This type of foster care focuses on children and young people who have complex needs and/or challenging behaviour.
- Long-term. Children who choose not to be adopted but who cannot live with their birth family, require long-term 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.
Can foster parents adopt?
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 it should happen that you do foster a child who does become 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.
It’s a tough decision
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.
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