The Difference Between Adoption and Foster Care

There are many ways to help a child in need. To better understand how you can help, we want to share the differences between adoption, foster care, and kinship care. All 3 offer tremendous support  and a path to help a young child or teenager who is having a hard time right now. 


Adoption is the most well known of the three. The primary difference with adoption is that at the end of the process, full legal rights and custody are given to the adoptive parents. This is a long term solution for a child in need of a loving home. Parents or guardians looking into this option desire a child to take care of and to be a consistent part of their family. Once an adoption is complete, the adoptive parents have sole responsibility for the child’s care, wellbeing, and sharing your child’s journey with him/her as moments and questions present themselves. 

Foster Care

The difference between adoption and foster care with a little kid with his guardian.

In foster care, a child will not have any prior knowledge or relationship with his or her future foster parents, and the process for approval is inherently much longer because of this.

Foster care begins with a “home study” or “licensure” process- that can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months depending on the capacity of the agency and the training schedule. As for training, “foster caregivers are required to complete 36 hours of preservice training prior to licensure. They are required to complete 40-60 hours every two years to maintain their license, depending on the type of license they hold” [source]. 

The difference between adoption and foster care is the end goal. Foster parents provide a temporary home full of love and stability when a child needs it most with the ultimate expectation being that the child returns to their biological parents or caretaker(s) once they have been deemed fit to care for the child. This process is known as reunification. 

Should the biological parent(s) or original caretakers not return to a position to be able to care for the child, the next step would then be to find a long term situation for the child. This could even include the foster parents potentially becoming adoptive parents should they so choose. It is that natural progression that makes fostering a great first potential step towards adoption – “Of the 51,000 children in foster care adopted last year, 54% were adopted by their foster parents” [source]. 

Kinship Care

The difference between adoption and foster care with a little kid with his guardian.

Kinship care is most likely the most unfamiliar term on this list, but the definition is similar to foster care. Kinship care suggests the child will be with “kin”, which normally implies familial relation, but in some cases the umbrella definition includes close family friends as well. 

Kinship care involves the placement of a child or children with a close family member or friend, ideally someone the child is already familiar with. Kinship care is excellent because it provides a heightened level of stability and minimizes the chances of potential trauma. A child being removed from their home can be fearful and traumatized with so much uncertainty, and kinship care reduces some difficulty by providing a friendly face they recognize during this difficult time. 

The many benefits of kinship care include…

  • Familiar and trustworthy caregivers.
  • Decreased trauma from family separation.
  • Continuation of cultural and family traditions.
  • Maintained identity and self-esteem.
  • Increased stability in the placement situation.
  • Preservation of sibling groups.
  • Less negative stigma than foster care for the child.

[Source: Ohio Jobs and Family Services]

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