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How to Know the Difference Between Foster Care and Adoption

The simple answer to this question is that foster parents are not legally allowed to act on behalf of a child and their involvement is temporary, whereas adoptive parents are legally responsible for the child and they are permanent. Here is a chart to highlight some of these basic differences between foster parents and adoptive parents:

Let me explain the “Yes” responses with a “*” next to them.

  • Almost all families who adopt children from foster care will receive financial assistance in the form of an adoption subsidy.

  • It is up to the family, and in many cases the adopted child, whether or not they take the last name. Many older children choose to hyphenate their last name.

  • Most adoptive children will continue to receive or qualify for Medicaid. This is important because some services adopted children may require at some point in their lives is not covered by private insurance (i.e., in-home services/counseling)

As with most things, the differences between fostering a child and adopting a child is much more complex than outlined above. Children who are adopted have the same issues, challenges, and trauma histories, as children in foster care because they are, in fact, the same children. Unfortunately, the children who are available for adoption through foster care are in that position because their parents and/or biological family members were unable to make the necessary changes in their lives that were needed for their children to return home.


The biggest difference between a foster parent and an adoptive parent comes down to one word: PERMANENCEY. Adoption provides permanency for a child, while foster care does not. And yes, you may be hurt and have a child you have grown to love and care for being taken from your family, but that pales in comparison to the hurt they could be living through because they didn’t have you in their lives, even if it is temporary.


Written By: Ronnie Gehring, MSW TFC Site Director

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