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  • Writer's pictureEmbrace TFC

What's the Difference Between Foster Care and Adoption

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

Adoption and Foster Care are both terms used to describe the world of caring for and raising children that are not biological. But while they are strongly connected in the United States, they are not the same thing.

Let’s get Technical

Technically speaking...

Adoption means the method provided by state law... which establishes the legal relationship of parent and child between persons who are not so related by birth, with the same mutual rights and obligations that exist between children and their birth parents. This relationship can only be termed “adoption” after the legal process is complete.”

Foster care means 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the title IV-E agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, placements in foster family homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, child care institutions, and pre-adoptive homes.” (~ Section 1355.20, Title 45 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations)

In other words, an adoptive parent is when someone legally becomes the parent of a child who is not their biological child. A Foster Parent is a substitute caregiver while a child is in the foster care system and not in the custody of their birth parents.

What about Treatment Foster Care?

Treatment foster care is foster care on a specialized level. To learn more about TFC, CLICK HERE.

I’m Interested in Foster Parenting! I’m Interested in Adoption! What are My Options?

Not matter what, being a foster parent and/or an adoptive parent is a wonderful opportunity to create positive change for a child, yourself, and your community. That said, When navigating adoption in the foster care system, there are all kinds of routes a person can take.

Option 1: Fostering to foster

Whether you’re an empty nester who still loves caring for children, or a young single person looking to make an impact in their community, many people chose to become foster parents for children who just need a loving home for a temporary amount of time. Some people even find fostering to be a great way to prepare for having biological children. Just like a biological parent, they provide a foster child with physical needs like food, housing, and transportation along with emotional needs like attention, affection, and affirmation. Foster parenting is a surefire way to better prepare you for parenting your children in the future.

Option 2: Fostering to adopt

Many people do not even know adoption through fostering is even an option! Yet adoption through foster care comes with many perks. The thing to remember is that not ALL foster children can be adopted; you must specify that you are interested in fostering “pre-adoptive” children.

  1. Cost. Adoption from a private adoption agency can be very expensive. Adopting a foster child, on the other hand, has virtually no cost. What’s more, the government financially supports foster parenting. So for as long as you are foster parenting your pre-adoptive child, you will receive a set amount of financial reimbursement for the costs associated with caring for that child.

  2. Training. To become a foster parent (especially a treatment foster parent), you will go through free extensive training to prepare you for parenting in the unique setting of foster care.

  3. Support. Foster parents benefit from significant support during their fostering time. Both staff from their foster care agency and the government social worker of their child work closely with them during the whole time they foster. And while this dynamic does change after adoption, many of those relationships can remain very strong.

Option 3: Fostering instead of adoption/having children

Some people either do not feel ready to have biological/adoptive children or don’t wish to have their own children at all. They may, however, still have the resources and desire to care for children, just in a less permanent way. This is where fostering can be a fantastic option. By becoming certified and turning your home into a foster home, you can care for children who are considered “temporary placements,” and who will likely only be your foster children for anywhere between a few months to a year. You will provide a safe haven for them until their parents become able to have their children come home, another family/relative adopts the child, or (if you are caring for an older teenager) they become legal adults and move out on their own.

Option 4: Respite Care

Providing Respite Care is when you become a “backup” for a foster family. You go through similar (sometimes even identical) training as you would to become a foster parent, but you instead care for a family’s foster child(ren) when the family goes on vacation, has a medical emergency, etc. This could mean you only take a child for a week, or even just a weekend.


Foster care and adoption are equally important pursuits in the United States today. Over 400,000 children are in this country’s foster care system, and a vast number are waiting to be adopted. Each of the options explained above are incredible ways to help and love these children. For more information about which option might be right for you, contact us today!

Sources: “45 CFR 1355.20 - Definitions.” LII / Legal Information Institute,


About the Author: Julie Gassaway works in administration at Embrace TFC. Having a background/skill set in administrative/technical support and communications, but a heart wired for children in need, she believes foster care administrative management is her perfect niche. Outside of work, you can find her drinking coffee with a good friend or trying bizarre recipes in her kitchen.


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