What is Foster Care? How is fostering a child different from adopting?
May is National Foster Care Month. This post will discuss more about foster care and how it differs from adoption to honor this special month.
Foster care and adoption are two different scenarios for supporting a child who needs to be loved and provided for because, for whatever reason, their birth parents cannot continue to take care of them. Understanding foster care and adoption and the negative misconceptions about each is important to then learning the differences between them. Basic definitions, which are not complete descriptions, and a few common misconceptions impertinent to understanding foster care and/or adoption, are provided below.
What is foster care?
Fostering is when a family opens their home to a child who the state deemed it necessary to remove from the home of their biological parents. And while the foster parents are responsible for the day-to-day needs of raising the child, the main goal of foster care is reunification the state remains the child’s legal guardian as it is intended to be a temporary situation. There are however many children in foster care whose parental rights have been relinquished and are available to be officially adopted.
Foster Care Misconceptions:
- Foster care is where “bad” or “unwanted” kids go
The stigma that older children who have caused their parents distress are sent into foster care is just not true. It has nothing to do with the child’s actions and is a decision the courts have made in the best interest of the child because their biological parents are unable to provide a healthy environment for the child at that time.
- The foster care system is abusive and harmful
Many people view foster care as a system run by foster parents who are just in it for the money and uncaring social workers who shuffle children from one home to another. While the system falls short of ideal, the fact is that the majority of foster families are loving and kind and devote their lives to helping children who, for whatever reason, are in need of a safe and loving home whether temporarily or permanently. Because of the large number of children in and out of the foster care system every day, social workers do their best to help as many children and families as possible. While there are children in the system for long periods of time, the goal of the social workers is to work towards reunification with a child’s biological parents. However in the cases where reunification is not an option or in the best interest of the child, adoption is then an option to find a permanent forever family.
- All foster care facilities are institutions or group homes
There are situations where children in foster care may be in a group home, however the overwhelming majority of children in foster care are placed in individual families who provide for the child’s day to day needs as a part of their own family while the child is living with them.
What is adoption?
Adoption is the act of an adult, other than a birth parent, voluntarily and legally assuming all the parental rights and obligations for another person, in this case a child, with a legal and permanently binding arrangement made through the courts. Additionally, because there can only be two legal parents, a biological parent’s rights must first be terminated either voluntarily or by judgment of the court before an adoption can be finalized.
- Adoption is “buying” a child
Fees for adoption have nothing to do with purchasing the child. Adoptive parents do not pay birth parents for a child. These costs are in place to pay for agency fees, attorney fees, travel, medical expenses, advertising, and many more elements that do not correlate to the parental rights for a child. Read more here on the financial side of adoption.
- Adoption is a last resort or final option for adoptive parents
While many families do turn to adoption due to infertility, there are also families who choose to grow through adoption regardless of their ability to conceive. And for families who have tried infertility treatments other options prior to adoption, that does not mean that adoption is any less meaningful because they came to their decision as a result of infertility. Adoption is not an afterthought to do “just because” nothing else worked. Take a look at this insightful piece on the difference between second choice and second best.
- Adoption comes with too many unknowns and risks
It is true that the adoption process comes along with many unknowns (time frame, biological factors, medical issues, birth parent situation etc.) and the potential for disruptions and financial risks. However it’s important to remember that all paths to parenthood are filled with unknowns and risks and for those considering adoption it helps to dive deeper into those fears and concerns and break them down by learning more about the process.
By understanding a little bit more about what foster care and adoption “are” and what they “are not,” prospective families can begin to learn more about the differences and similarities between the two situations and choose what would work best for their family.
Differences between Foster Care and Adoption:
When in foster care, the parental rights belong to the biological parents, not the foster parents. This means any important decisions, such as medial decisions, are made by the birth parents, even if they are not directly caring for the child. In some extreme cases, parental rights may be terminated, in which case the decisions would be made by the foster care parents or agency in direct care of the child. In adoption, the birth parents parental rights have been terminated either voluntarily or by the courts. The adoptive parents assume parental rights and make all the decisions for the child. Open adoption allows birth parents to be involved and updated on their child’s life to varying degrees, despite not having these parental rights.
Foster care is meant to be a temporary situation, often with the goal of reuniting the child with their biological parent(s). This is not always a possible outcome, in which case the hope is for the foster child to be adopted by a loving family. Adoption is a permanent situation that is legally binding where a child become a part of a forever family. Read this woman’s journey as a foster mother to see one perspective on how the rights and permanency elements play a role in taking care of the child.
Similarities between Foster Care and Adoption:
- Providing for a child
Whether permanent or temporary, supporting the child in your care is of the utmost importance. While significant decision making belongs to different people depending on situation, it is always necessary to provide the child with food, clothing, and shelter in a safe and loving environment. No matter what, the child’s best interest always comes first.
- Importance of education and support
If you are considering adoption, becoming a foster parent, or adopting through the foster care system, it’s important to be educated about the entire process and find a great support system. Research and self-searching are important to fully understanding what will be needed from you. Social workers and/or attorneys are necessary in all situations, and can help you understand your options.
Whether a child is in foster care or being placed for adoption, their health and emotional needs should be the first concern. While foster care and adoption are very different, they are both in place to find forever loving homes and families for children. To find more information on different options and what is right for you, check out www.afth.org!