What is the difference between fostering and adoption in the UK?

Foster carers have the ability to transform a child’s life and to build meaningful relationships with the children they care for. As a result of this many young people stay in contact with their previous carers long after they’ve left the home.

It’s easy to get fostering and adoption confused, as both provide stable, caring homes to young people who are unable to live with their birth families. However, there are many differences between the two in terms of the legality, purpose, demand, support offered and commitment.

This blog covers five main differences between fostering and adoption in the UK.

  1. Legal responsibility

When you foster a child they remain the legal responsibility of their birth family and Local Authority which means you do not have legal guardianship over the children you foster. Despite not having legal responsibility, foster carers are given some freedom to make decisions about the children in their care. However, when you adopt a child they do become your legal responsibility and all parental decisions are yours to make.

  1. Purpose

Many people view fostering as a stepping stone to adoption, but this is not the case. Programmes such as ‘Fostering for Adoption’ exist but generally foster children do not become available for adoption. The aim of fostering is to provide a safe and stable environment for children before reunifying them with their birth parents, where possible. Adoption occurs when, for a multitude of different reasons, the reunification of children and their birth families is not possible.

  1. Demand

One huge difference between the two is the current level of demand for foster carers versus adoptive parents. Unfortunately in England there is currently a national shortage of foster carers. As of March 2023, there were 43,400 fostering households compared to 83,840 children in need of care. In comparison there are around 2,000-3,000 children in need of adoption each year. This shows that there is a far greater need for foster carers to help transform children’s lives.

  1. Support

Another difference is the level of support provided to foster carers and adoptive parents. When you adopt a child, you receive temporary agency support in the period after the child is placed with you and before the adoption order is made. However, once the adoption has been finalised, you no longer receive that support.

In contrast, as a foster carer you receive a high level of expert support from a dedicated team throughout every step of your journey. You can call for support whenever you need help and the needs of the children in your care are consistently kept under review.

Foster carers are also supported financially through allowances that both cover the costs associated with childcare and a fee for the carer. Some adoptive parents also receive an adoption allowance, but many are not considered eligible.

  1. Commitment

Adoption is a lifelong commitment, you become the child’s parent and they are a part of your family forever. Foster placements tend to be temporary and can vary in length from as little as one day to many years. The amount of time a child will spend with a foster carer is always agreed upon before they enter the home. Foster carers can choose to stop fostering at any time, meaning it is not a life-long commitment in the way adoption is. No matter how long fostering placements last, you are still able to make a lasting impact on the lives of the children who come into your care.

We understand that deciding whether to foster or adopt can be difficult and can take a lot of time and consideration. If you decide that fostering is the right path for you, you can start your journey by learning more about Step by Step Fostering and why we could be the agency for you.

For more information, get in touch with our expert team today by calling 01252 411107 or emailing We are here to answer any questions you may have and to offer you support every step of the way.