What is the difference between foster care and adoption?

Sometimes people are unsure about the differences between foster care, adoption and other types of care. Both foster care and adoption involve caring for a child when that child cannot be cared for by their birth family and both play an important role in building a safe and supportive environment for children to thrive.  

So, what is the difference? 

What is foster care? 

Foster care is the temporary care of children and young people aged 0-18 by members of the community who become trained and accredited foster carers.  

Foster carers are part of the child or young person’s care team, which includes the foster care agency and the child’s birth parent(s). 

In most cases, when a child or young person first comes into foster care, the aim is to support the parents to have their child or young person return to their care, as soon as it is safely possible. Most children are able to return to their birth family within six months.  

Foster care is flexible and can be for a few days, or for a few years depending on the child or young person’s needs. Foster care offers stability and support for those children and young people who cannot live at home so that they may feel safe and have an opportunity to thrive.  

Fostering Connections is Victoria’s state-wide foster care recruitment service. Our enquiry referral service connects prospective fosters carers with a local foster care agency to begin their foster care journey. Foster carers are supported by foster care agencies which are managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.  

If you are interested in getting involved with fostering, please enquire online or speak with a member from our team on 1800 013 088.

What is adoption? 

Adopting a child is a permanent, legal arrangement when parental rights and responsibilities transfer from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. This means, as the adoptive parent, you will take on all legal responsibility for a child.  

Adoption services in Victoria are delivered directly by Adoption Victoria within the Department of Justice and Community Safety. 

What about other types of care? 

Out-of-home care is provided to children and young people who are unable to live with their birth family. Out-of-home care includes foster care, as well as kinship care, residential care and permanent care.  

Kinship care is the preferred placement type for children who cannot live with their parents. Kinship care is the care provided by relatives or a member of a child's social network when a child cannot live with their parents.  

For children and young people who cannot be reunited with their birth family, Child Protection may decide for them to enter permanent care through a formalised court order. This care may be provided by relatives, or with other members of the community who have been approved to give the child or young person a stable and nurturing home until the age of 18.  

Residential care is care provided in community-based homes for children and young people in out-of-home care. Children and young people in residential care, ideally aged 12 years and up, are supported by employed agency staff.  

Can a foster care placement become permanent? 

If you are interested in becoming the parent or permanent guardian of a child or young person, it is worth considering permanent care or adoption. 

Learn more about your options for permanent care or adoption in Victoria. 

Interested in how foster care might work for you?

Start your journey by connecting with an agency to answer your questions and guide you through the next steps.

Connect with an agency