What’s the difference between fostering and adopting?

Boy in yellow jumper in front of black board thinking about the differences between fostering and adoptingHello, my name is Charlie Egan, Service Manager with St Andrew’s Children’s Society.  

As you will know if you follow us on Facebook, we are in the process of trying to recruit more foster carers to meet the needs of the many children and young people in Scotland who are unable to live with their birth families.

Not an easy task when you consider how many agencies in Scotland, including Local Authorities are trying to do the same!

What’s the difference between fostering and adopting?

But what is foster care and what is the difference between fostering and adopting a child or young person?    

Fostering a child

Fundamentally, when you foster a child/children/young person, you are caring for this child or young person on behalf of the state. This means that although you are in a parental role, you are doing a job of work in your own home, supporting and caring for a child who may have been removed from his or her birth family as a result of poor or neglectful parental care. This task is a partnership between St Andrew’s Children’s Society, the placing Local Authority and you as the foster carer.   

Adopting a child Young boy getting his hair cut.

When you adopt a child, you have the same rights and responsibilities as any other parent and as such, can make the same decisions as any other parent about the way in which you care for your child. For example, you can decide which school your child attends, you can apply for a passport on behalf of your child as well as making the day to day decisions such as medical treatment/hair cuts/sleepovers etc.

As most people will know, the reasons why the state needs to intervene in certain situations are complex and rightly usually subject to judicial scrutiny and can be as a result of a range of factors including parental substance difficulties as well as challenges in terms of birth parents’ poor mental health.     

Expectations of foster carers

Young boy walking and holding a woman's hand seen from behind.

Expectations of foster carers are high in the sense that ideally, a child or young person will be a part of your household, sometimes for a short period of time and in certain situations until the child or young person reaches adulthood. Many foster carers make a lifelong commitment to a child or young person providing emotional and practical support long after a young person has left their care.    

In terms of what you can and cannot do as a foster carer, we expect foster care households to provide love, security and stability to children and young people and to be respectful and supportive of birth family time “also known as birth family contact”. Not always easy if a child or young person is reluctant or it is evident that the quality of this contact is not good. In these situations, foster carers are not expected or allowed to make decisions about family time. However, your input to the decision-making process in this regard is important and is likely to inform decisions going forward.    

With regard to the day to day care decisions about a child in your care, foster carers will be asked to ensure that a child’s physical and emotional needs are met, again not always an easy task, but very rewarding as you will hopefully see a child or young person start to thrive in your care.   

Foster carers are paid and classed as self-employed

Foster carers are self-employed but are paid by St Andrew’s Children’s Society to do this rewarding and sometimes challenging job, helping a child or young person reach their full potential whether that is achieving academically or encouraging skills and talents, or both!  

So who can foster a child?  

St Andrew’s Children’s Society is looking for couples and single people who have a genuine interest in the welfare of children and have the motivation and time to offer a child or children a safe and caring environment. Foster carers may already have birth or adopted children or no children.   

Find out more about fostering

Would you like to find out more about fostering? Please contact St Andrew’s Children’s Society either in person, by telephone on 0131 454 3370 or email info@standrews-children.org.uk and we will be happy to tell you more about what is involved and how we can support and explore your interest further.     


Charlie Egan 

Service Manager