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Comparing Foster care and Adoption - What are the differences?

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Although foster care and adoption are similar in that the child being cared for in the family is not a biological child there are many differences. The main difference between foster care and adoption is who holds the legal responsibility for that child.

In foster care, the legal guardian is the Children’s Aid Society and in adoption, the adoptive parent(s) hold the legal responsibility. Another key difference is the type of support that is offered.

In foster care, foster parents are supported financially where all expenses are covered. Foster parents also receive supervision from an agency worker at the Children’s Aid Society and a Nairn Family Homes family supervisor.

foster child and foster parents outside playing. foster care vs adoption

The foster family support includes, planning, advocating, coordination of services, relief, access to professional supports, volunteer drivers, 24/7 on call support and funding for other needs.

In contrast, adoptive parents could receive a subsidy but for the most part they are responsible for all decisions and costs related to the adopted child, they will also receive a minimum of 6 months of support from an adoption worker.

What is foster care?

Foster care is the welcoming of a child into your home to take care of their day to day needs in all areas of life (emotionally, physically, socially, mentally). According to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, foster care is defined by, providing care in your home to a child by a person who receives compensation for caring for the child and is not the child’s parent or a person with whom the child has been placed for adoption.

There are many reasons a child can be placed in foster care, including, for their protection, voluntarily by their parents or caregivers or by court order.

When a child is placed in foster care, the Children’s Aid Society becomes their legal guardian and determines where the child will live. This could be in a licensed foster home through the local Children’s Aid Society or a private organization such as Nairn Family Homes.

Who can be a foster parent?

To put it simply, anyone can be a foster parent if they decide to make room in their life for a child. There is not a particular type of person who can be a foster parent (i.e., relationship status, number of children, religion, culture), but there are some criteria that you need to meet in order to qualify.

First, you need to be over the age of 21 and pass a criminal record check and vulnerable sector screening. You will need to be duly screened, trained and licensed by a foster care agency.

Foster parents will need to have a bed available in their home for a child. It is preferred that you have a bedroom available that is not shared with another child, however, under certain circumstances, shared bedrooms can be considered.

foster family playing inside on table with dolls. foster care vs adoption

As a foster parent, you also need to have availability in your schedule for fostering. This does not mean that one adult needs to be home at all times, but some flexibility is required to attend meetings, training and be available for unpredictable events (e.g., early pick up from school).

Foster agencies will also require parents to be financially secure to cover your own expenses without the compensation you will receive for caring for a foster child in your home.

How does foster care work?

Fostering begins when you welcome a child into your home. This could be for only a few days, several months or even years. When a child comes into your home, you are responsible for the child’s day to day care (physically and emotionally).

In Ontario, the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is the legal guardian of the child, and plays a role in supporting the child and the foster family. The Nairn Family Homes Family Supervisor also plays a key role in supporting the child and foster family.

At Nairn Family Homes support is given in many different ways, including but not limited to, monthly visits to your home, planning and establishing goals, documentation, training, financial per day payments, frequent contact (phone, email, text), and working together to determine the needs of the child and family and put resources in place to support those needs.

During the child’s time in care, the CAS works to explore permanency options, whether it is to reunite the child with their family, adoption, kinship care, customary care, legal custody or an independent living situation.

Where do foster children come from?

Foster children come from all different backgrounds and cultures, with individual developmental histories, strengths and needs. They are babies to young adults and each one is unique.

Foster children come into care of the Children’s Aid Society for many different reasons. Some are in need of protection and a safe place to live, others come into care through a voluntary placement by their parents or caregivers.

What is adoption?

Adoption is when one person or couple legally and permanently take on the responsibility of caring for and raising a child who is not their biological child. Once the adoption is official, the adoptive parents have the same legal rights and responsibilities as biological parents.

There are many reasons why children are in need of adoptive parents, one of which could be that their biological parents are unable to care for them.

Who can adopt?

Much like foster care there is not a specific type of person or couple who can adopt. In Ontario, you must be a resident of Ontario, over the age of 18 and not have a criminal record.

According to the government of Ontario, you should be able to provide a safe and loving home, ready to make a long term commitment and ready to take on the responsibilities of raising a child.

Who can be adopted?

There are four different types of adoption in Canada:

  • (a) Public adoption through the Children’s Aid Society,

  • (b) private adoption facilitated by a licensed individual or agency,

  • (c) international adoption through a licensed agency or individual for international adoptions and a private adoption practitioner (to complete the home study) and

  • (d) adopting a step child or relative which can be done directly through court and does not require a licensed adoption specialist.

hands holding a heart. foster care vs adoption. ontario foster care

In public adoptions, children are in the permanent care of the Children’s Aid Society and become available for adoption because their birth parents decide to make an adoption plan or it was decided through Ontario court that the child needed to be permanently removed from their birth parents.

Children can be of any age in public adoption and they are less likely to be infants. In private adoptions, there are fewer children when compared to families looking to adopt and the child is more likely to be an infant.

With regards to international adoptions, children are typically orphaned or abandoned from outside of Canada and come in all ages. Relative adoption is the adoption of a child who is related to you. Only a child’s step-parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, great-aunt or great-uncle are eligible to adopt in this way.

Can you adopt a child without fostering first?

Yes, you can adopt a child without fostering first. To begin, you have to become certified “adopt ready”. This means that you must complete an adoption home study and adoption training programs.

Once those two steps are complete, you can proceed through the public system and request to have your profile posted on the AdoptOntario databank in order to connect with waiting children. You may also view profiles of waiting children on the AdoptOntario site.

What are the differences between fostering and adopting a child?

The fostering process

When fostering, children are legally under the guardianship of the Children’s Aid Society. There is a lot of support in place to help foster families when caring for their foster child. For example, foster parents are financially compensated, and expenses are covered.

The child has an agency worker from the CAS who monitors and supports the placement, and if your family is fostering through Nairn Family Homes then you will have your own family supervisor to help you navigate the fostering journey. Fostering is typically a temporary situation for the child and family and therefore, planning for permanency is ongoing throughout the placement.

The adoption process

Adoption is different such that once the adoption is finalized you are now legally responsible for the child in the same way that a birth parent would be.

An adoption worker will be available to visit and provide support around adjustment with regards to adoption. Adoption support is legally required for a minimum of 6 months. There are no fees involved in public adoption and some subsidies are available.


Both foster care and adoption are a great way to add to your family and make a difference in the life of another. If you are ready and willing to provide a safe and loving home, make a long-term commitment, and take on the responsibilities of raising a child both fostering or adoption are a great way to do this.

For more information related to fostering a child in Ontario, please contact Nairn Family Homes.

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