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The Differences Between Private and Foster Adoption

Foster Care vs. Adoption through a Private Agency: What's Right for You?

There’s more than one way to adopt. When a family decides to grow through adoption, there are several ways to bring a child into their home. Three of the most common types of adoption are:

  • Domestic infant adoption

  • Foster care adoption

  • International adoption

If a family rules out international adoption because they know they want to adopt a child from the U.S., that leaves them to choose between foster care vs. adoption through a private agency.

The differences between private adoption and foster care adoption are immense, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the adoptive parents’ goals. One is not necessarily better than the other. It all depends on your unique situation. Even though American Adoptions works primarily in domestic infant adoption, we recognize that it isn’t the right path for everyone.

We want to help you find the type of adoption that is best suited for your life. The following is an overview of some main factors that adoptive families should consider before pursuing private adoption vs. foster adoption.

Private Adoption Versus Foster Care Adoption: Wait Times

Private Adoption: 1 to 12 months at American Adoptions, on average

State Adoption: Immediately to 5 years, depending on the situation

The time you wait for an adoption opportunity is one of the primary differences between foster and private adoption.

Some families who want to adopt sooner choose private adoption because wait times are typically shorter on average than in foster care adoption. This, however, is not always the case. As with any adoption, the unique nuances of your situation can increase or decrease your wait times.

Families who adopt a waiting child from foster care may experience a very fast process. In cases like this, the child’s biological parents have already had their right terminated, and the process can begin immediately. In contrast, some foster to adopt placements may take much longer. If you work with a social worker to find a foster to adopt placement with an infant, you may face a long and winding road to officially finalizing the adoption.

This is due to the fact that the primary goal of any state social services department is to reunify a child with his or her biological parents. These parents are often given multiple opportunities to correct the problems for which their children were originally removed from their homes, which ultimately keeps children in the foster care system for months and sometimes years.

There are, however, some older children immediately ready for adoption through the state. Check your state’s social services department to learn more about these children.

Private Adoption Versus Foster Care Adoption: Uncertainty

Private Adoption: Moderate

State Adoption: High

There is some degree of uncertainty in either private adoption or foster care adoption, but the source of the uncertainty is different for each.

In private domestic adoption, the prospective birth mother is in control of her adoption decision. She can legally change her mind and discontinue the process at any point until the baby is born and she legally signs her consent — even after choosing an adoptive family for her baby. American Adoptions has a success rate of nearly 85 percent of completed adoptions once an adoptive family and birth mother agree to pursue the same adoption plan. All precautions are taken to avoid disrupted adoptions, but they can and sometimes do happen. So, these families will often feel some uncertainty because their futures are tied to a prospective birth mother’s final decision of completing her adoption plan.

Conversely, many foster care adoptions have a very high uncertainty rate because foster parents have little control in the proceedings of the adoption, as mentioned before. This is one of the differences between foster care and adoption that many people are interested in.

For example, a couple or single person decides to become foster parents with the goal of adopting one of their foster children. They receive a foster child and bond with him, as if he is their child. A year later, the child’s biological parents comply with the state’s reunification plan and are granted custody of their child once again. The child will then likely go back home in a matter of days, leaving the foster parent(s) childless after a year of bonding. The foster parent(s) then must move on and repeat the process with another child.

The above scenario describes why aspiring parents looking to foster parent should do so because they want to help children, and not necessarily because they want to adopt. This doesn’t mean they can’t be excited to one day permanently add one of these children to their families; it just means some situations may end in disappointment if adoption is the only goal of their foster parenting.

This scenario happens frequently in the state adoption foster care system. Of the 247,631 children who exited foster care in 2017, more than 121,000 (49 percent) were reunified with their parents or placed with relatives, and just over 59,000 (24 percent) were placed for adoption.

Private Adoption Versus Foster Care Adoption: Adoptee's Age

Private Adoption – Infant

State Adoption – Less than 1 year old to 18 years old

One major factor in deciding between foster care vs. adoption through a private agency is the age of the child you want to adopt. 

More than 99 percent of American Adoptions’ placements are of newborns and infants.

The majority of foster care adoptions are of older children. In 2017, the median age of a child in foster care was 7.7 years old, and the media age for children exiting foster care (for either reunification or adoption) was 6.6 years old. 

This means that adoptive parents hoping to adopt an infant through the state foster care system may have a long wait ahead of them. However, for adoptive parents who want to adopt an older child or don’t have specific ideas about the age of child they want to adopt, this is a non-issue.

Private Adoption Versus Foster Care Adoption: Birth Parent's Involvement

Private Adoption – Birth mother’s discretion

State Adoption – Variable

All adoptive families with American Adoptions are required to be open to an open adoption, which means that the adoptive family and birth mother exchange pictures, letters and contact information and may share other forms of contact, including pre- and post-placement visits.

The majority of prospective birth mothers in private domestic adoption desire an open adoption, so these requirements ensure that families are shown to as many prospective birth mothers as possible, increasing the chance that families are chosen and decreasing the wait time. Prospective birth mothers’ preferences will be different, so adoptive families may also be matched with a birth mother who desires a semi-open adoption, instead. Either way, it’s very common for a birth mother to be in contact with the adoptive parents before and after the adoption process, and there are many benefits to this.

Families adopting through the state foster care system usually won’t have as much interaction with the adopted child’s birth parents, but this varies case by case.

Both methods of adoption allow the disclosure of the adopted child’s family medical history to the adoptive family, as long as it is known.

Private Adoption Versus Foster Care Adoption: Adoption Cost

Private Adoption Cost - $25,000-$50,000

State Adoption Cost - Time, cost of home study

Private adoption may cost a significant amount of money, while state adoption may cost very little, other than your time. Adoptive families must ask themselves which they value more. This can be a major point in deciding between private adoption vs. foster adopt. You should always do what will be best for your family in the long run.

There are many processes, services and specialists that help complete a successful private adoption, and they each factor into the overall cost.

State adoptions usually cost very little other than the home study fees, and sometime the family is even paid a stipend.


Clearly, there is a lot for adoptive families to think about when deciding between a private and foster care adoption.

American Adoptions encourages adoptive couples deciding between each type of adoption to research and find what is comfortable for them before making a final decision. While American Adoptions only works in private adoptions, we are happy to answer questions and help you find the best type of adoption for you.

For more information, contact American Adoptions today at 1-800-ADOPTION or request free adoption information online.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. America Adoptions, Inc. provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do we need to retain our own attorney?

No, American Adoptions has established relationships with some of the best adoption attorneys in the nation. Because adoption laws vary from state to state and between counties, it is important to utilize the services of an adoption attorney who specializes in the state where the adoption will finalize, which is unknown until you match with an expectant mother. You have the right to retain your own attorney, but doing so may be an additional, unnecessary expense.

Can we choose the gender of our baby?

American Adoptions accepts a limited number of families into our gender-specific program. Please contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION to learn whether we are currently accepting families into this program. With this option, families pay an additional Gender-Specific Fee to help our agency locate and work with birth mothers meeting this additional criterion. This fee is in addition to other program fees and covers additional advertising. The fee is not considered part of your adoption budget. Please note that gender specificity will likely increase your wait time significantly.

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