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The Differences Between Private and Foster Adoption

Wait Times, Degree of Uncertainty, Cost, and Ages of Children

The differences between private adoption and foster care adoption are immense, and each has their own advantages and disadvantages depending on the adoptive parents’ goals.

The following is an overview of some main factors that adoptive families should consider before pursuing private or state foster care adoption.

Wait Times

Private Adoption1 to 12 months at American Adoptions, on average

State Adoption1 month to 5 years, depending on the situation

Some families who want to adopt sooner choose private adoption because wait times are typically shorter on average than in foster care adoption.

This is due to the fact that the goal of any state social services department is to rehabilitate birth parents and 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 – Moderate

State Adoption – High

There is some degree of uncertainty no matter which type of adoption the adoptive family chooses, but the source of the uncertainty is different for each.

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 failed adoptions, but they can and sometimes do happen. So, these families will often feel some uncertainty because their futures are tied to a birth mother’s final decision of completing her adoption plan.

Conversely, foster care adoptions have a very high uncertainty rate because foster parents have little control in the proceedings of the adoption, as mentioned before.

For example, a couple or single person decide 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 one of their own. A year later, the child’s biological parents comply with the state’s reintegration 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 only 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 240,923 children who exited foster care in 2012, 141,836 (59 percent) were reunified with their parents or placed with relatives, and 51,225 (22 percent) were placed for adoption.

Adoptee's Age

Private Adoption – Infant

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

The adopted child’s preferred age is yet another factor to discuss before determining which type of adoption is best for the adoptive family.

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

The majority of foster care adoptions are of older children. In 2012, 27 percent of adopted foster children were two years old or younger, and only 2 percent of them were younger than 1 year old. Also, 57 percent of all adopted foster children were 3 to 10 years old.

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 are indifferent about the child’s age, this is a non-issue.

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 conduct pre- and post-placement visits with or without the agency’s mediation.

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.

Families adopting through the state foster care system usually won’t have any 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.

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 a significant amount of time. Adoptive families must ask themselves which they value more.

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.

For more information, contact American Adoptions today at 1-800-ADOPTION or click the following to request free adoption information.

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.