Foster families offer an alternative to adoption but they aim for the children to eventually return to their natural parents. In 1998, advertisements appeared in the daily press that reproduced a handwritten sheet that had supposedly been written by a sad-looking, unkempt girl whose photo was also published. The text was as follows, “I want a man with a moustache and a lady with glasses, the sort of family that gives bread with chocolate for afternoon tea. Who will put plasters and antiseptic on my knee if I fall over. Who will help me do my homework and teach me to ride a bike. I want a family who will tell me stories and cover me when I go to bed. Only for a while. While my parents sort out their problems. Maria.”[1]. At the foot of the advertisement were the names of the Red Cross as sponsor, and the Spanish Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Generalitat of Catalonia as being responsible for funding.

Compare the adoption and fostering systems. Develop a hypothesis for analysis taking the economic theory of contracts as the basis and explain what steps you would take to compare it. Does this theory justify the fact that traditionally it was very difficult to gain access to information on the natural parents of children who had been adopted? Why has this policy been gradually changed?

[1]   For example, La Vanguardia (24 May, 1998, p. 88).


The problem of fostering is that, as between ‘natural’ parents and their children, both adoption and fostering generally lead to affection. This has the characteristics of a specific asset in that it has less value (it is often negative) when people have to live separately. Obviously, the analysis will become more complicated if it is taken into account that fostering promotes this type of specific ‘investment’ to a lesser degree. In general, since the relationship has a time limit, it may be subject to all sorts of time horizon problems in the conduct of both parties. However, this mechanical application of the theoretical paradigm omits what seems to be the central problem. Many potential parents who would be prepared to adopt children are not prepared to foster them for a limited time period. This is seen in the fact that there is a surplus of children waiting to be fostered. The opposite happens with adoption for which there is a large, unsatisfied demand which is only partly covered by adoptions by wealthy families in foreign countries (China, South America).

The traditional policy protects the investments of adoptive parents against possible expropriations by the natural parents, although it has been alleged that there is a greater risk of abuse in adoption decisions, perhaps because this raises the value of the children.

Although it goes beyond our scope, it is of interest to ask why this type of imbalance arises in society between the demands of citizens and the supply channeled by the social welfare systems. Why has the legal treatment of this matter changed? Are children today of greater value? Are there fewer children for adoption as a result of social welfare programs? To what extent do the welfare systems that finance borderline parents according to the number of children they are responsible for actually discourage such children from being adopted? To what extent do children thus stop being a burden and become a source of income? Is it now more valuable to “ration” the few children that are available for adoption? (more valuable for those making the rationing decisions).

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