What is Foster Care?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Foster care is a form of temporary care provided to children who cannot live with their birth parents, adoptive parents, or state-appointed guardians for various reasons. Parents may voluntarily surrender children into foster care because they feel they cannot care for them, or the government may take children away from parents who are not providing adequate care for their children. Foster care is designed to be a temporary stage on the way to finding a permanent solution.

A foster parent may take care of a child until a child's biological parents are able to handle the responsibility.
A foster parent may take care of a child until a child's biological parents are able to handle the responsibility.

Sometimes, children are placed in foster care with relatives. This method is often preferred because it allows children to retain family connections and to stay with siblings. In other instances, children may be placed with government-certified foster parents. Fostering may also be provided by group homes when children cannot be placed into private homes. In all cases, the people providing the fostering are given stipends by the government, and the government assists with health care and other services for the foster children.

Most foster care programs are designed with the eventual goal of reuniting children with their parents. When this is not possible, the government may opt for a guardianship, or for adoption, in which case parental rights will need to be relinquished so that children in foster care can be formally adopted. Although foster care is not designed to be permanent, children can remain in the care of foster parents and organizations for years while their cases are untangled, and sometimes the children reach majority, rendering the issue moot.

Historically, parents often fostered children with friends and family members in informal arrangements which were designed to give children access to different communities, educational opportunities, and other benefits. Modern foster care is administered by the state and it is primarily designed as part of the child services system, a system which protects children from abuse and neglect. Children are only placed in foster care as a last resort, because government agencies recognize that the experience can be very traumatic and stressful for children of all ages.

People who want to serve as foster parents must apply to the state, and fulfill certain criteria. Parenting experience helps, but is not required. Foster parents must generally pass background checks and take classes provided by the government, and they must be willing to submit to periodic inspections to confirm that their homes are safe and wholesome for foster children. People may choose to become foster parents for any number of reasons, ranging from wanting to help children to wanting more children around the house.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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