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Foster Care

Not all families are the same, and sometimes there are children who have been orphaned or removed from their homes and need a stable, nurturing environment. Foster care is a method of providing complete care and support for children who are without parents or legal guardians. This arrangement is often temporarily but in some cases leads to adoption. The Foster Care section of the Family Law Center can provide you information and resources relating to all of the stages the foster care process.

This section contains articles about the history of foster care in the United States and how foster care is funded today, including the federal programs that provide those funds so that state can administer foster care operations. You can also find the requirements for prospective foster parents, an overview of foster children with medical issues or disabilities, and learn what it means to “age out” of foster care. FindLaw’s Adoption section has related articles and resources for further reading and research.

The Basics of Foster Care

Caring for orphaned children has a long history, and forms of foster care have existed in the United States since its founding. Today, foster care can take one of three forms:

  • Single Foster Family: One or more parents cares for up to six foster children in the parents’ home, possibly with the parents’ own biological children
  • Group Home: Adults supervising more than six foster children (these homes, though better regulated today, have a history of abuse and neglect due to overcrowding, underfunding, and a lack of oversight)
  • Kinship Care: Full-time foster care by relatives, godparents, stepparents or another adult who has a prior relationship with the child

The majority of foster programs are funded by the Social Security Act, which passes funds to non-profit state-licensed organizations who oversee local foster programs. Foster parents are able to receive subsidies and reimbursement for the additional expenses of caring for a foster child.

Who Can Be a Foster Parent?

In order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of foster children, there are qualifications a person must meet before becoming a foster parent. While state law can vary on specifics, these requirements generally fall into two categories: logistical concerns like if the person is over 21 years, has a regular source of income, adequate space for the child(ren), and a clean criminal record; and personal concerns like the potential foster parent’s maturity, dependability, flexibility, and past experience with children.

Most states require prospective foster parents to submit to a home assessment of all family members and some training or counseling sessions prior to placing a foster child in a home. How long a child remains in foster care depends on many issues: how quickly the child can be adopted or be returned to his or her family, whether the foster parents want to adopt the child, or when the child is emancipated or reaches the age of majority (18 in most states).

Legal Help for Foster Care

The foster care process can be complicated, and deciding to be a foster parent can be a serious emotional and legal decision. A knowledgeable family law attorney may be able to provide you with further answers to your questions and inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities as a foster child or a foster parent.