What is Foster Care?

Foster care is a safety net for children who are being abused, neglected or otherwise unable to be cared for properly in their current home environment.

The children who enter foster care are typically there for one of three main reasons: abuse, neglect or dependency. Abuse is the reason that will usually come to mind first when mentioning foster care, and it can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Neglect occurs when a child’s basic needs are not being met, such as food, clothing, medical care, education and a safe home environment. Dependency means a child has no one to care for them for reasons like parental incarceration, abandonment or even death. There are also instances when a parent is incapable of caring for a child due to mental health or substance abuse issues. No matter what the reason is for a child entering foster care, you can be certain that it is not the child’s fault. Unavoidably, these children sometimes come with issues and special needs because of the trauma and environments they have been exposed to.

When child protective services determines that abuse, neglect or dependency has taken place, a court process begins which involves the local department of social services. The parents lose physical and legal custody of their children temporarily, but they maintain many of their parental rights. Social services becomes the children’s legal custodian and places the children in the most appropriate foster home available, sometimes with a relative. Social services is responsible for the children’s wellbeing and for providing services to both the children and the parents for the best outcome.

When children enter foster care, in most cases, the plan is for reunification with the biological family.

This means that the children are placed in a temporary foster home until their home situation has improved and they can safely return. The courts will order a plan for the biological parents to work in order for their children to be placed back into their custody. When the parents have satisfactorily met the court’s requirements, the children return home. This is the desired outcome of most all children who enter the foster care system.

The biological parents are given at least a year to work on their rehabilitation plan, and sometimes longer if progress is being made. The plan may include securing a safe and appropriate home environment or a job to financially support their family. It could also mean going to substance abuse rehabilitation and passing drug testing. Parenting classes are often ordered as well as visits with the children to maintain attachments and prove the ability to interact and care for the children appropriately.

In the meantime, the children are living in a licensed foster home while their day to day needs are met by their foster parents. The children are physically in the foster parent’s home, but social services maintains custody of the children and are responsible for the major decisions made for them. The children will be making visits with their biological parents regularly. The role of the foster parents is to provide a safe, stable home for the children in their care, meet their daily needs and assist with the reunification process. For more information on Becoming a Foster Parent visit our page.

On occasion, parents fail to make progress on their court ordered plan for reunification. When this happens other plans must be made for the children to have a permanent home, since foster care is a temporary situation. This plan change oftentimes includes adoption by the foster parents, but can also mean being cared for by an extended family member, like a grandparent, aunt or uncle. For more information about Adoption from Foster Care and Foster to Adopt click here.

The overarching goal for all children who enter foster care is a safe and permanent home.


Check out these pages:

Becoming a Foster Parent


Adoption & Foster Care Resources