Foster child

What is a foster child?

A foster child is someone under age 18 who is being cared for by state-authorized caregivers who are not the child’s natural or adoptive parents. The placement of the child in a foster home is arranged by the state or a social service agency.

Deeper definition

Foster children usually enter the foster care system through a government social services agency, which places them with foster families. The goal of foster care is to provide a safe, stable household for children until they are adopted or age out of the system. Foster care is a temporary arrangement to protect children whose birth parents, for whatever reason, are unable to care for them. Some foster children have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Some children are designated as foster children for a limited time. If parental rights are terminated, this designation may become permanent and change only after adoption or the child reaches 18. A biological parent or relative may petition the court at any time to restore their rights as caregivers to the child and have the foster child designation removed.

After age 18, a child is no longer eligible for foster care. If the child has not been adopted by 18, he or she is “emancipated” from the system. This is also known as “aging out” of the system. Emancipated foster youth may be eligible for state money to help with housing, college, transportation and other needs.

Foster child example

A state child protective services agency removes 7-year-old Johnny from his parents’ home because they are abusing drugs and have frequent run-ins with the law. Johnny’s parents have not been taking him to school or giving him basic care, such as regular meals and clean clothes. Neighbors have called police several times about suspected drug activity at the home.

Reports by Johnny’s school and local police prompt a visit to his home by a state social worker. The social worker finds that Johnny is being neglected by his drug-abusing mother and that his father is in jail, awaiting trial on felony drug and weapons charges.

The state removes Johnny from his parents’ home and places him in a foster home after discovering that there are no relatives to take him in. Later, a court terminates parental rights for Johnny’s mom and dad. Johnny stays with his foster family, which eventually adopts him. After the adoption is complete, Johnny is taken out of the foster care system and legally becomes a member of his new adoptive family.

Considering an adoption? Read about the costs associated with the process before getting started.

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