Overview of Foster Care in the United States

While many people in the United States have heard of foster care, there are some misconceptions of what it is and how it works. I want to set some of the myths straight as well as explain what foster care is to those who are not sure.

Primarily, foster care provides temporary homes to kids whose parents cannot care for them. It may be because the child is orphaned, abandoned, neglected, abused, or have parents serving time in prison. A social worker will try to place the child with relatives. If that is not possible, then the child will be placed in a non-relative foster home.

Foster homes are families in the community who care for the child, making them a part of the family for however long they may stay. The foster parents are licensed and the home is inspected on a regular basis. While the social worker, court appointed advocate, and the judge make the legal decisions for the child, the foster family takes care of the day-to-day needs. They get the child ready for school in the mornings, fix them their favorite meal, tuck them into bed at night, etc. The county reimburses the foster family a certain amount for things like food and clothes for the foster child. Foster homes provide a family environment for the child as an alternative to an institution like an orphanage.

The parents still have rights to their child. While working to fix whatever the problem was, they get scheduled visits with their child. There are regular court dates when the parents and social workers show what progress the parents have made. When the judge sees that the parents have done enough according to the law, he will order the child be returned to them.

Foster care is temporary. It may be that the relatives need a couples days to prepare for the child staying with them. It may be the parents have to finish serving their prison sentence. Most of the time it is more complicated, though.

It may come to the point where the parents cannot do or refuse to do what is needed. The judge and social workers cannot return the child until minimum legal standards are met. Social services gives the parents plenty of time to fix the situation and services to help them with their efforts. Eventually, though, it comes time to decide where the child will live permanently.

When this happens, there is a trial for Terminating Parental Rights (abbreviated TPR in the foster care world. Look at that, you just learned some foster care slang!). The parents may decide to sign away their rights to their child or go through the trial to prove they can parent. At the end of the trial a judge or jury decides if the child is returned or the parents have their rights terminated.

When the parents no longer have rights to their child, social services looks for the child to be adopted. First there is a search for relatives to see if they will adopt the child. If not, the foster family might adopt the child. Sometimes, however, there is no adoptive home for the child. The foster child remains in foster care until someone adopts them or they turn 18. When they turn 18, the state is no longer in charge of their care (this is referred to as “aging out of the system” or “aging out”).

So that is a big simplification of the complex world of foster care. And before someone starts yelling at me like “you said foster parents! Single people can foster too!” and “yeah, that is how it is supposed to go, but what about…” I KNOW, I know. This is a simplified overview where I tried to cover as much as I could while making it as easy to understand as I could.

But seriously, if I missed something, let me know. And if something isn’t clear or you have a clearer way to explain it, help me out!

Thanks listening friends.

This post was on my “to-do” list, but Arpita’s question bumped it up to be published sooner. Thanks Arpita!


3 thoughts on “Overview of Foster Care in the United States

  1. That was really an excellent and concise description, Rachel. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    I know you’ve got your hands full at the moment, but when you have the change, I have another question for you. Back when I was a TSS, I was a little to shy to ask if it’s possible to only foster children whose parental rights have been terminated. I think I’d be much more comfortable if all that was already decided. After watching my clients yoyo from foster care to home and back, I don’t know if I could take it any more. On the other hand, I really do hope to be able to adopt someday, especially the teens! It’s such a horrible tragedy to age out of the system without ever finding a permanent loving home! I really hope and pray that God gives me the opportunity to do something about that someday!

    God bless you, Rachel. Thank you for this wonderful and insightful blog! Audrey

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I am glad it is understandable. Good question too. The short answer is yes, you can adopt waiting children and/or be licensed “foster-to-adopt” for children whose parents have had their rights terminated or it is close to that.I’ll write a post with more details in a couple weeks, ok?
      Your heart for hurting kids reminds me of how God often gives us passions for certain things that He does use (eventually!).Keep praying!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Rachel. I think foster-to-adopt would be something I’d really love once we get to the other side of mom’s health crisis. Wasn’t it you who just wrote reminding us that “life won’t always be this way”? Well, once things are no longer this way, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about going through a crisis, and I hope and pray to have the opportunity to help some kids through theirs. In the mean time, the more information you want to share, the better. Hopefully someday soon I’ll be putting it to go use. 🙂 God bless you. I hope things are settling into more a of a routine on your end!



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