Foster care provides temporary care for children and youth who are not able to live with their biological parents. When parents are unable, unwilling or unfit to care for a child, the child must be placed in a safe place. They become a ward of the state.​

Children in foster care may live with relatives or with unrelated foster parents. Foster care can also refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.​

How long children stay in foster care depends on their family situation and what options are available in their communities. For some children, their stay in foster care is brief; for others foster care lasts one to three years or, in some cases, longer.

The goal of foster care is to provide children with a safe, nurturing environment while their parents improve their ability to care for their children remove any threats to the child’s safety and well-being from the environment and, ultimately, reunite with their children.


Children are in foster care because they or their families are going through a crisis. Often these children-from babies to teens-have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused or neglected. Foster care is meant to be temporary, until a parent can get back on track, or a relative, guardian or adoptive family agrees to raise a child. By law, children are supposed to have contact with family-their parents and brothers and sisters through regular visits while they are in foster care.


Foster children report that being away from family and familiar surroundings, and not always knowing what’s next, are among the hardest parts of foster care. Too often, children in foster care move from one home to another—or live in group settings such as group homes or residential treatment centers. Frequent moves can make it hard for children to concentrate on school, build friendships and family relationships, heal from abuse, neglect and trauma, and feel secure and loved.

School stability is an important building block for getting a good education. While federal legislation requires agencies to try to keep children in their home schools, that doesn’t always happen.​

A key goal of foster care programs is to ensure that children live in stable families since secure attachment to at least one parenting adult is a crucial child developmental building block. Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children’s connections with their families.


Font of flyer titled Who's In America's Foster Care System


graph showing percentage of children in foster care by age


70% aspire to college, less than 50% graduate from high school.

3% of adults that experienced foster care have a bachelors degree, compared to 27% of all adults

Youth in foster care suffer PTSD at 2x the rate of war vets