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Foster care is a system by which adults care for minor children who are not able to live with their biological parents. In the United States, many states have provisions for voluntary or involuntary foster care. Voluntary foster care may be in circumstances where a parent is unable or unwilling to care for a child. For instance, a child may have behavioral problems requiring specialized treatment or the parent might have a problem. Involuntary foster care may be implemented when a child is removed from the normal caregiver for his/her own safety.

Requirements to be a foster parent vary by jurisdiction, as do monetary reimbursement and other benefits which they receive. In some states, foster parents may be single or a couple, younger or older adults, with or without biological children in their home. Often, "empty nesters" whose children have grown up and left the home may choose to take in foster children.

Foster care is intended to be a temporary living situation for children. The goal of foster care is to reunify with their parent or guardian or find another suitable permanent living arrangement. This may include an adoptive home, guardianship, or placement with a relative. At times, the bond that develops during foster care will lead to the foster parents adopting the child. In some instances, children may be placed in a long-term foster placement. For older adolescents, a foster care program may offer education and resources to prepare for a transition to independent living.

Foster care

In the United States, foster home licensing requirements vary from state to state but are generally overseen by the state's Department of Social Services or Human Services.

Children, unable to function in a foster home, usually due to behavioral problems stemming from child abuse and neglect, may placed in Residential Treatment Facilities RTFs or other such group homes meant to treat children with similar backgrounds. The focus of treatment in such facilities is to prepare the child for a return to a foster home, to an adoptive home, or to the biological parents when applicable. However, adoption of children who are considered a special need in foster care is an ongoing social problem .

In Canada a child may become a Crown Ward and placed under the care of the provincial government, usually through a local or regional Children's Aide Society agency. If the crown does not terminate the parent's rights, then the child will remain a permanent crown ward until eighteen years of age. Many children remain permanent crown wards because unlike the U.S. there is no legislation mandating permanency within a specific time period Adoption and Safe Families Act.

Treatment foster care

Treatment foster care is foster care provided for a specific therapetic reasons in a placement with fosterparents specially trained in a particular appraoch

Aging-Out of Foster Care

Nearly 20,000 foster care teens age-out of the foster care system each year. Many of these young adults lack the support and life skills necessary to live on their own. Foster care studies have shown that in just four years after leaving foster care, 25 percent of aged-out youth have been homeless, 42 percent have become parents themselves, fewer than 20 percent are able to support themselves, and only 46 percent have graduated from high school. Aged-out foster care youth are at high risk for substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Recent United States Foster Care Legislation

On November 19, 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a new foster care law The Adoption and Safe Families Act 1997, [1] which dramatically reduced the time children are allowed to remain in foster care before being available for adoption. The new law requires state child welfare agencies to identify cases where aggravated circumstances make permanent separation of child from biological family the best option for the safety and well-being of the child. One of the main components of The Adoption and Safe Families Act ASFA is the imposition of time limits on reunification efforts. In the past, it was common for children to languish in care for years with no permanent living situation identified. They often were moved from placement to placement with no real plan for a permanent home. ASFA requires that state identify a permanent plan for children who enter foster care.


In Canada, a child may become a Crown Ward and be placed under the care of the provincial government, usually through a local or regional agency known as the Children's Aid Society. If the Crown does terminate the parent's rights, then the child will remain a permanent Crown Ward until they reach eighteen years of age. Crown Wards are able to apply for Extended Care through a Society which enables them to receive financial services from the provincial government as long as they remain in school or employed until they are up to twenty-five years of age.

Many children remain permanent Crown Wards and are not adopted as there is no legislation mandating permanency within a specific time period. The amended Child and Family Services Act provides children and young people with the option of being adopted while still maintaining ties to their families.

Canadian Foster Care Organization

A prominent non-profit organization in Canada known as The Foster Care Council of Canada has been started for the purpose of getting Canadians affected by foster care to work together to improve child-welfare services.


Home-based care, which includes foster care, is provided to children who are in need of care and protection. Children and young people are provided with alternative accommodation while they are unable to live with their parents. As well as foster care, this can include placements with relatives or kin, and residential care. In most cases, children in home-based care are also on a care and protection order [2].

In some cases children are placed in home-based care following a child protection substantiation and where they are found to be in need of a safer and more stable environment. In other situations parents may be incapable of providing adequate care for the child, or accommodation may be needed during times of family conflict or crisis.[3]. In the significant number of cases substance abuse is a major contributing factor.

There is strong emphasis in current Australian policy and practice to keep children with their families wherever possible. In the event that children are placed in home-based care, every effort is made to reunite children with their families wherever possible[4].

In the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in particular, but not exclusively, placing the child within the wider family or community is preferred [5]. This is consistent with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle [6].

Respite care is a type of foster care that is used to provide short-term and often regular accommodation for children whose parents are ill or unable to care for them on a temporary basis.[7]. It is also used to provide a break for the parent or primary carer to hopefully decrease the chances of the situation escalating to one which would lead to the removal of the children.

As with the majority of child protection services, states and territories are responsible for funding home-based care. Non-government organisations are widely used, however, to provide these services.[8].

The Centre For Excellence In Child & Family Welfarehas found that in Victoria the number of foster carers is declining while the number of children in care is increasing. This is putting a great strain on the foster care system of the state.

In Victoria, the largest provider of foster care is Anglicare Victoria, providing respite, emergency, long term and short term foster care, disability foster care and teenage foster care. Anglicare Victoria is currently involved in the Victorian Government’s pilot program in a move towards therapeutic approaches to foster care.

Effects of chronic maltreatment & children in foster care

The National Adoption Center found that 52% of adoptable children meaning those children in U.S. foster care freed for adoption had symptoms of attachment disorder. A study by Dante Cicchetti found that 80% of abused and maltread infants exhibited attachment disorder symptoms disorganized subtype. [1] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Children with histories of maltreatment, such as physical and psychological neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, are at risk of developing severe psychiatric problems [2] [3]. These children are likely to develop Reactive Attachment Disorder RAD [4] [5]. These children may be described as experiencing trauma-attachment problems. The trauma experienced is the result of abuse or neglect, inflicted by a primary caregiver, which disrupts the normal development of secure attachment. Such children are at risk of developing a disorganized attachment [4] [6] [7]. Disorganized attachment is associated with a number of developmental problems, including dissociative symptoms [8], as well as depressive, anxiety, and acting-out symptoms [9] [10].

The effects of early chronic maltreatment are seen in various domains and the result is Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which requires a multi-modal approach that directly addresses the underlying causative trauma and which seeks to build healthy and secure relationships with permanent caregivers. These issues require specialized treatment, such as Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy[11][12]

See also


Snygg, D. (1938) The relation between the intelligence of mothers and of their children living in foster homes, Journal of Genetic Psychology 52: 401-6.

  1. Carlson, V., Cicchetti, D., Barnett, D., & Braunwald, K. (1995). Finding order in disorganization: Lessons from research on maltreated infants’ attachments to their caregivers. In D. Cicchetti & V. Carlson (Eds), Child Maltreatment: Theory and research on the causes and consequences of child abuse and neglect (pp. 135-157). NY: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Gauthier, L., Stollak, G., Messe, L., & Arnoff, J. (1996). Recall of childhood neglect and physical abuse as differential predictors of current psychological functioning. Child Abuse and Neglect 20, 549-559
  3. Malinosky-Rummell, R. & Hansen, D.J. (1993) Long term consequences of childhood physical abuse. Psychological Bulletin 114, 68-69
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lyons-Ruth K. & Jacobvitz, D. (1999) Attachment disorganization: unresolved loss, relational violence and lapses in behavioral and attentional strategies. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment. (pp. 520-554). NY: Guilford Press
  5. Greenberg, M. (1999). Attachment and Psychopathology in Childhood. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.). Handbook of Attachment (pp.469-496). NY: Guilford Press
  6. Solomon, J. & George, C. (Eds.) (1999). Attachment Disorganization. NY: Guilford Press
  7. Main, M. & Hesse, E. (1990) Parents’ Unresolved Traumatic Experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status. In M.T. Greenberg, D. Ciccehetti, & E.M. Cummings (Eds), Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention (pp161-184). Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  8. Carlson, E.A. (1988). A prospective longitudinal study of disorganized/disoriented attachment. Child Development 69, 1107-1128
  9. Lyons-Ruth, K. (1996). Attachment relationships among children with aggressive behavior problems: The role of disorganized early attachment patterns. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64, 64-73
  10. Lyons-Ruth, K., Alpern, L., & Repacholi, B. (1993). Disorganized infant attachment classification and maternal psychosocial problems as predictors of hostile-aggressive behavior in the preschool classroom. Child Development 64, 572-585
  11. Becker-Weidman, A., & Shell, D., (2005) Creating Capacity for Attachment, Wood N Barnes, Oklahoma City, OK.
  12. Hughes, D., (2007) Attachment-focused Family Therapy, NY:Norton
  • Chamberlain, P. (1994). Family Connections: A Treatment Foster Care Model for Adolescents With Delinquency. Eugene, OR: Northwest Media Inc.
  • Chamberlain, P. (2003). Treating Chronic Juvenile Offenders: Advances Made Through the Oregon Muliulidimensional Treatment Foster Care Model. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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