Understand Foster Care

Understanding Foster Care flowchart

What Is Foster Care?

Caring for vulnerable children

Foster care can include a variety of arrangements in which children receive full-time care outside of their own homes. Today, there are more than 400,000 children in the United States in foster programs.

What foster care looks like

Children enter foster care when their family is going through a crisis or is otherwise unable to care for them.


  • Abuse or neglect
  • Unaddressed behavioral problems
  • Abandonment
  • Incarceration of parents
  • Death of a caregiver

Foster families help keep these kids safe when they’re in vulnerable situations. The time a child spent in foster care can last from less than a month to many years.

People from a variety of backgrounds can become certified to become a foster parent. You may be single, married, widowed, divorced or an empty-nester; and you may own or rent or own your home.

Foster parents must be financially stable as well as successfully complete the required training and background checks. In addition, foster parents should also have a good support system in place such as immediate family, church family or friends.


Full-Time Foster Care: A child lives with your family until they can safely be returned to their home or a permanent alternative, such as adoption, becomes available.

Respite Care: You provide part-time care of another family’s foster children, giving the parents important time to refresh and regroup or meet other obligations.

Kinship: A child is placed in the care of a relative, family friend or somebody with whom they already share a close bond.

The terms:

  • Biological families:  As the name suggests, biological families are ones in which the child or children is born into the family.  Many foster families remain in close contact with biological parents.
  • Kinship families:  These are families where children are living away from biological parents but with family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) or close family friends.  Kinship families may function temporarily or could lead to a long-term solution such as adoption.
  • Foster family:  A child becomes part of the foster care system when it has been determined that they are in an unsafe or neglectful environment.  Placement of a foster child is done through a state or social service agency.  In foster care, the child’s legal guardian (typically) maintains all parental rights for the child. Although these rights are managed by the state, they remain intact unless the child is placed for adoption. Placement with a foster family is considered temporary.
  • Adoptive family:  Adoption is a legal process where full custody and rights are granted to the adoptive parents. Care for the child is entirely the responsibility of the adoptive parent or parents and is considered permanent.  Adoptive parents may adopt children out of the foster care system when parental rights are terminated.  They may also adopt children from agencies that work both domestically and internationally to find children in need of stable homes.
  • Respite families:  Help foster kids by giving temporary respite care. If you are ready to impact the lives of children, but aren’t quite ready for the commitment to become a foster parent, respite care might be just for you! Respite families provide short-term care for children offering temporary relief for the foster parents.

The solution:

Caring for the orphan is a demand of the Gospel. We must open our hearts to see these vulnerable children as our children.  Our parish communities can live the corporal works of mercy through foster care – Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Shelter the Homeless, Give Alms to the Poor — by raising up more loving foster families and increasing our support to them. Even if you are not able to foster at this time, there are many other ways to help! Check out our list of 10 ways to support vulnerable children in foster care.