Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home (residential child care community, treatment center, etc.), or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a "foster parent" or with a family member approved by the state. The placement of the child is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. The institution, group home or foster parent is compensated for expenses unless with a family member.
Foster children in Canada are known as permanent wards, (crown wards in Ontario). A ward is someone, in this case a child, placed under protection of a legal guardian and are the legal responsibility of the government. Census data from 2011 counted children in foster care for the first time, counting 47,885 children in care. The majority of foster children – 29,590, or about 62 per cent – were aged 14 and under. The wards remain under the care of the government until they "age out of care." All ties are severed from the government and there is no longer any legal responsibility toward the youth. This age is different depending on the province.
Family-based foster care is generally preferred to other forms of out of home care.] Foster care is intended to be a short term solution until a permanent placement can be made. In most states, the primary objective is to reconcile children with the biological parent(s). However, if the parent(s) is unable or unwilling to care for the child, then the first choice of adoptive parents is a relative such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent, known as kinship care. If no related family member is willing or able to adopt, the next preference is for the child to be adopted by the foster parents or by someone else involved in the child's life (such as a teacher or coach). This is to maintain continuity in the child's life. If neither above option are available, the child may be adopted by someone who is a stranger to the child.
Especially egregious failures of child protective services often serve as a catalyst for increased removal of children from the homes of biological parents. An example is the brutal torture and murder of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, a British toddler who died in London Borough of Haringey, North London after suffering more than 50 severe injuries over an eight-month period, including eight broken ribs and a broken back. Throughout the period of time in which he was being tortured, he was repeatedly seen by Haringey Children's services and NHS health professionals. Haringey Children's services already failed ten years earlier in the case of Victoria Climbie. In the time since his death, in 2007, cases have reached a record rate in England surpassing 10,000 in the reporting year ending in March 2012.
Children in foster care have a higher incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In one study, 60% of children in foster care who had experienced sexual abuse had PTSD, and 42% of those who had been physically abused met the PTSD criteria. PTSD was also found in 18% of the children who were not abused. These children may have developed PTSD due to witnessing violence in the home. (Marsenich, 2002).
Three out of 10 of the United States homeless are former foster children. According to the results of the Casey Family Study of Foster Care Alumni, up to 80 percent are doing poorly—with a quarter to a third of former foster children at or below the poverty line, three times the national poverty rate. Very frequently, people who are homeless had multiple placements as children: some were in foster care, but others experienced "unofficial" placements in the homes of family or friends.
Many studies have shown that there are a few factors that have seemingly played a role in the success of foster youth making it to and graduating from a college or university. While having financial resources for foster youth is a huge help, there are other components to look at. Beginning with having support for these youth at the high school level. In order for foster youth to obtain a college degree, they must enroll at a university first.
Children in the child welfare system have often experienced significant and repeated traumas and having a background in foster homes—especially in instances of sexual abuse—can be the precipitating factor in a wide variety of psychological and cognitive deficits it may also serve to obfuscate the true cause of underlying issues. The foster care experience may have nothing to do with the symptoms, or on the other hand, a disorder may be exacerbated by having a history of foster care and attendant abuses. The human brain however has been shown to have a fair degree of neuroplasticity. and adult neurogenesis has been shown to be an ongoing process.