What Are Foster Families?

Host families offer temporary care to children without any implications about legally becoming the child's parents. This is the main difference with respect to adoption.
What Are Foster Families?
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 03 January, 2019

Foster families provide temporary care to a child or adolescent. These families commit themselves to protecting and sustaining the child physically, emotionally, psychologically and economically until he or she can return to their biological family.

Foster care represents a temporary protective measure for minors in helpless situations. It keeps children in a family environment until their own family or close relatives can take care of them. If this proves impossible, an unrelated foster family takes in the child.

When parents cannot take care of their children, the government protects them. To cover their needs, juvenile centers may care for them. However, over time researchers have discovered that children needed to feel like part of a family for their proper development. The first foster systems originated this way.

Foster families function as guardian figures, taking care of children until their family situation resolves. Foster care doesn’t imply that the people who take in children legally become their parents. This represents the main difference between adoption and foster care.

How foster care works

Foster families must integrate children into their life and provide them with personal, material, spiritual and educational development until they can return to their biological families.

This reunion occurs when the biological parents receive training on how to take care of their children and show that they’ve overcome the conflict or situation that resulted in their separation.

Foster care allows children to maintain a link with their biological family. This means they can see their parents while the foster family protects them until they can live together again. It doesn’t make them the children’s parents.

Regarding foster care, laws regulate the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the process. Legislation also guarantees respect for the children, their biological families and their cultural identities.

What Are Foster Families?

Foster care has different characteristics compared to institutionalization. The child benefits from personalized attention and development within a family space. This represents a vital and enriching experience for all involved.

This coexistence will continue until the conditions that caused the separation are restored. On the other hand, a new exit strategy for leaving foster care could occur, such as adoption.

Requirements for foster families

Diverse conditions give rise to the need for foster families, such as economic difficulties, health concerns or conflicts between parents. Therefore, the resolutions may be different.

For example, children may go into care for only a few days per week if the biological parents’ work doesn’t allow them to remain with them during that time.

“Fostering is framed by laws that regulate the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the process.” 

Guardians can also be established for short periods of time in response to a transitory need or an emergency. This occurs when the parents cannot take care of their child during a certain period, such as during hospital admission.

Finally, the most common type of foster situation is long-term guardianship. This applies in cases where it isn’t possible to predict when the child or infant can return to live with his or her biological family.

Fostering a child: a difficult choice

Married couples maintain the best position to welcome a foster child. Couples with children similar in age to the one they will foster receive preference. After that, preference goes to married couples who don’t have children, and lastly, single individuals.

Social services and medical teams prepare, evaluate and support caregivers. Their collaboration is key, because this special experience must be undertaken with the support and assistance of professionals.

Fostering a child with a difficult history is wonderful, but it represents a challenge. The child may feel strange in the foster family or behave in a questionable manner.

What Are Foster Families?

In that sense, it’s important to point out that the children’s main fear is losing their biological families. Of course, since they don’t know their foster families well, they don’t know how much they can count on them. That’s why it’s important to remain flexible.

The convenience of this system

The foster system allows children of all ages to grow up in a family different from their own but just as hospitable and supportive, whenever they need it and for a certain period of time. Based on these experiences, foster care proves a possible and feasible system.

This choice provides both short- and long-term benefits. A lack of adequate care during early childhood can have serious and sometimes permanent consequences on the child’s development. Thanks to foster families, many children have a happier childhood and a better future.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.