In situations where family members cannot be identified or are not able to care for children, full-time foster care with a nonrelative is another form of alternative family care. Foster care varies widely throughout the world. In some places it is a growing, positive alternative to placement in an orphanage. In other places, foster care is rare or formal foster care is a concept that has not yet been introduced.
Formal foster care is typically authorized and arranged by an administrative or judicial authority, which provides oversight of the family on a regular basis to make sure that the child’s needs are being met. Caregivers often receive some form of support and access to services, including, for example, a small stipend or assistance with food and a child’s education. Proper screening of foster parents is crucial to providing a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for a child. After a child is placed with a foster family, ongoing monitoring by a social worker can ensure that the child is adjusting, the foster family is supported, and the child is well cared for and not mistreated. Foster parents can benefit from specific training, for example, in children’s developmental needs or caring for children who have experienced trauma.
Informal fostering is common in many regions of the world. This often occurs when a child is placed in the care of a trusted neighbor or community member. Informal foster care arrangements hold many of same benefits and risks of informal kinship care and can similarly benefit from family-strengthening services and support.
Both informal and formal foster care can be short-term or long-term, or in some cases permanent. Foster care may be used temporarily for a child who has been removed from a dangerous situation while efforts at reunification or placement of the child with alternative family are made. In some cases it may serve as a preadoption placement, often called foster-to-adopt. In some cultures and countries, especially where adoption is not currently legally recognized, foster care can serve as a permanent family placement.
The local church can play a role in helping raise up foster families, even partnering with judicial authority in screening and assisting in proper monitoring.