We talk a lot in the adoption triad about “fostering” and “foster-to-adopt,” but what do those terms really mean? Children enter the custody of the state for a lot of different reasons. Often, children are referred due to parental neglect or abuse, but they can also be put into state care if parents are arrested, and there is no one to take the children. When children enter into the custody of the state, we call it “foster care” or “entering the system.” Many years ago, U.S. children without parental custodians were sent into large group homes or orphanages; today, the vast majority of foster children reside in individual homes run by adults who are trained and certified as “foster parents.”

To “foster” a child, an adult must undergo rigorous security and background checks, take classes, pass a home study to ensure that living conditions are suitable for children, and eventually become licensed by the state as an official foster carer. When we speak of “fostering” there are a few subcategories within that general term: respite caring, foster-to-adopt, and fostering. Adults licensed to provide respite care generally only have children in their homes for brief periods; they may be called as temporary guardians when permanent foster parents need a break (or, for example, if foster parents have to go out of town and the child is not able to attend with them), or in the few days before a permanent foster home can be located. Those licensed to provide “foster-to-adopt” care are looking to the state to match them with a child that they will eventually legally adopt. These kids have had parental rights severed or relinquished and are waiting for their forever homes. Finally, those who simply “foster” are those who provide that safe home environment for kids who may or may not have had parental ties cut. They may work towards the goal of parental reunification, or they may just provide a home for the child, but with no adoption goal in the future.

Jennifer Galan mothers four kids (one adopted, three biological) all while living the nomadic life of a military wife. She is a strong advocate for open adoptions, education reform, feminism, kindness, and naps. Mostly naps. Her favorite Doctor is number ten, and she is a proud Ravenclaw.