There are two very unfortunate misperceptions about foster parenting: One is that it is somehow inferior to adoption, and the other is that there is only one kind of meaningful foster care: long-term.
Foster parenting and adoption serve different functions. Fostering requires special qualities. It is not an alternative for people who aren't "good enough" to adopt! In many ways foster care is more challenging than adoption: the children may be more troubled, especially at arrival (although it is definitely not true that foster children are all irreparably damaged or delinquents), working closely with birthfamilies can be difficult, social services have parental authority, and there is the constant knowledge that you will probably lose the children to their birthfamilies or another foster or adoptive family.
"Foster care" covers a number of different ways of caring for children. Some might be possibilities for people who are not planning to adopt, for example, because of age. Some are possible ways for people who aren't yet ready to adopt to get experience with caring for children. Some types of foster care are very short-term; some offer specialized levels of care; some are longer-term, and some are designed to lead to adoption when and if the child's biological parents lose their parental rights. And in some states (New York, for example), those hoping to adopt through their state foster care system must first be licensed as foster parents.
Foster children who are taken or relinquished into foster care are among the most vulnerable and at-risk children in our society, and there is a critical shortage of qualified foster parents in the United States (and in other countries as well). Perhaps an understanding of the types of foster care available will encourage more of us to find ways to bring these children into our lives.
Credits: This article includes contributions by Roger Ridley Fenton