Another parenting option available through public agencies is foster parenting. Children are placed with foster parents to give birth parents a chance to improve their situations. Birth parents are offered counseling and services during this time. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for a child's living expenses.

In general, the goal of the foster care program is to reunite the child with his or her birth parents, if at all possible, or to place the child with a fit and willing relative. However, there is a growing trend toward freeing children for adoption (terminating the parental rights of the birth parents) to prevent children from spending years without permanency in a foster care system. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) mandates courts to seek termination of parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the past 22 months unless there are extenuating circumstances.

More foster parents are adopting their foster children. This is particularly true for foster children of color or those with special needs. The majority of children adopted from the public foster care system are adopted by their relatives or foster parents. As a result, agency personnel may ask families at the time of application if they want to be only foster parents, only adoptive parents, or foster/adoptive parents. Foster/adoptive parents are willing to be a foster parent while that is the child's need, and they understand that the agency will work to reunite the child with the birth parents or place with relatives. However, if the child is freed for adoption and not able to be placed for adoption with a relative, the foster parents may be given and opportunity to adopt.

For families who can tolerate some uncertainty, foster care is a viable option, especially if they want to adopt a younger child. These families must be able to maturely face the prospect of a child being reunited with birth parents or placed with a relative, feel sincerely that reunification is in the best interest of the child, and be willing to work toward that end, be able and prepared to handle the loss. Individuals considering this option should discuss becoming a foster parent with agency social workers and other foster parents who have adopted their former foster children. For more information, see the Foster Care information page.