What Is The Difference Between Foster Care and Guardianship?

Parents with ChildFoster care and guardianship are both designed to provide safe and healthy care to children if separation from the birth parent is either voluntary or involuntarily necessary. While adoption permanently severs the legal tie between birth parent and child, guardianship and foster care can allow some level of shared responsibility and parental rights.? There are, however, many differences between the two.

Foster Care

Foster Care is part of a State-funded social program that provides temporary care for a child who cannot live with his or her own family. A child may enter foster care for a number of reasons including neglect, abuse, or a family crisis.? A child with extreme behavioral issues may also enter foster care to supplement parents? efforts and protect the child from endangering him or herself.

A foster home is a temporary solution intended to provide affection, stability and consistency to help a child grow and restore psychological wellbeing.? ?Foster care is not meant to be permanent, so children typically continue to visit their own families until they may be reunited.? While the child is out of the home, services are provided to help facilitate a healthy reunion.

If circumstances prevent a reunion with a child?s birth parents, Social Services will look to family members and other persons in the child?s life to see if a permanent home can be found.? If another suitable opportunity does not exist, a foster family may choose to seek permanence either by adoption or legal guardianship.


Guardianship, as opposed to foster care, is a more permanent solution and is typically used for cases involving relative caregivers.? Kinship care is usually preferred over foster care so that a child is able to maintain relationships with extended family in a safe and familiar environment. If a reunion with birth parents is ruled out, a guardian assumes legal and financial duty until the child reaches the age of 18.? A guardian is assigned primary parental rights and responsibilities for the child?s care, protection and education.? In some cases a probate court may extend guardianship beyond 18 years of age depending on the needs of the child.

A legal guardian has rightful control and can make decisions on behalf of the child, but the child will also maintain a legal connection with his or her birth parents.? Birth parents may retain rights to visitation, access to information, and notice of accidents or serious illness; however, as long as legal guardianship is in effect, the rights of the birth parents are secondary and subject to limitations.

A guardianship arrangement may be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances of the birth parents. Birth parents may request that a guardianship order be vacated and the child be returned to their care. If reunification with a parent is not possible, a legal guardian may choose to adopt the child.

Two Types of Guardianship

There are two types of guardianship situations: subsidized and standby.? Subsidized guardianship may be an option if a family is unexpectedly needed to care for a child (usually when kinship care is possible in lieu of foster care).? Subsidized guardianship provides financial assistance determined by household income of the guardian and the needs of the child.

Standby guardianship, on the other hand, is a planned custody arrangement.? In the event that a birth parent can no longer care for a child, either for physical or mental health reasons, a standby guardian will assume responsibility for a child?s care without interference by the State.? Standby guardianship is often set in place if a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Any situation involving the separation of a child from a parent can get extremely complicated.? If you or someone you know needs help, we highly encourage you to seek expert legal counsel regarding details on foster care, guardianship and/or adoption. ?Sherer Law Firm is experienced and dedicated to protecting families and looking out for the best interests of children.? Please contact us today for more information on these topics.

8 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Foster Care and Guardianship?”

  1. If I have a guardian and I no longer can live with him or my parents to dissolve the guardianship even if they don’t live in the US, and I’m 18 already, can I become a foster child?

    1. Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we are unable to give legal advice in these situations, and guardianship statutes and laws governing the placement of minors in foster homes vary from state to state. A general rule, however, is that the Court only has jurisdiction in these situation for minor children under the age of 18. Once a child turns 18, they become a legal adult and may not be required to live with a foster parent, guardian or parent.

  2. I understand you cannot provide legal advice, so no worries this is just out of curiosity;

    When custody of a child is withdrawn from their parents and given to the state, is that considered foster care? (in a case where child protection services is involved, and the child is NOT placed with a new family) Or is this in its own category? Would it be considered subsidized or standby?


    1. Thank you for your question, Zii. Most often, when a child is placed in state care, the child is usually with a foster parent, or the State will attempt to first locate a relative who is willing and able to care for the child. In either situation, the State still retains “custody” of the child, which includes the ability to remove a child from a foster home or from a relative if necessary. Sometimes, children can also be placed in facilities or group homes versus with foster parents, depending on the needs or age of the child. A lot of this is dependent on the circumstances of the particular case.

  3. How long does a child spend in foster care before they are put up for adoption? I realize states and federal government have different time frame.

    1. Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, there is no set time frame for State Court, as most often Illinois DCFS and the judicial courts will set up service plans for parents. Depending on the parent’s success with his or her service plan will dictate how soon a Court may just enter an Order terminating that parent’s rights. It is only after a parent’s rights have been terminated that a child can be made available for adoption.

  4. What does it take to be a fostering grandmother of my three grandchildren that were placed with me through CPS?

    1. Sarah Sherer-Kohlburn

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, due to Illinois laws, attorneys are not permitted to give legal advice on these online forums. You should consult an attorney in your area for advice on your specific situation.

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