Sometimes a child will come into foster care on what is expected to be a short-term fostering placement, but events make it impossible for the child to return home. Sometimes a family decides to long-term foster a child instead of adopting him because they anticipate that they will need a high level of support for many years and want to be sure of access to it. Sometimes an older child will come into foster care and be adamant about not wanting to be adopted.

Any of these reasons can lead to long-term or permanent fostering. That is, the child remains in care until reaching legal adulthood. Ideally, a child will stay in the same home for the whole time, but unfortunately, many children get moved from one placement to another every few years or even months.

A stable long-term foster placement can seem very much like an adoption to the child and foster parents, but there is no real security because “permanent” fostering is generally not considered the best option by social services. Many long-term foster parents maintain their relationship with the children they have cared for after they grow up.

Although the foster care subsidy stops at 18 (sometimes replaced by other allowances for people who are unable to live independently), long-term foster parents may have their adult foster children still living at home, just as if they were biological or adopted, because the parent-child relationship of love and care has become permanent, transcending the legal technicalities. But foster children will not inherit if you die intestate nor do they classify as your children in your will. If you, as a foster parent, want your foster children to inherit, they must be unambiguously named in your will.

In recent years, the US has seen a number of kinship applications for long-term or “permanent” foster care, often called “relative foster care.” In these cases, a child’s relatives have undertaken or want to undertake his or her care, but the financial burden is unmanageable. With the assistance of foster parent care allowances, the child can remain within the family. There are few such formalized programs.