Foster care is a system in which children who have become orphaned or were removed from abusive homes are taken care of in a temporary capacity until they are adopted or their custody situation stabilizes. As the Orphanage of Fear has become a Dead Horse Trope, the foster care system has become the new bogeyman of Acceptable Targets. Very, very few characters (especially not main characters) are happily fostered. Their foster parents are always some variety of Abusive Parents, anywhere from "didn't care about the kid except for the money he brought in" to "treats the kid worse than the original abusive situation they escaped from in the first place". And don't expect the Department of Child Disservices to step in on their behalf, either; the kid just gets bounced to some new foster home. In the rare case that the foster parents are kind and caring, they will almost inevitably end up adopting their foster kid, leading to Happily Adopted. Any character who has this pop up in their Back Story will gain some amount of Woobie status, and have a constant struggle with abandonment anxiety. Expect this to be a Freudian Excuse of many a villain as well, especially Serial Killers. Not only is this sadly Truth in Television far too often, the inverse is true too; most Foster parents can provide a very caring, safe environment for abused children, and it can be just as traumatising for the children to be removed from them and sent back to their biological parents all over again. It can be even worse if those biological parents aren't ready to take care of them just yet. The experience of being removed from where you are and taken to a strange place by strange social workers is a lot like being kidnapped, and they have to deal with this repeatedly.
- The Shonan 14 Days arc of Great Teacher Onizuka has Onizuka hiding and working inside the "White Swan" foster care center where it tries to whole-heartly raise several misbehaving but good-at-heart youths (especially some with experience with abusive parents) in a safe environment. A big later issue within the arc is the attempt of politicans and previously mentioned self-centered abusive parents trying to pull the children out of the foster care for their own selfish motivations.
- Clark Kent and Lois Lane had a foster son, Chris, who was Happily Adopted. Arguably doesn't count, however, since he was actually a Kryptonian stranded on Earth and the legal work was actually forged by Batman.
- Pre-reboot, Billy Batson ran away from abusive foster parents and wound up living on the street. (In early stories it was an Evil Uncle.) Since the reboot the dynamic has changed so he lives with a happy foster family and he's the sour one.
- After the events of their miniseries, most of the Runaways ended up in Foster care (except for Molly, who went to an X-Men run orphanage instead). While they were all treated well enough, they all decided that, after what they went through, they really cant go back to normal life. That, combined with the fact that they had all gotten extremely close, inspired them to run away all over again.
- In Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic Prison Island Break, Shadow is revealed to have been a Foster child, having gone through multiple care homes, the final Foster home resulting in him being sexually abused.
- The titular character in The Great Gilly Hopkins is currently in the system.
- In Maggie-Now by Betty Smith, the titular character and her husband are unable to have kids, so she becomes a foster mom for orphans taken in by the church. She can only care for them for a set period of time before they are taken away. Eventually, he husband catches a horrible illness and she is no longer allowed to take in any foster children.
- In The Cheetah Girls books and movies, Dorinda is a foster kid.
- In the German novel Gottes Bodenpersonal: Eine Unwahrscheinliche Liebesgeschichte, the two male protagonists foster a teen boy who has been living on the streets for most of his life. He originally lived on the streets because he didn't want a foster family, suspecting that he would be sexually abused there. He decided that if he was to be sexually abused by adult men, he could as well take money for it, and lived as street prostitute. He met his future foster father by propositioning him, and the polite rejection of this offer and subsequent attempt to help him get out of prostitution was what made him trust the man. No adoption takes place in the course of the novel, which is explained as being due to the stricter regulations on adoption, and the problems a homosexual couple would face.
- Diff'rent Strokes: One of the last episodes of the series, Season 8's "Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown," sees Sam get into a fight with another kid who is a foster child, the fight borne out of the boy's extreme envy and jealousy of Sam's posh life. Willis reminds Sam that he and Arnold could easily have ended up in foster care (either temporarily staying with families or living in group homes), but it was averted when Mr. Drummond took them in and adopted them. By episode's end, Mr. D – who is being featured on a TV series – uses his opportunity to encourage the adoption of older children.
- CSI NY: Stella Bonasera
- Bones: Played straight with Brennan's foster parents who locked her in a trunk for two days for breaking a plate. Averted with Sweets who was abused, only to be adopted by a lovely older couple. Brennan also gets very defensive when people talk about foster kids in a negative light.
- CSI: Miami: Horatio finds out he has a kid who's been bouncing around the Foster system.
- Leverage: Parker, the Classy Cat-Burglar, is implied to have grown up in the system, and this becomes something of a sore issue for her when they foil an adoption scam.
- Hardison, on the other hand, is one of the few happily fostered examples—his foster mom, who he calls Nana, was apparently an extremely positive influence on his life. He's also mentioned learning social skills when he was fostered by door-to-door missionaries.
- Locke in Lost
- Sara Sidle of CSI.
- Stargate SG-1: Daniel Jackson has this as a part of his backstory. Specifically, his parents were killed in a freak accident (which he witnessed) when he was about eight years old, and his only living relative was his maternal grandfather, who refused to take him in because he felt he was too busy to raise a child. Beyond this, the details are unclear — we don't know how his relationships with his foster families were — but based on his relationships later in life he never considered himself to have a family until his team stepped in and filled that role.
- Orphan Black: Sarah and Felix were raised by Mrs. S., Sarah after being an orphan brought in from... "the black."
- The Listener: Toby Logan.
- Ricky from The Secret Life of the American Teenager is a foster kid, but he has very loving and supportive foster parents and he even refers to them as his mom and dad.
- A recurring character type in Home and Away, mainly with members of Sally's family. The inverse also occurred fairly early on, when original character Lynn Davenport left to rejoin her biological parents.
- Rusty Beck in Major Crimes is put in the custody of the protagonist herself after threatening to run away from his latest set of foster parents.
Rusty: They were telling me what to do all day long, like, even what I could eat! And they would turn off the television at nine o'clock. Every night.Sharon: So...you were tortured.
- Hunter on the US version of Queer as Folk: played straight before Hunter ever appears on the show; apparently he ran away from a foster home because he was abused there. He's eventually taken in by Michael and Ben and seems to be happy there, but then this trope is inverted when his mother (who originally lost custody of him because she used drugs and forced him into prostitution) shows up and wants him back, and actually gets custody. Then she screws it up before they've even left the courtroom, by freaking out when she learns that Hunter is HIV-positive, and promptly loses custody again, to Michael and Ben who officially become Hunter's foster parents. From then on, this trope is averted and at the very end of the series, they offer to adopt him when they notice that he's been using their last names on his school books.
- NCIS: Los Angeles has Callen who had been to no less than 37 foster homes over the course of his life.
- Diagnosis: Murder: In later episodes, Dr. Amanda Bentley adopted a child named Dion, who had been abused by his previous foster parents. Dr. Bentley herself was a foster child who was Happily Adopted. A bit of Truth in Television, as actress Victoria Rowell was also a foster child.
- Four of the five kids from The Fosters, with Jesus and Mariana having been subsequently adopted and Stef and Lena planning on adopting Jude and Callie
- Kevin on the US version of Shameless was one when he was younger, which causes him to be eager to subsequently foster a 13 year old girl named Ethel who had been removed from a polygamous cult whose leader had married her at 11 and had sex with her enough times to give her a son
- Emma Swan on Once Upon a Time. Her experience was very negative, and as an adult she starts out prickly and unwilling to form attachments to anyone. She defrosts as the series goes on.
- Ivan from Golden Sun is fostered by Lord Hammet and Lady Layana of Kalay, but he's very happy with them and will destroy anyone who endangers them. It's later revealed that Ivan's birth family were not harmful or dead; they're Jupiter Adepts from Contigo who predicted his need to be living in Kalay at a certain time, and arranged things so he would be where he needed to be. In Dark Dawn, it's noted that he remained in Kalay and helped the refugees from Vale settle there.
- Adam Bentley, a minor character from Criminal Case, is revealed to have come from the foster system before becoming a socialite, and knew the victim from Case 50 from his old foster home.
- Kate, and presumably many of the other Chimera, in Yosh!
- Red in Reds Planet. The foster home is not bad, she's just adament that she doesn't need to be adopted, because she's not an orphan. She also thinks that she has unlimited license to run away. The sheriff breaks it to her that after the third time, they won't just dump her in another home.
- Toyman's first appearance in Superman: The Animated Series gives this as his backstory — Toyman's father took a loan from gangster Bruno Mannheim, was forced to allow his toy factory to be used as a front for Mannheim's criminal enterprises, and took the fall when the police closed in. Toyman's criminal motif is a twisted way of reclaiming his lost childhood.
- On South Park, Kenny and his sister are removed from their drunken, drug-dealing parents and sent to a foster home with about a dozen other children, headed by a pair of abusive, fundamentalist agnostics (no, that's not a typo). Cartman later frames his mom for dealing drugs, under the false impression that he'll be taken in by some rich family, and winds up in the same place. The Department of Child Disservices is actually semi-competent here, with their case worker horrified when he realizes how bad the place is.