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.
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: there's no shortage of stories about foster children traumatized by being forcibly separated from their loving foster homes and returned to their biological parents. Even when the foster homes aren't abusive, 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.
- 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.
Live Action Television
- 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.
- 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: Crime Scene Investigation.
- 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
- 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.