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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 Backstory 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.
- 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.
- Sabrina and Daphne (The Sisters Grimm) are both in the foster system after their parents' dissapearance.
Live Action Television
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kate, and presumably many of the other Chimera, in Yosh!