Families come in many different shapes and sizes. Some families feature two parents and lots of children. Others may include only one parent and one child only. Still others may consist of close relatives, step-parents, or a wide variety of other caretakers.

No matter which people make up your family, there's one thing that's certain: children need responsible adults in their lives to take care of them while they're growing up. Unfortunately, birth parents are sometimes not able to fulfill those duties for a variety of reasons.

Personal tragedies may result in one or more parents dying at an early age. Some children experience abuse and neglect. Psychological and physical illnesses may also make it impossible for parents to be the people their children need them to be.

What happens when parents are unable to raise their children? Without parents to look after them, children could easily find themselves in a position of danger, unable to fend for themselves to provide basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter.

While some children may slip through the cracks and become homeless, many instead find themselves in the foster care system. The word "foster" means helping someone grow and develop. In the United States, the foster care system seeks to provide a temporary solution for children who need adults to give them a safe place to grow and develop.

Foster parents are people who volunteer to help out children in need. Although they're not the birth parents of the children they help, they take these children into their homes and provide for their needs as long as necessary.

The length of time a child spends with a foster family can vary greatly. It could be one night, a few months, or even years, depending upon the circumstances causing the need for foster care. If it appears that birth parents will never be able to resume their parental duties, children in foster care may eventually be adopted by their foster family or another family.

Becoming part of a foster family can be a stressful time for any child. Fortunately, the people who volunteer to become foster parents are checked out thoroughly to ensure that they can provide a safe, stable home environment. They also receive special training that helps them to assist their foster children with the unique adjustments they must make.

When parents can't provide a safe environment for their children, the foster care system can place those children with foster families who will give them the love and care they deserve. Each year in the United States, over 800,000 children come in contact with the foster care system. On average, children stay nearly three years in the foster care system before being reunited with their parents or adopted.

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