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This article is about the (sometimes historical) social practice of children being raised by families not their own. For the modern child welfare system of placing children in state custody in the homes of temporary caregivers, see Foster care.

Fosterage, the practice of a family bringing up a child not their own, differs from adoption in that the child's parents, not the foster-parents, remain the acknowledged parents. In many modern western societies foster care can be organised by the state to care for children with troubled family backgrounds, usually on a temporary basis. In many pre-modern societies fosterage was a form of patronage, whereby influential families cemented political relationships by bringing up each other's children, similar to arranged marriages, also based on dynastic or alliance calculations.

This practice was once common in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.[1]

Fosterage in the Hebrides[edit]

In his A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (1775), writer Samuel Johnson described the fosterage custom as he saw it practised.[2]

Literary fosterage[edit]

In Ancient Ireland, ollams taught children either for payment or for no compensation. Children were taught a particular trade and treated like family; their original family ties were often severed.[3]


  1. ^ "Fosterage". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  2. ^ A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland by Samuel Johnson. 1775 edition. Gutenberg text accessed May 23, 2008
  3. ^ "Fosterage in Ancient Ireland". Library Ireland. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 

Further reading[edit]

Medieval Ireland and Wales
Anglo-Saxon England