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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
  • Anderson, Katharine. "Urth Noe e Tat. The Question of Fosterage in High Medieval Wales." North American Journal of Welsh Studies 4:1 (2004): 1-11.
  • Charles-Edwards, Thomas. Early Irish and Welsh Kinship. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  • Davies, Sir Robert Rees. "Buchedd a moes y Cymry. The manners and morals of the Welsh." Welsh History Review 12 (1984): 155-79.
  • Fitzsimons, Fiona. "Fosterage and Gossiprid in late medieval Ireland. Some new evidence." In Gaelic Ireland, c.1250-c.1650. Land, lordship and settlement, ed. by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards and Elizabeth FitzPatrick. Dublin: Four Courts, 2001. 138-49.
  • Jaski, Bart. "Cú Chulainn, gormac and dalta of the Ulstermen." Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 37 (1999): 1-31.
  • McAll, C. "The normal paradigms of a woman's life in the Irish and Welsh texts." In The Welsh law of women, ed. by Dafydd Jenkins and Morfydd E. Owen. Cardiff, 1980. 7-22.
  • Ní Chonaill, Bronagh. "Fosterage. Child-rearing in medieval Ireland." History Ireland 5:1 (1997): 28-31.
  • Parkes, Peter. "Celtic Fosterage: Adoptive Kinship and Clientage in Northwest Europe." Society for Comparative Study of Society and History 48.2 (2006): 359-95. PDF available online.
  • Smith, Llinos Beverley. "Fosterage, adoption and God-parenthood. Ritual and fictive kinship in medieval Wales." Welsh History Review 16:1 (1992): 1-35.
  • Parkes, Peter. "Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Hindu Kush. Milk Kinship Allegiance in Former Mountain Kingdoms of Northern Pakistan." Comparative Studies in Society and History 43:4 (2001): 36.
  • Parkes, Peter. "Fostering Fealty. A Comparative Analysis of Tributary Allegiances of Adoptive Kinship." Comparative Studies in Society and History 45 (2003): 741–82.
  • Parkes, Peter. "Fosterage, Kinship, and Legend: When Milk was Thicker than Blood?" Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2004): 587–615.
  • Parkes, Peter. "Milk Kinship in Southeast Europe. Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Caucasus and the Balkans." Social Anthropology 12 (2004): 341–58.
  • McCutcheon, James, 2010. "Historical Analysis and Contemporary Assessment of Foster Care in Texas: Perceptions of Social Workers in a Private, Non-Profit Foster Care Agency". Applied Research Projects. Texas State University Paper 332.
Anglo-Saxon England
  • Crawford, Sally. Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1999. Especially pp. 122–38.