We generally think of childhood in terms of the nuclear family. Mom and dad, or just mom or just dad, take care of their kids. But the reality is things don't always work out this way. For any number of reasons, parents sometimes end up in a situation where they can't take care of their children, either temporarily or permanently. What happens then?

Throughout history, the fate of these children has depended wholly on the goodwill of the community. In the past, if extended family, neighbors or strangers didn't step in as surrogate parents, parentless children would be turned out on the streets. Today, this sort of community childcare is institutionalized, but it still relies on the kindness and compassion of individual members of the community.

In this article, we'll examine one of the cornerstones of modern institutionalized childcare -- the foster care system. We'll find out how children enter foster care, how adults sign on as foster parents, and how social services regulates the process. If you've ever wondered how you can help kids in need of a home, this article will get you started by introducing you to the foster care system.