There are four ways children can leave foster care for permanent homes: Reunification with birth parents, adoption, guardianship and placement with relatives.

Guardianship is a legal process that gives decision making power to a designated caregiver. By assuming guardianship of a child, adults can make decisions related to that child’s academic, health care, and personal needs. Unlike adoption, however, guardianship does not terminate the legal rights of parents, who may continue to play a role in their child’s life.

Guardianship is most frequently used when relative caregivers wish to provide a permanent home for a child while maintaining his or her relationships with extended family members.

In 2021, 12% of all children who exited foster care — 24,906 kids — were discharged to guardianship, a substantial increase from 3% in 2000.