Fosterage, the practice of a family bringing up a child not their own, differs from
adoption Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person's biological or legal parent or parents. Legal adoptions permanently transfer all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from ...
in that the child's parents, not the foster-parents, remain the acknowledged parents. In many modern western societies
foster care Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home (residential child care community, treatment center, etc.), or private home of a state- certified caregiver, referred to as a "foster parent" or with a family me ...
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 Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows on another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists su ...
, whereby influential families cemented political relationships by bringing up each other's children, similar to
arranged marriage Arranged marriage is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are primarily selected by individuals other than the couple themselves, particularly by family members such as the parents. In some cultures a professional matchmaker may be us ...
s, also based on dynastic or alliance calculations. This practice was once common in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.

Fosterage in Scotland

In medieval Highland society there was a system of fosterage among clan leaders, where boys and girls would leave their parent's house to be brought up in that of other chiefs, creating a fictive bond of kinship that helped cement alliances and mutual bonds of obligation. In his '' A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland'' (1775), writer
Samuel Johnson Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709  – 13 December 1784), often called Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. The '' Oxford ...
described the fosterage custom as he saw it practised. 1775 was long past the medieval period, of course. One might also question how much an Englishman with a widely expressed low opinion of Scots who was only in Scotland briefly actually knew about the practice.

Fosterage in Medieval Iceland

Fosterage or "fostering" is frequently referred to in the medieval Sagas of Icelanders. Original family ties and rights of inheritance were not affected, nor was it required for the fostered child to be an orphan or for the biological father to be deceased. Moreover, the fostering of another man's child was regarded as a source of honor to the birth father; and conventionally the fostering party was of inferior social status to the biological father. An exception to this convention is found in Njáls saga, where Njál Thorgeirsson, a very prominent man, fosters Hoskuld, the son of Thrain Sigfusson, after the death of Thrain in battle. Portions of Ireland,
Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a Anglo-Scottish border, border with England to the southeast ...
and the Hebrides were ruled for long periods of time by Norse invaders during the Middle Ages; but it is unknown which culture was the original source of the custom of fosterage.

Literary fosterage

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.{{cite web , url=http://www.libraryireland.com/Brehon-Laws/Fosterage.php, title=Fosterage in Ancient Ireland , publisher=Library Ireland , access-date=2012-06-16

Fosterage in other cultures

There was similar custom in the
Caucasus The Caucasus () or Caucasia (), is a region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, mainly comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and parts of Southern Russia. The Caucasus Mountains, including the Greater Caucasus range, have historicall ...
, called Atalik - :ru:Аталычество.


Further reading

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. http://ecommons.txstate.edu/arp/332

Anglo-Saxon England

*Crawford, Sally. ''Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England''. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1999. Especially pp. 122–38. Family law Scottish culture Anthropology