What is a Ward of the State?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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Ward of the state refers to a person who is under the legal protection of some arm of the government. It could occasionally mean that a specific court protects the ward, and the term "ward of the court" is sometimes used in the same way. Though it’s common to think of unadopted, parentless or abandoned children or foster children as wards of the state, other people may need protection too. These could include those with mental incapacity or people who are imprisoned, since the latter group is technically under the care of the state and has few rights.

Being someone’s ward means being under someone’s care. The ward of the state is essentially under the state’s care through one or more of its agencies. Such wards might receive financial support from the state, should it be necessary. It’s possible for someone to become a ward because of mental incapacity, even if he or she has money. A person with serious mental illness could come under the state’s care in this way and the government would be able to make decisions about distribution of that person’s money to pursue care and to handle expenses.


In other instances, the ward of the state, like the foster child, has no financial resources. Given this, the state may determine where the person lives. This could mean living in foster or group homes until that person becomes an adult. Through the designated agency, the government makes decisions about education of that child, and the child does not have choice in the matter. The state can also frequently make a permanent custody arrangement for the child via adoption. Once the adoption is official, the child is no longer a ward of the state.

A term that is often mentioned in this context is in loco parentis. This is from the Latin and is used in a legal sense to mean in place of parents. The state essentially stands in loco parentis when a child is in its care. With adoption or even foster parenting, the government may appoint others to act in the place of a parent, too.

There are many countries that designate those in need of guardianship as wards of the state, although the title may be different, depending on the region. The responsibilities of the state or country as guardian are also variable: some states provide significant care and others do very little. Laws in each region tend to define the responsibilities of that governing force, but even with the best intentions, a ward of the state may not receive as much individualized care as a person with a loving parent or family members.


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Post 8

Can someone who is ward of the state go back home after feeling better?

Post 7

I was a ward of the state for a while and I want to be emancipated.

The authorities check up on me through every phone I use and trace my whereabouts and even show up in libraries and pose as volunteer librarians. I told them that my plans are to finish high school and to get a real job. But no matter what my choices are they say I can be arrested or put intoa group home for my efforts and decisions where I want to go or if I want a job and an education. I am thiry years old and from Arkansas.

Post 5

I had a friend who was a ward of the state. He mentioned he was one time, but I didn't really consider the implications of what he meant until now, seeing as how I was teenager at the time who didn't think much about these matters.

Post 4

What does this mean? Can I be my own payee if I move out? I'm 28 and I have trouble with my money and sending it but I think I can do it on my own. Please tell me something that will help me become my own payee.

Post 3

In the case of a child being a ward of the state, is foster care always pursued first, or is it more of a default for when a child is not adopted?

I imagine that it would be more beneficial financially for the government if children can be placed in a permanent home.

Post 2

In the case of adults that have mental health issues, is being a ward of the state only considered after it has been found that there are no living family members that will look after the person?

I am curious is to how exhaustive the search is for alternative accommodations for such people, as I know many institutions get large subsidies for their work.

Post 1

Being a ward of the state, notably as a foster child or asylum prisoner, seems to be a popular plot device in a lot of movies. I find that being a ward of the state is often stigmatized by the mainstream media and is laid out as being a terrible condition for the most unlucky in our society.

In reality, I believe that is an unfair portrayal of the system. While there have been cases of neglect under state care, there are also many wonderful programs that are in place to care for those who would otherwise be without any assistance at all.

I worry that all of the negative stereotyping surrounding wards of the state will affect how much funding is allocated for such a necessary service.

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