What is a Ward of the State?

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Sometimes in life, things don’t always go as planned. As a result, a child can end up without parents who are able to care for it, or a person can end up mentally incapacitated to the point where they are unable to care for themselves. In either case, the government will step in.

A ward of the state is the name for an individual who has been placed under the care of the government. While the individual is usually a child, adults can also become a ward of the state if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Read on to learn all about what it means to be a ward of the state and how these individuals are cared for.

What Does it Mean to Be a Ward of the State?

If you or someone you know has been labeled as a ward of the state, this means that your local government, typically the state government, has been put in charge of your care. Being in charge of your care means they will not only make financial decisions for you but also legal and medical decisions.

Typically it is minors who are wards of the state because they are not old enough to take care of themselves when a situation occurs where they would be required to. As a result, the government has to take care of them. Because government officials can’t literally house all of the orphaned children, the United States has developed a foster system where children who are wards of the state are placed in homes with guardians or foster parents.

These homes belong to people who have passed extensive background checks and are typically people who are willing to take on more than one child at a time. Usually, a ward of the state will be placed in a home in the same state they became a ward of, but occasionally they will be taken to another state if they are in danger.

Because the child is under the age of 18, they have no say in where they stay or the education they receive. Sometimes the kids will be adopted, at which point they will no longer be a ward of the state, and their adoptive parents will be the ones to make decisions for them.

Adults who become wards of the state are typically placed in adult care facilities like nursing homes or psychiatric hospitals. Like the children who become wards of the state, the government gets to decide what happens to these adults as well as where they live. Because only adult individuals who are mentally incompetent become wards of the state, these people usually need lots of assistance to go through life–which is how they became a ward in the first place.

How Does a Child Become a Ward of the State?

A child becomes a ward of the state when the government believes the child's parents can no longer care for him or her. This may happen because one or both parents die or because the child is being abused or neglected at home.

Sometimes when this happens, a child may become a ward of the state but still get to live with a nearby family member like an aunt or uncle. If that individual wants to become a permanent guardian of the child, they will have to apply to adopt the child. For the time being, the government remains in control of where the child goes to school and other important decisions in the child’s life. The length of the adoption process varies from state to state.

How Does an Adult Become a Ward of the State?

Adults become wards of the state when a judge finds them incapable of making their own decisions. This may be because the decisions the individual has made may have caused them to be injured or injured others in the past.

For example, an elderly woman with severe Alzheimers may become a ward of the state after she leaves the stove on in her apartment building, causing it to burn down. While the state will attempt to contact family, if she doesn’t have any that can take her in, she may become a ward of the state in order to keep her and others safe.

Sometimes, even if an individual has a family, they may still become a ward of the state because their family is unable to care for them. For example, a child with a severe mental disturbance may grow to be larger than his mom. As a result, she cannot lift or carry him around to provide the care he needs. The state may step in, making him a ward of the state and placing him in a home where people are trained to care for individuals with his condition.

There are also less severe cases where an individual may have money but be incapable of making day-to-day decisions on their own. For example, a woman with premature dementia may frequently forget to pay bills or go grocery shopping. In these cases, the woman will still be named a ward of the state, and someone will be appointed to watch over her and ensure her bills are paid and that she has food to eat.

Is Becoming a Ward of the State a Bad Thing?

While it might sound scary to read about children and individuals who are being cared for by the government, oftentimes, becoming a ward of the state is a last resort, and the people who become wards of the state truly need it.

Once someone becomes a ward of the state, they will find themselves able to receive help when needed, as well as have financial protection from those who may be trying to scam someone with a diminished mental capacity or use them for other purposes.

In child ward of the state cases, the kids can also often receive benefits like loans for college when they grow older–should they desire to continue their education. They also typically benefit from getting to live in a home that was more stable than the one they lived in with their parents.

Who Takes Care of a Ward of the State?

As previously mentioned, the actual government workers labeling children and adults wards of the state don’t actually take care of them. Rather they place them in a home or with a caretaker, depending on what the judge rules.

Most foster children are placed with a caretaker, such as an alternative guardian or a foster parent. Sometimes, if there isn’t a foster home available, the child will be placed in a group home, which is a bit like a modern-day orphanage. Most foster children are placed with someone called a guardian, and this individual is responsible for helping the child make choices on a daily basis.

Adults who become wards of the state, however, face a little bit of a different situation. For those who just need help paying bills and buying groceries, they will be assigned what is known as a conservator. This is an individual who takes care of the financial health of the individual, but the individual continues to live in their own home.

For those who need more in-depth care, their current situation must be considered. For example, if an elderly woman becomes a ward of the state and she already lives in a nursing home, very little will likely change. She may be appointed a nurse to help with extra tasks, but she likely won’t move. If an adult becomes a ward of the state due to mental incapacity, then they may be moved from where they lived before into a home that can address their needs.

Overall, what will happen to an adult ward of the state largely depends on their individual condition as well as their circumstances when they become a ward of the state. In most cases, an individual becomes a ward of the state as a last resort, and therefore, they usually already live in a nursing home or other home to provide them support.

What is a Ward of the Court?

While a ward of the court is similar to a ward of the state, as both are being cared for by the government, the main difference is that a ward of the court is usually an incarcerated criminal. When someone is sent to jail, they are provided for just as wards of the state are. The manner in which they are provided for is very different, however, which is why they are called wards of the court.

Wards of the court are incarcerated, meaning they are in jail or prison and will not be placed in a home like a ward of state would be. You will likely never run into anyone who states they are a ward of the court, as this term is used infrequently, and wards of the court don’t wander the streets.

Reference Legal Explanations

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  • "What is a Ward of the State?". Legal Explanations. Accessed on May 22, 2024. https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-ward-of-the-state/.

  • "What is a Ward of the State?". Legal Explanations, https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-ward-of-the-state/. Accessed 22 May, 2024

  • What is a Ward of the State?. Legal Explanations. Retrieved from https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-ward-of-the-state/.