What is the term for this, if there is such a term?

For example, if you're a parent, you refer to your offspring as a 'child' and the child refers to you as their 'parent'.

I am asking because I need to have a term for the relationship of a guardian to the child. For a child, they can refer to this person as their 'guardian' but the other way around (guardian to child) doesn't seem to have a term.

What should I call it?

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    @MattBackslash No. The institution of godparents is a purely religious one, though it may have bearing on legal guardianship, or be used as a way for parents to designate who they desire to take legal guardianship in the event of their deaths. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 13:42
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    The correct answer to this question would depend on the nature of the guardianship (ie is it a formal or informal arrangement? is it legally binding? etc), and also the country in which the arrangement has been made, because terms like "foster parent" have different legal meanings in different countries.
    – Simba
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 14:05
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    @HopelessN00b depends on the society. The French term for godfather is "parrain" (religious or civil) (translate as "sponsor"), and the notion of civil sponsor exists, though it does not come with rights or obligations.
    – njzk2
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:30
  • 4
    Has the guardian legally adopted the child? If they have, then 'son', 'daughter', 'child' would be fine. You'd just be omitting the "adopted" for brevity.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:49
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    Dave points out the legal word is ward; foster child, although less precise, is probably more frequently used. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 20:40

6 Answers 6


I believe the usual term is 'ward'.

In law, a ward is someone placed under the protection of a legal guardian. - Wikipedia

  • 3
    I agree with this answer, but a formal definition and an example sentence from literature/elsewhere would make it better. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 7:56
  • 17
    "Ward" is a bit archaic and would be difficult to pass off among the ranks of Joe Public but it is historically correct and still remains legal terminology as in Ward of Court. (UK). Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 8:01
  • 4
    @WS2 Look a little further down: II A person who is ‘in ward’ (see 2.) 6. a. A minor under the control of a guardian. This term shows up all over regency romance ;-). In non-legal modern language, the term I most often hear is just kid (I'm in the US).
    – 1006a
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 9:33
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    As a relatively contemporary example we can actually turn to the Batman-movie of 1966: "On a peaceful afternoon motor ride, millionaire Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson have been summoned back to Wayne Manor[...]"
    – Layna
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 11:56
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    @Layna and Dick/Robin was even played by Burt Ward ! Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 21:02

The old-fashioned word was charge - i.e. my charge has now come of age.

From OED sense 14.

a. A thing or person entrusted to the care or management of any one. spec. The people or district committed to the care of a minister of religion.

1609 Shakespeare Troilus & Cressida v. ii. 7 Dio. How now my charge. Cres. Now my sweet gardian.

Edit. Having submitted this answer earlier, I am now persuaded that ward is the better word and have up-voted @Kate Bunting's answer.

I no longer think foster son/daughter is correct, since, in the UK anyway, a foster-parent is not the same thing as a guardian. Though one must have regard to the OP's question which refers to guardian/custodian. A foster-parent is more of the nature of a custodian, with day to day control of the child's welfare, but usually under the supervision of a Local Authority, who hold the care order from the Court. It is the Authority who have legal guardianship.

  • 3
    When I was a foster parent, we frequently used foster daughter – and sometimes just daughter. Sometimes a more familial term seems apt for the situation.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 7:56
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    @J.R. The only thing I am slightly unsure about is whether foster parent and guardian are synonymous. We, too, have been foster parents. But we never had the legal authority I associate with a guardian. Our foster-child's "guardian" was the Local Authority who had been granted a care order by the Court. Whilst day to day matters were under our control (e.g. signing permission notes for teachers etc.) Anything serious such as a passport application, and permission to take the child out of the country on holiday, had to be authorised by the LA's Social Services Department.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 11:40
  • @J.R. The Oxford online dictionary has this definition (no 3) of ward. According to this the definition of ward meaning a child or young person is current but the definition meaning the condition of being in the care of a guardian is archaic. The meaning of ward as a protected person goes back at least to the mid 19th century since three characters in Bleak House are referred to as wards of John Jarndice.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 12:22
  • @BoldBen I am not sure why you say "the condition of being in the care of a guardian" is archaic. In the UK, a minor child who does not have parents, or who is the subject of a care-order of a court, must have a legal guardian.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 12:29
  • 1
    I wasn't saying that the condition is archaic, it obviously isn't. I was just pointing out that the dictionary entry I linked to described the word 'ward' in the sense of 'in the ward of' (definition 3.1 following my link) is archaic. At the time there seemed to be some doubt being expressed as to whether 'ward' could refer to a child which it definitely can.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 12:41

The legal terms is "ward".

Young Dick Grayson was Bruce Wayne's Ward on the Batman series.

  • 2
    Yeah, the intro to the old Batman TV show is the only place I have heard that used, except in the expression "a ward of the court". But the answer is technically correct (famously, the best kind of correct). Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 20:38
  • 9
    Hi Dave. Welcome to ELU. You may note that the answer "ward" was already given by Kate Bunting, and that she also links to a dictionary (well, Wikipedia) which she quotes in support of her answer. Providing external references is encouraged on ELU. Posting duplicate answers (unless there are problems with the other one and/or you are providing significant new information and/or the postings were more or less simultaneous) isn't encouraged.
    – AndyT
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 14:36

While Ms. Bunting's answer, ward, is the correct answer to the question as stated, it should be noted that a present-day speaker of English is likely to encounter that term only in legal contexts (if the jurisdiction in question uses it as a technical term) and in the works or literature set in an earlier era (when the rules and practices of raising children were different). There is no special term for such a relationship that is regularly used in everyday, casual communication; in such contexts, the child would normally be referred to by whatever term characterises the relationship that the child otherwise has to the guardian. If the child has been adopted, it would be referred to as simply the son/daughter of the adoptive parents, given that both the law and social mores now treat the status of adopted children as equivalent to that of biological children. If the child is taken care of by a relative, it would be referred to as just the nephew/niece/grandchild/stepchild, etc., and it would be left to the context to make it clear that the relative is acting as a guardian of the child. If no such term is available, one would probably refer to the child by name, and, again, leave it to the context to imply the guardian-ward relationship.


In the U.S. the child would be a foster child, as pointed out in a comment by @J.R. (If you put it in an answer I'll delete mine.)

  • 1
    You might also use the community wiki function to answer with information others provided in a comment. Like here
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 10:03
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    Someone can be appointed guardian over a child without the child actually being a foster child.
    – Kenneth K.
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 10:06
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    "Dependant" is a word thrown about a lot in official documentation, which would be well understood on the street as a consequence, even if it still sounds a little formal. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 10:29
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    A foster child is not the same as a ward per se. (A foster child may still become a ward of court in circumstances when the child is being treated badly by his/her foster parents). A ward of court is a legal expression when the guardianship or parental control of a child is legally removed by an application to the court. The child thus removed from his/her parents becomes a Ward of Court. A foster child should not to be confused with a child who is adopted. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 11:28
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    @PeterPoint The procedure sounds very much the same as ours, except that nowadays we do not normally use the term Ward of Court (though legally it may still be used). In instances where a child is in danger at home, a Social Services Department (of a Local Government Authority) will apply to a court for a Care Order. If granted the LGA will have guardianship of the child, who either enters a children's home, or is fostered with a family. Initially Social Services usual explore the possibility of placing the child within the extended family e.g with grandparents.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 16:30

protégé may apply.

a person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person.
"he was an aide and protégé of the former Tennessee senator"

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English via encyclopedia.com

  • 5
    No, this does not at all imply that you have a legal guardianship relationship to the child. If you disagree, please provide evidence of it being used to refer to that kind of relationship. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:45
  • the question does not specify a legal relationship, just "a term for the relationship of a guardian to the child"
    – wererertjh
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:21
  • 4
    "Guardian" is a legal term. Protege is just completely the wrong term. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:23
  • no you're incorrect
    – wererertjh
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:24
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    'No you're incorrect' is not an argument or example. 'Protege' is not the correct term here.
    – user207421
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 0:10

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