Adoption, kinship care, and foster care are the oldest known forms of alternative care in India. Whilst these are recognized as the most appropriate forms of care today, institutional care has become the most dominant form of care in India in the last 100 years, although it is meant to be ‘a measure of last resort’. As in most countries, childcare institutions in India cater for children up to 18 years old. The sudden withdrawal of support at 18 leaves these young people facing heightened challenges and poorer outcomes on the journey to independence, not only because of their fractured pasts but also due to a lack of planned interventions towards preparing them for life. This paper, based on an extensive desk review, chronologically examines the evolution of aftercare laws and practices in India along with the factors that contributed to the rise of institutional care. Reference is made to the influence of the criminal justice system on aftercare and the impact of India's ratification of United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child, the movement from a welfare to rights‐based approach. The paper concludes by discussing the current challenges and the possible way forward for care leavers in India.