Heavy workloads and the crisis in South African foster care compel many social workers to focus on the physical needs of foster children and neglect their psychosocial needs. This qualitative study employed individual interviews to explore the emotional experiences of 15 adolescents placed in foster care. While they were aware of the reasons for being fostered, their situation evoked feelings of sadness, stigmatisation and exclusion. Feelings towards their biological parents included emotional blunting, resentment towards fathers who did not care, and love for parents despite their absence. Emotions regarding their foster homes ranged from happiness and appreciation for being fostered, to feeling unhappy, neglected and scapegoated. Few of the adolescents knew their social workers and had minimal contact with them. Findings highlight the need for kinship grants (in addition to the provisions of section 186 of the Children’s Second Amendment Act of 2015) to relieve social workers from the burden of excessive reviews of foster care grants and to allow them to focus more on the emotional needs of foster children.