Tradução de "wards of the state"

What does mean that bold text?

(...) "This went on for seventeen years (prison). On only one occasion did he nearly
Recant his faith. Guards convinced him that his wife had been murdered and
His children were wards of the state." (...)

Is it about someone who is under government supervision?
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His children were wards of the state. = Os filhos dele estavam sob a guarda/ custódia do estado.

No sentido de que o Estado é responsável por cuidar deles, por isso é responsável por eles civilmente.
Ward of the state refers to a person who is under the legal protection of some arm of the government. 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.
Ref. Wisegeek - What is a Ward of the State?

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I guess they meant by prison wardens - carcereiros/agentes penitenciários.
warden (word in the singular form) could also mean diretor de um presídio.

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On second thought it seems to me like he thought his children were -"representantes/agentes do estado" responsáveis legal para cuidar do pai, sob sistema de custódia.

But context is not ample enough to be sure. So, let´s wait further comments to see if you guys agree or think otherwise.

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Thanks for sharing the definition and for all insights Ney. Good job! ;-)