Childhood nephrotic syndromes are most commonly caused by one of two idiopathic diseases: minimal-change nephrotic syndrome (MCNS) and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). A third distinct type, membranous nephropathy, is rare in children. Other causes of isolated nephrotic syndrome can be subdivided into two major categories: rare genetic disorders, and secondary diseases associated with drugs, infections, or neoplasia. The cause of idiopathic nephrotic syndrome remains unknown, but evidence suggests it may be a primary T-cell disorder that leads to glomerular podocyte dysfunction. Genetic studies in children with familial nephrotic syndrome have identified mutations in genes that encode important podocyte proteins. Patients with idiopathic nephrotic syndrome are initially treated with corticosteroids. Steroid-responsiveness is of greater prognostic use than renal histology. Several second-line drugs, including alkylating agents, ciclosporin, and levamisole, may be effective for complicated and steroid-unresponsive MCNS and FSGS patients. Nephrotic syndrome is associated with several medical complications, the most severe and potentially fatal being bacterial infections and thromboembolism. Idiopathic nephrotic syndrome is a chronic relapsing disease for most steroid-responsive patients, whereas most children with refractory FSGS ultimately develop end-stage renal disease. Research is being done to further elucidate the disorder's molecular pathogenesis, identify new prognostic indicators, and to develop better approaches to treatment.