Roth IRAs were established in 1998 by Public Law 105-34. They are different from traditional individual retirement accounts in that funds invested in the Roth IRA are after-tax dollars – they are not tax deductible from current income. However, the Roth IRA investments will grow thereafter tax free, and after age 59 1/2 can be withdrawn tax free (provided the Roth IRA has been owned more than five years). At any time, the funds invested in the Roth can be withdrawn tax free, but the earnings of those investments do have withdrawal restrictions. Up to $10,000 of earnings can be withdrawn at any time without penalty to purchase a "first home", although income tax will have to be paid on the amount withdrawn.
For additional information on Roth IRAs, please consult excellent resources on the Web. Following are a few useful sources:
Wikipedia contains a useful introduction to "Roth IRAs". It discusses the differences between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA as well as the advantages and disadvantage of the Roth.
"Roth IRA essentials", in the Tax Guide for Investors website, provides an introduction to Roth IRAS, general rules of thumb for IRAs and Roth IRAs and advice for starting a Roth IRA (which contains a good overview for selecting a provider). This latter advice will be useful for children who are starting out with very small accounts.
The Roth IRA Website states its purpose is "to provide technical and planning information on Roth IRAs to practitioners and consumers." This website covers a broad range of issues, providing a primer on Roth IRAs and comparing traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. The site features a list of recent additions to the website as well as a search engine for locating specific content.
The About Roth IRAs Website, is an excellent non-commercial resource on Roth IRAs. Sandy Baker, a published author on retirement topics, is responsible for the content.