The Types of Foster Caregivers and Foster Families

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A wide range of factors can cause a parent(s) to no longer be able to care for their child. When this happens and it’s necessary to remove a child for their own safety, child welfare professionals work tirelessly to find the best possible placement for the child or children until they can safely return home or another plan is implemented. Thousands of children enter the U.S. foster care system each year and most commonly, these children are placed in a non-relative home. With that said, children and teens in foster care have a variety of needs that require a diverse set of caring adults to support their growth and development and ultimately impact a child or teens ability to reach their potential in life.

The types of caregivers and foster families

Kinship care (relative)

Grandparents, aunts or uncles are most commonly the desirable option when providing a safe and caring environment for children. Today, more than 2.7 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Sadly, this staggering number can somewhat be contributed to the opiate epidemic. There are different types of kinship care that the Child Welfare Information Gateway lists:


  1. Informal kinship care—this type of care does not involve the child welfare system. Legal custody of the child still remains with the parent. The parent can choose to leave the child in a relative’s care if they are sent overseas or if the parent becomes ill and cannot care for the child.

  2. Voluntary kinship care—this type of care requires the child welfare system to be involved, but the state does not take legal custody at this time. Typically, child welfare professionals have identified a case of abuse or neglect by the parent and the court will make the decision to place the child or children with relatives while the parent receives counseling or in-home support to resolve disruptions. Legal custody does still remain with the parent.

  3. Formal kinship care—this type of care requires a judge to place the child or children in the custody of the state and a child welfare agency will place the children with relatives or a foster family. At this stage, the agency has legal custody of the children and will work directly with the family to make legal decisions in regard to the children.


Kinship care (non-related)

The safety of a child is of utmost importance and sometimes that does mean foster care is necessary. This can be a traumatic experience for children as it involves full separation. Non-related kinship care places the child with someone they are familiar and comfortable with, like a teacher, neighbor, family friend, coach or other acquaintance who is familiar with the child and family. Non-related kinship care allows the child to be placed in a safe environment where they are comfortable until the child can return home safely or another permanency option can be determined.

Foster care

Persons who complete training and requirements to become foster parents can care for any child or teen in state custody for any length of time. At SAFY, our foster parents are married, single, divorced, widowed, unmarried, employed, stay at home, retired and of all racial, ethnic, religious and sexual backgrounds. If you’ve ever wondered if foster parenting is right for you, take our short quiz. Foster parents provide safe, caring and flexible home environments where they work directly with birth family members and child welfare professionals and complete ongoing training that will allow them to continually learn new techniques to consistently meet the needs of the child.

Therapeutic/specialized foster care

At SAFY, our therapeutic foster care parents provide stable home environments with caregivers or families who are equipped to helping children who have experienced traumatic stress, abuse or neglect, as well as other family challenges that have affected the child. Each child entering foster care has been impacted by some form of trauma, so it’s important that a variety of caring and flexible adults are available to help them live up to their full potential. SAFY equips families with tools and parental skill building and behavioral coping skills to ensure a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Our therapeutic foster care services support youth from newborn to 18+ with cognitive or behavioral problems, developmental delays and other behaviors.

Emergency foster care

On any given day, at any time day or night, children can enter state custody. Child welfare workers work day and night to find appropriate placement options for these children. Emergency caregivers provide short-term care for any child who has been placed in protective state custody. This process can sometimes take up to 72 hours until the agency has found placement for the child. Children requiring emergency placement are often scared and confused. They haven’t had time to wrap their minds around the situation or they may be too young to do so. They have suddenly found themselves in strange environments away from the people they know and love. Therefore, emergency foster care parents need to be extra patient and understanding.

Respite care

When one foster family temporarily cares for another family’s foster children, this is referred to as respite foster care. It gives the children’s original foster family a bit of a break. Respite foster care is sometimes called “short-term” foster care. This type of foster care is especially helpful when foster children display the kinds of behaviors that are seen in many therapeutic foster homes. They have special medical, emotional or behavioral needs.

The original foster parents may need to get away for a bit for some much-needed restorative personal time, or maybe they have other obligations that take them away from home for a period of time. Other parents can call a babysitter or drop the kids with their grandparents so they can grab a night out alone. This isn’t always an option for foster parents, particularly for those who are fostering children who essentially require 24/7 care.

A variety of foster parents are needed
As you can see, there are a variety of foster parents who are needed to care for the thousands of children who need care when away from their families for either a short- or long-term period. Foster parents of all types can truly be the difference in a child’s life. It sounds simple, but to many children a positive experience can last a lifetime.

If you’re considering becoming a foster parent or have questions, contact SAFY. Our mission is to preserve families and secure futures. You can be the difference and provide a positive, meaningful experience to a child in need.