All families face challenges and a wide range of factors can cause parents to become unable to care for their children. When it becomes necessary to remove a child from the home for their safety, child welfare professionals work to find the best possible placement for that child until they can safely return home or a permanency plan is identified. Different types of foster care exist to meet the unique needs of each child and family.
Relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins are the first desirable option to provide a safe and caring environment for children. In the U.S., an estimated 2.7 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren. The Child Welfare Information Gateway describes three categories of relative/kinship care:
- Informal kinship care: does not involve the child welfare system. A parent may leave a child in a relative’s care while he or she is overseas or when an illness prevents the parent from caring for the child. Legal custody of the child remains with the parent.
- Voluntary kinship care: the child welfare system is involved; however, the State does not take legal custody. In many cases, child welfare workers have investigated a report of abuse or neglect by the parent and a court decides to place the children with relatives while the parent receives In-Home Family Support to resolve conflicts or disruptions and learn healthy skills so that the child can safely return home. Legal custody of the child remains with the parent.
- Formal kinship care: a judge places children in the legal custody of the State and a child welfare agency places the children with relatives or a foster family. The child welfare agency has legal custody of the children and works in partnership with the family to make legal decisions about the children.
Non-related kin (NRKIN)
While foster care is sometimes necessary to keep a child safe, removing a child from his or her home can be a traumatic experience in itself because it involves separation. Placing the child with a familiar caregiver helps ease this transition. “Non-related kin” refers to a person, typically a neighbor, family friend, teacher, coach or other acquaintance, who is familiar with the child or his or her family and is willing to provide a safe home for the child until they can safely return home or another permanency option is determined. In many states, while non-related kinship caregivers must obtain their foster parenting license, they can receive a temporary license in the interim so they can immediately begin caring for the child.
Traditional foster care
Individuals who meet the requirements and complete the training to become a foster parent can care for any child, teen or sibling group in state custody for an undetermined amount of time. Foster parents provide care and support for children until a permanent plan is implemented. They should be committed to working in partnership with birth family members and child welfare professionals, as well as completing ongoing training requirements.
Specialized, therapeutic, or medical foster care
Many children who enter foster care have experienced traumatic stress such as abuse, neglect or other family challenges. Some also have significant medical conditions or intellectual and developmental delays. These children need specialized care from trained professionals and caregivers in order to heal from trauma and develop their social and independent living skills. Learn about KVC’s foster parent training curriculum, which teaches professionals and caregivers how to help children heal from trauma.
Emergency foster care
Children can enter state custody on any given day, at any given time; therefore, child welfare professionals must work day and night to find suitable placement options for children. Emergency caregivers provide short-term care for children placed in protective state custody, usually 72 business hours, until a relative or foster family placement is found.
Just like any parent, foster parents need time to rest and recharge from providing ongoing daily care to a child. Respite caregivers provide short-term care, typically evening or weekend care, for a child currently living with another foster family. Providing respite care is a great way to see if foster parenting is right for you.