Every child who enters foster care does so under specific circumstances. Each requires a different level of emotional, behavioral, medical, and educational support. Also, the length of stay within the system can vary widely, with some children only needing immediate, short-term care and others requiring longer-term care.
And just as every child is different, no two foster families are the same. Foster care, therefore, takes several forms — each impactful and very necessary. Indeed, as InvestigateWest reports, Washington State has just over 5,000 licensed foster care homes and 88 group-home facilities to care for the 7,600 foster children in the state's care. And caregivers see more children enter the system every day.
So if you're thinking about fostering a child, read on to learn about the diverse ways foster parents can provide safe, temporary places for children to heal, grow, and thrive.
The Main Types Of Care
1. Traditional Foster Care
Families are most familiar with this type of care, which is provided to children under 18 and involves stays that last anywhere from a few months to several years.
Many of the children in need of traditional foster care have suffered abuse and neglect and need support until a more permanent plan for their care can be developed — ideally one in which the children are reunited with their birth parents.
Often, families will be asked to take in multiple children to keep siblings from being separated. And there is significant collaboration with the foster parents, with regular home visits and interaction with those within the foster care system.
2. Extended Foster Care
This type of care is meant to support youth ages 18 through 20 and encourage independence as they transition to adulthood.
There are two options for these youth to follow:
- They remain in the traditional foster care environment, and foster parents or caregivers in a group home continue to support them.
- They establish a supervised independent living arrangement, where there's a bit more separation and self-control — the youth would directly receive assistance from the state.
In this second scenario, the youth may stay with foster parents but can set up a room-and-board or tenant arrangement.
Foster parents who choose to offer this type of care provide support and guidance with a little less supervision than traditional care. The youth may also be able to get an apartment, live in a college dorm, or stay with friends or relatives, among other options.
3. Receiving Care
Also called emergency care, this provides short-term care (up to 30 days) for children who need to be placed into protective custody right away.
Stays last until other suitable arrangements can be made, whether those are with the biological parents themselves, a relative, or a foster family equipped for longer-term support. To that end, these foster parents are often called upon to help assess what a child may need from a longer-term placement.
Calls can come in at any hour, day or night, so a successful placement into this care requires a family who can adapt quickly and are comfortable with fluid situations.
4. Behavioral Rehabilitation Services
Behavioral rehabilitative services (BRS) involve a more intensive level of care.
Many of the children placed into BRS have had a particularly traumatic childhood. To cope, they act out and exhibit behaviors such as property destruction and suicidal or homicidal ideations.
Foster parents who serve these children go through additional trauma-informed care training that helps them manage these types of high-risk responses to trauma, and there is a high level of interaction with support services.
According to Katie Bass, who works at Olive Crest, a nonprofit whose mission is to help neglected and abused children, there is a huge need for this kind of care in Washington.
“The kids are incredibly resilient, with sometimes scary behaviors, but they’re just the funniest, coolest kids,” she added and went on to say, “Those families who have known adversity or understand it are usually a good fit. Their experiences can help move beyond the thicker skin these children have developed and meet the need behind the behavioral issues.”
Here are a few additional resources for those who want to learn more about fostering traumatized youth:
- Understanding Trauma In Foster Children
- How Foster Parents Can Help Traumatized Foster Children Get Better
- Not Sure If You’re Ready To Foster A Child With Trauma? Read This
5. Respite Care
As the name suggests, respite care is intended to give the primary foster care family a short respite.
If foster parents need to schedule a weekend away or have other responsibilities that temporarily conflict with the child's needs (a scheduling conflict with a parental visit, for example), they usually can't hire just any sitter — although exceptions are allowed and depend on the individual circumstance. Caregivers need to be licensed. So instead, parents can call on respite care services.
It's a way of providing consistent and appropriate care for a child while helping to ensure the foster family has what they need to continue supporting the child in the long term.
You can read more about respite care in this blog post: 7 Ways To Support Washington Foster Families When You Can’t Foster.
6. Kinship Care
Foster care is not meant to replace the family; instead, it aims to provide a safe, loving, and temporary home for children while every effort is made to reunite them with their birth parents. While that is not always the outcome, there is a strong preference for having the family, immediate or extended, involved.
Being cared for by kin is usually less traumatizing for a child because they can maintain a stronger connection to their family, culture, and community. Kinship care makes that possible in situations where the relatives are willing to go through the licensing process and are determined to be a good fit for the child's needs.
How You Can Get Involved
Every situation is unique and will require foster parents to draw upon different skill sets, exercise parenting skills in different ways, and involve themselves in the foster care system at different levels of intensity. Regardless of how you get involved, there are children at every level that need support.
Every year, Washington State’s foster care system takes in thousands of children, and recently, there have been fewer families available to help provide care. Especially in these uncertain times, we need foster families now more than ever.
These children have been separated from everything they've ever known, and they need loving guardians to guide them. Whether it's temporary or longer-term, as a respite caregiver or a foster parent in BRS, there's a way to help.
Take the first step and explore whether foster parenting is right for you. Enroll in our new eight-part webinar course on foster parenting, which covers everything from how you become a licensed foster parent to the complexities and everyday joys you will encounter while parenting. Click here to register now.