Types of Foster Care: Group Homes and Kinship Care

Group homes and formal or informal kinship care are common placements for foster children.

Foster homes might make you think of a traditional family environment with two foster parents caring for one or more foster children. You might imagine a foster family living together in one house.

These traditional foster care homes are not always the reality for foster youth. While waiting for adoptive parents, they could be placed in other types of foster care. 

Foster care placements depend on the individual child's needs and specific situation. This article discusses the different types of foster care available to a child while finding a loving, permanent home.

Types of Foster Care: Group Homes

States vary in how they define a "group home." Some states require a certain number of children in a facility to be considered a group home.

For example, Arizona defines a "child care group home" as:

  • A residential facility
  • Child care is regularly provided for less than 24 hours per day
  • There must be 5-10 children up to the age of 12 (you legally can't have less than five or more than ten children)

In Kentucky, a "group home" means a homelike facility for eight or fewer foster children. A sponsoring agency must operate it.

In Montana, "youth group home" means a youth care facility serving as a care provider for 7-12 children.

Past Issues With Group Homes

Group homes were initially problematic in the child welfare system. This was due to a shortage of experienced operators and a need for industry regulation.

Children were physically and sexually abused or neglected by staff. Some were forced to take part in the religious beliefs of their caretakers. Sometimes, untrained workers would try cruel and inhumane behavior modification techniques.

The government did not closely monitor these group homes. Group homes could cut back on food, clothing, education, and other programs.

These restrictions threatened foster children's well-being and mental health in the group home. Many of these children suffered child abuse and neglect as a result.

Group Home Regulations Today

Group homes are now under a number of federal regulations. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop some group homes from continuing to abuse children.

Many group homes are positively run by competent social workers or those in religious communities. Despite a lack of formal training, these people positively impact the children in their home care.

Most group homes are small and try to integrate the children into the local community. These homes are approved and compensated by the state through financial support.

Children in group homes attend local schools, have supervision around the clock, and have a structured home. Services such as counseling, tutoring, and health care are also provided.

Types of Foster Care: Kinship Care

Kinship care is the full-time care of foster children by a relative. This may be a grandparent, godparent, stepparent, or another extended family member of the child.

Kinship care can also be available for non-relative adults who have a close bond with the child, such as family friends or neighbors. These arrangements are common for children in sibling groups who prefer to stay together.

The expansion of kinship foster care is a dramatic shift in child welfare practices. Kinship care is also thought to promote the reunification of the child and their biological parents. These arrangements can help reduce trauma by providing the child with a familiar, safe space.

Families can get help from local kinship support groups to help with the transition.

Informal Kinship Care

Informal kinship care occurs when a family (not a court) decides that a child will live with relatives.

The relative caregiver provides a short-term or permanent home to the child(ren) in need. These arrangements do not involve social services.

Birth parents maintain legal custody of the child and won't need supervision by the state. The family member does not have to be a licensed foster parent to care for the child in these situations.

Formal Kinship Care

Formal kinship care involves caregivers parenting the children after a determination by a court or a Child Protective Services (CPS) agency.

The court may rule that the child must separate from their birth parents. This could be because of abuse, neglect, dependency, abandonment, or special medical circumstances.

The child may be placed in the legal custody of the child welfare agency, or the relative may get temporary custody.

Due to some changes in federal law, relatives may be "child-specific foster parents." This is when social services have legal custody of the child, but the child is placed with the relative. The relative may have to complete foster care courses to maintain the placement long-term or take temporary custody of the child(ren).

Once approved, these situations may provide the child with a short-term or permanent family.

Case Management from Social Services

Once social services are involved, caseworkers from social services will provide case management. They will remain in contact with the child and the foster parents until the court case closes. In some cases, they will be done when the social services case closes. This can be before or after the court case ends.

Before social services place a child in a kinship placement, the home must be investigated and approved.

Laws and Funding For Formal Kinship Care

Formal kinship care is linked to state and federal child welfare laws. Federal legislation impacting kinship care includes:

Kinship caregivers may be able to access the following:

  • Social Security funds
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds
  • Medical help or health care for the child

A child may also receive more support if they have a disability or special needs.

Legal Help for Group Homes or Kinship Care

Laws relating to the care of children can be very complicated. If you are considering these options, you should talk to support services or family services. Consider discussing types of foster care or parental rights with an attorney.

family law attorney can help ensure your attempts to establish a group home, foster a relative, or adopt a foster child follow your state laws.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Fostering a child can involve many people and support services
  • An attorney can help you navigate the process and systems
  • You need legal help for any issue that could affect the foster placement

You can hire an attorney at different points in the fostering process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney