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Types of Foster Care: Group Homes and Kinship Care

When people think of foster care, they often think of the traditional family environment where a single foster family of two foster parents cares for one or more foster children in their own home. Besides this traditional notion of foster homes, there are also other types of foster care, such as group homes and kinship care. Both are common placements for foster children. Group homes and kinship care are compared and contrasted below.

Types of Foster Care: Group Homes

Any care facility that houses six or more children is considered a group home. Group homes were initially problematic in the foster care system due to a shortage of experienced operators and a lack of industry regulation. Many group homes were run by competent social workers or those in religious communities who, despite a lack of formal training, were instrumental in positively impacting the children in their care.

In other group homes, however, children were physically and sexually abused or neglected by staff and forced to participate in the religious beliefs of their caretakers. Sometimes untrained workers tried behavior modification techniques that were cruel and inhumane. With little monitoring by the government, it was possible for group homes to cut back on food, clothing, education and program to make a profit for the operators.

Group homes (like kinship care arrangements) are now subject to a number of federal regulations. However, that doesn’t stop some group homes from continuing to abuse children. Most group homes are small, and try to integrate the children into the local community. The residents attend local schools, are supervised around the clock, and have a structured life with counseling, tutoring, and other services.

Types of Foster Care: Kinship Care

Kinship care is the full-time care of foster children by relatives, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a similar bond with a child. The expansion of kinship foster care is, perhaps, the most dramatic shift to occur in child welfare practice over the past two decades.

Informal kinship care occurs when a family decides that a child will live with relatives or other kin besides his or her mom or dad. In this informal kinship care arrangement, a social worker may be involved in helping family members plan for the child's arrival, but a child welfare agency doesn’t assume legal custody of or responsibility for the child. Because the parents still have custody of the child, relatives don’t need to be approved, licensed, or supervised by the state.

Formal kinship care involves the parenting of children by relatives after a determination by a court or a Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. The court may rule that the child must be separated from his or her parents because of abuse, neglect, dependency, abandonment, or special medical circumstances. The child is placed in the legal custody of the child welfare agency, and the relatives provide full-time care. The home environment itself would be the same as a traditional (stranger) foster home, but the placement is with a relative.

Formal kinship care is linked to state and federal child welfare laws. Federal legislation impacting kinship care includes the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, Title IV of the Social Security Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Thus, kinship caregivers may be able to access Social Security funds, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, and medical assistance for the child.

Have Questions About Group Homes or Kinship Care? Ask an Attorney

Laws relating to the care of children -- whether it's group homes or kinship care -- can be very complicated, involve multiple legal systems, and involve the oversight of many different government agencies. Thus, it's a good idea to talk to an experienced family law attorney who can help ensure that your attempts to establish a group home, foster a relative, or adopt a foster child comply with the laws of your state.

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