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A frequently asked question among prospective foster parents is: What is the difference between therapeutic foster care and traditional foster care?

What is Therapeutic Foster Care?

In a nutshell, therapeutic foster care (sometimes referred to as treatment foster care) involves caring for children or adolescents with emotional, behavioral, social, or medical issues— who would benefit from being in a family who have received specialized training. Many of these children have experienced extraordinary loss or trauma; others are developmentally delayed or medically fragile. Most have struggled to succeed in other environments.

A core element of therapeutic foster care is an individualized treatment plan, which is reviewed and refined on an ongoing basis to meet the child’s changing needs. Behavioral health services are almost always a part of this plan, and treatment commonly includes therapy and medication monitoring.

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What Are Therapeutic Foster Care Parents?

For their part, therapeutic foster care parents are highly skilled caregivers who are full partners in executing a child’s individual treatment plan. This includes participating in treatment team meetings and supporting the child’s participation in school- and recreation-oriented activities. It may also include mentoring the child’s birth parents.

Typically, therapeutic foster care parents receive additional training beyond what is required for traditional foster care and also receive additional support and services, including added financial support and continuing education. Sometimes training is specific to the child in the parent’s care.

Foster Parent Qualifications

Meanwhile, the care in question is provided in private family homes (as opposed to group, residential, or inpatient treatment). As such, it can be a cost-effective alternative to other more restrictive options.

Know too that therapeutic foster care homes are typically limited to one or two children, though exceptions may be made for sibling groups or other special circumstances. In the majority of cases, children in therapeutic foster care are in the care of a private agency.

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What is Traditional Foster Care?

On the other hand, traditional foster care (also referred to as standard or regular foster care) involves caring for children who are taken from their parents due to abuse or neglect, but their needs don’t require the same level of intensive support and services required in therapeutic foster care. The hope or expectation is that the child will eventually be reunited with his or her birth parents.

The percentage of children in therapeutic foster care vs. traditional foster care vary from state to state, but a representative example is Tennessee, where 32 percent of the children in foster care are in a therapeutic program.1

Recruiting Foster Care Parents

As one might expect, most states struggle to recruit foster parents, and finding and retaining therapeutic foster care parents is an even greater challenge. Even in states with a large number of treatment foster care homes—like North Carolina, “with more than twice as many licensed homes as children being served at any given time”—“there is an overabundance of therapeutic foster care homes in some areas and an insufficient number in others.” 2

In terms of therapeutic foster care parents, primary recruitment issues include a lack of parents willing to work with older children (most therapeutic foster care children are adolescents), and low reimbursement rates (considering the intensive needs of the children in question).

And in North Carolina, for example, “the state continues to face challenges in meeting the need for therapeutic foster care in rural areas and for children in the juvenile justice system,” including an insufficient number of homes needed to meet the needs of children whose primary language is Spanish.

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Ready to Begin the Application and Approval Process?

If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent or therapeutic foster care parent in Tennessee or North Carolina, we encourage you to complete our information request form or to contact an Omni Visions office in your home state.

Since 1991, Omni has specialized in providing training and support to caregivers so foster children can reach their fullest potential.

Together we can provide a brighter future for our children. Give us a call toll-free at (800) 851-6108.

1 State Practices in Treatment/Therapeutic Foster Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 2018, p. 86, https://aspe.hhs.gov/system/files/pdf/259121/TREATMENTFOSTERCARE.pdf

2 Ibid, p. 69.

Useful Resources

Foster Parent Requirements

Become A Foster or Adoptive Parent

Foster Care FAQ

How Long Does it Take to Become a Foster Parent

Benefits of Being a Foster Parent

You Can Start the Foster Parent Process During COVID-19