Foster Care, Kinship Care, And Adoption- What’s The Difference?

When looking into becoming a foster parent, you are likely to encounter the words “therapeutic care”, “foster family home”, “kinship care” and “adoption” as alternatives or collaborations with foster care. What do these terms mean, exactly?

Foster Care

Let’s look first at the meaning of “foster care” and the spirit of its service. Foster care is the temporary, substitute care of a child who has been removed from their parent(s) or guardian(s) and placed in foster homes of persons related or non-related, residential facilities, childcare institutions, or even emergency shelters. Whether or not the place of keep is licensed or receiving a stipend for the child’s care is notwithstanding in defining foster care.

Therapeutic Foster Care

Therapeutic foster care is the temporary care of a foster child who has higher physical, emotional, medical, or behavioral needs than the average child. This type of foster care requires specialized training in addition to foster parent qualifications in Indiana, Kentucky, or Pennsylvania and the use of community resources that are made part of the child’s treatment team.

Foster Family Home

Under the umbrella of foster care is the foster family home. The foster family home is the foster parent’s residence who is providing daily 24-hour care for the child. To be eligible to receive federal money to help fund foster care costs, state agencies require training and certification of the caregivers to help ensure safe placements for children. Therefore, the foster family and the residence must meet state standards to be approved or licensed.


Kinship Care

Studies have shown that children removed from the home are less traumatized when placed in the homes of relatives versus being placed in the homes of persons they do not know. Foster parenting a child who is a relative is kinship care. While the priority is to keep the child and parents/guardians together when safe and possible, placement with relatives is the next priority. When placement is not possible with relatives, the child may be placed in a non-kinship foster family home or a group home.

Kinship care is sometimes an informal arrangement within the family in which a relative will take in the child and thereby gain physical custody. Under this arrangement there are no fostering standards to comply with, the child has not been considered for eligibility for federal funding, and the guardian relative, therefore, does not receive a stipend through the child welfare agency to help with the costs of caring for the child.

When the state and county have taken legal custody of the child, kinship care can be formally arranged, and the guardian relative receives a monthly stipend to be used to cover the costs of caring for the child. Under this arrangement, kinship care can have the same requirements as a foster family home in which clearances and certification are required.


Foster parents have no legal parental rights over the foster child they are temporarily caring for. In fact, the goal of foster care is to eventually reunite the child with their biological family when it is safe to do so. An adoption placement, however, means the child is placed in a surrogate home with the intent and diligence of the agency and adoptive parent to make that child a permanent family member. The adoptive parent will undergo a defined process to complete all the steps of adoption.

Some foster children are not able to reunite with their biological parents and may remain in foster care for an extended period. While this is never the goal, it is sometimes necessary until a permanent home can be found for the child. Fifty percent of foster parents in this country ultimately adopt the child they foster when the biological parents have had their parental rights legally terminated.

Not every foster child will be available for adoption and not every foster parent wishes to adopt. But for those foster parents who hope to adopt, fostering a child opens opportunities to adopt. Doing serious soul-searching and having conversations with the foster agency to research this life-changing goal are the first necessary steps.

Benchmark Family Services specializes in Therapeutic Foster Care and is constantly seeking persons who would like to be quality foster parents. For more information please contact us in Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.