Empowering Families

Understanding the Different Types of Foster Parenting

“I’m happy to see them become successful young adults. Whether they return home or become a permanent placement in the home or they become an adoption, to me it’s just not about me. It’s about the work I can instill into these children and to be able to have them maintain a solid foundation for themselves as they age out.”
-Tina Anderson-Smith, SAFY foster parent

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are over 440,000 U.S. children waiting in the foster care system. Almost anyone who has a desire and the capacity to help care for a child can become a licensed foster parent. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a foster parent or are just interested in learning more about the process, it can be beneficial to understand the various types of foster parenting that exist.

Foster care arrangements can be short-term or long-term. Sometimes youth are placed in emergency foster homes for a short while, while other times they are placed with the possibility of being adopted by their foster parents. Some foster parents complete specialty training to foster medically fragile or special needs children. Detailed below are some different types of foster parenting that you might encounter or be interested in pursuing yourself.

Emergency Placement

Emergency foster care is a short-term solution for children who experience a sudden change in their living situation. They may be temporarily or permanently removed from their homes as a result of child abuse, maltreatment, neglect, abandonment or a special circumstance including:

• Drug and/or alcohol abuse by their caregivers
• An unexpected death of a parent or guardian
• Physical or mental inability of their parent or guardian to continue caring for them

The purpose of emergency foster care is to find a safe place for the child while working to find a more long-term solution, such as residing with a relative or adoption. Emergency foster parenting can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months.

Medically Fragile

It takes special parents to foster a medically fragile child. Those with medical backgrounds including doctors, nurses and others in the medical field are uniquely positioned to provide support and care for these children, but those who are willing to learn how to meet the special needs of a medically fragile child can also provide a loving and caring home. Medically fragile foster children may have short-term, curable conditions or more serious, possibly terminal illnesses.

Special Needs

Although some children with special needs may suffer from physical and/or mental disabilities, not all special needs children do. Fostering a child with special needs can encompass a variety of conditions as children may quality if they:

• Are an older youth
• Are from a specific ethnic background
• Are part of a sibling group
• Have a medical condition

Fostering children with special needs takes special families as these children may have serious medical needs, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities or emotional disorders.


Respite foster care, also known as short-term foster care, typically involves one foster family caring for another foster family’s children for a short period of time. This can be due to a variety of reasons but gives the original foster family a short break or reprieve when it’s necessary. While some parents utilize grandparents or babysitters when a short break is needed from parenting duties, this may not always be possible when foster children have special medical, emotional or behavioral health needs, and this is when respite foster parents can provide some relief.

Foster to Adopt

More than half of the children who go into foster care return to their birth families. When children cannot return home to their biological family, adoption services bridge their journey from foster care to finding their forever home. Many children who become available for adoption after being in foster care are adopted by a relative or by their foster parents. AdoptUSKids provides information and resources for those wondering about fostering to adopt.

National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month and a good time to remember that we can all play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care. Do you long to be the difference in a child’s life? Be the bridge that secures a child’s future. Take our 30-second foster care assessment to see if foster parenting is right for you.

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