Therapeutic vs. Traditional Foster Care

What is the Difference in Traditional Foster Care & Therapeutic Foster Care?


Making the decision to become a foster parent is an incredible one, but it is not always easy or straightforward.

There are several types of foster opportunities and each varies based on the type of care the child requires.

If you’ve considered becoming a foster parent, it’s likely you’ve seen terms like traditional foster care and therapeutic foster care, also referred to as treatment foster care, but may be unsure what it means and how each program differs.

UMFS supports both types of foster care. Here’s a look at the differences between traditional foster care and therapeutic foster care.

Why are Children in Traditional Foster Care & Therapeutic Foster Care?

UMFS offers foster care services to children and youth of all ages who are unable to remain in their family of origin. These children and their families are going through a crisis situation which can mean a number of things, not limited to the following:

  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Traumatic experience
  • Unsafe home environment
  • Incarceration of a parent

What are the Needs for Children in Foster Care?

When a child initially enters foster care their emotional and behavioral needs are not fully known. Those placed in a traditional setting have been determined to not have significant mental health or behavioral issues, may be developmentally on target, demonstrate age appropriate behaviors and are in need of basic nurturing and supervision from an adult caregiver.

Therapeutic foster care provides family-based treatment for children up to the age of 18 with special emotional, behavioral or medical needs.

Children in therapeutic foster care have complex behavioral, mental health, and developmental concerns as a result of past trauma or abusive situations. This requires a specific approach to foster care, including:

  • More supportive, yet structured home in which to reside
  • Care and supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Long-term service and support in order to function in the community

Learn more about Treatment Foster Care

Training for Traditional Foster Care Parents & Therapeutic Foster Care Parents

With traditional foster care, parents must obtain 30 hours of pre-licensing training. For those providing therapeutic foster care, this increases to 37 hours of pre-licensing training. Therapeutic foster care parents also learn improved coping skills and how to manage some of the most challenging scenarios as part of training.

Both types of foster care involve post-licensing training. Traditional foster care requires nine hours. However, in therapeutic foster care, the need for ongoing support and guidance intensifies. These parents can expect to perform 28 hours of post-licensing training.

What are the Restrictions on Number of Foster Children in a Home?

With both types of foster care, foster parents provide more support than offered in a typical foster care environment. For this reason, the number of children is limited.

In traditional and therapeutic foster care, the number of children you may foster depends on a home assessment to determine your capacity to provide care, protection, experiences that enhance healthy development and physical space.

In therapeutic foster care, the home is considered the primary treatment setting for the child. Foster parents are provided a high level of training and preparation to accommodate the child’s needs.

Specialized needs for children in therapeutic foster care may include:

  • Integrating into the community
  • Addressing inappropriate behaviors
  • Providing for medical needs
  • Providing for educational needs

Support for Foster Care Parents

Parents providing traditional foster care have on going support, contact and visits from their caseworker on a monthly basis.

Based on the level of needs, agency support increases for those providing therapeutic care. Caseworker contact, visits and service coordination occurs on a weekly basis. with individual support services occurring with the child at least once a month. Staff are available 24/7 to provide help and support.

Choosing the Right Foster Care Program

Making the decision to provide any type of foster care is a big decision and one that takes ample training and dedication. Once you educate yourself on foster care programs, you may realize you have the life experience, passion and room and to provide for a higher level of care.

It’s important to consider both options carefully by working closely with program staff to learn what you can expect.

For more information on how you can make a difference in a child’s life through treatment foster care, contact us today!

UMFS has 8 locations throughout the state of Virginia, spread conveniently across the Commonwealth. If you are interested in learning what is involved to become a foster parent, we encourage you to send us an inquiry, or contact UMFS at any of these locations: