The Bazelon Center believes that all children with mental health needs should be served in their own home or a home-like environment. Therapeutic foster care is mental health service for children with significant mental health needs who cannot be cared for in their own home. Therapeutic foster care is an alternative to institutional care, group and residential care, and incarceration. It is the least restrictive and most integrated out-of-home placement for children with mental health needs. Both children in and outside of the foster care system are eligible for this mental health intervention.
An intensive, individualized, strength-based plan of care is developed for children receiving therapeutic foster care through a team planning progress, much like wraparound services. Specially trained therapeutic foster parents provide a therapeutic placement in a home-like environment and act as the key implementers of the plan. The goal of therapeutic foster care is to return the child to his or her home, or to a permanent alternative home-like setting. Therefore, services are provided both directly to the child and to members of the child’s family (biological, adoptive, etc.) to prepare them for the child’s successful transition out of therapeutic foster care.
Therapeutic foster care is clinically and cost effective and is widely accepted as an evidence-based practice – the gold standard in mental health treatment – for children with significant mental health needs. Therapeutic foster care has been endorsed by the federal government and is considered an essential component of a children’s mental health system. Outcomes for children served with therapeutic foster care instead of in institutional care include that they:
- Sustain mental health improvements;
- Have decreased behavior problems;
- Have less involvement with the criminal justice system; and
- Have more successful and quick placements in the community.
Repeated studies have also found that therapeutic foster care is far less expensive than more restrictive care institutional or group care.