What are Substitute Care Services?

Substitute Care Services generally refer to state sponsored programs through child welfare programs and departments that provide care, support and legal advocacy for foster children. Substitute care refers to out-of-home placement, such as foster homes and group homes, which are certified and managed through the state's Child Welfare Department.

Substitute Care Types

Foster care systems and services temporarily meet the needs of displaced children by providing them with substitute care in certified foster homes. Children become displaced when neither the birth parents nor the extended family can meet their safety and developmental needs. Some foster homes only offer temporary placement services for foster children who were recently removed, or in the process of being moved out of the local area. Some foster homes are medically certified to care for foster children with serious health care issues.

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Some foster homes become permanent placements for foster children when reunification with the biological parents and family fails. When searching for available and appropriate foster homes, child protective services (CPS) workers always prioritize biological family. Kinship foster care is when the foster parents are members of the child's extended family. It may take months to years to locate out-of-state or international family members. Sometimes, familial placements are less than ideal when compared to better local placements, but many child welfare agencies prioritize relatives over strangers.

Substitute Care Reasons

Foster children are usually in care because of their parents' inability to meet their basic needs and provide basic food, shelter and medical care. Many times, the parents themselves grew up in the foster care system, or they have extensive drug use, criminal history and chaotic lifestyles. CPS workers are generally expected to set up safety plans with parents and work with family to first make important changes. When parents repeatedly fail or refuse to change for the sake and safety of their children, CPS workers legally remove the children and place them with foster parents.

The goal of foster care is to provide everyday care, support and normalcy to meet the child's ongoing developmental needs. It is an unfortunate fact that many foster children change placements a few times a year or even monthly. This occurs when certain children have severe behavioral problems, such as running away, harming other children or engaging in unsafe and illegal activities. However, many foster parents strive to help the foster child deal with the pain and loss of living with their parents through incorporating them into their family system.


When parents absolutely refuse to or cannot care for their children, the family service court will usually issue a termination of parental rights (TPR) order. When this happens and there are no available or suitable family members, the foster child will enter the adoption system. Adoption is a legal term that means the legal parental responsibilities for that child are transferred to another adult.

Sometimes, parents recognize that they cannot care for their children properly and voluntarily give their child up for adoption. In these cases, they may be able to continue having a relationship with their child. The goal of adoption isn't to break up families through legal action, but to create a new legal family that meets the needs of the children. As foster children grow older, being successfully becomes harder. Sometimes, these children will simply age out of the substitute care system.

Substitute Care Services is the best way to protect the needs, safety and health of children. Substitute care doesn't include care in detention and youth correction facilities.