In almost all current debates concerning services for young people in out-of-home care it has been customary to define services in terms of the so-called ‘continuum of care’, a hypothetical typology of placement options that differ in varying degrees from conventional family life. According to this philosophy, children should always be placed into family foster care rather than congregate care because foster placements are more normalised, nurturing, and place fewer limits on children’s individuality and freedom of choice. In this paper, we argue that this approach is limited because it fails to consider the diversity of actual services and structures possible at different points in the hypothetical continuum. In our view, future policies may be better served by a dimensional approach that views placement options as a configuration of factors including: the physical and living environment, service type, and staffing characteristics. In this system, the quality and suitability of placement options is no longer defined by names or labels (eg, family, group or residential), but by the actual nature of the placement provided. Appropriate combinations of these elements, rather than a choice between fixed categories, may assist in the development of innovative options better able to meet the needs of young people not suitable for existing care arrangements.