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Fostering is a way of providing a family life for children who cannot live with their own parents. It is often used to provide temporary care while parents get help sorting out problems, take a break, or to help children or young people through a difficult period in their lives.
Often children will return home once the problems that caused them to come into foster care have been resolved and that it is clear that their parents are able to look after them safely. Others may stay in long-term foster care, some may be adopted, and others will move on to live independently.
Are there different types of fostering?
Emergency - where children need somewhere safe to stay for a few nights.
Short-term - where carers look after children for a few weeks or months, while plans are made for the child's future.
Short-breaks - where disabled children or children with special needs or behavioural difficulties enjoy a short stay on a pre-planned, regular basis with a new family, and their parents or usual foster carers have a short break for themselves.
Remand fostering - where young people in England or Wales are "remanded" by the court to the care of a specially trained foster carer. Scotland does not use remand fostering as young people tend to attend a Children's hearing rather than go to court. However, the children's hearing might send a young person to a secure unit and there are now some schemes in Scotland looking at developing fostering as an alternative to secure accommodation. For more information on remand fostering (in England and Wales) download a briefing note on remand fostering (pdf) produced by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO).
"Family and friends" or "kinship" fostering - where children who are looked after by a local authority are cared for by people they already know. This can be very beneficial for children, and is called "family and friends" or "kinship" fostering. If they are not looked after by the local authority, children can live with their aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters or grandparents without outside involvement.
Private fostering - where the parents make an arrangement for the child to stay with someone else who is not a close relative and has no parental responsibilities, and the child stays with that person (the private foster carer) for more than 27 days. Although this is a private arrangement there are special rules about how the child is looked after. The local authority must be told about the arrangements and visit to check on the child's welfare.
This rest of this page is about fostering a child through an agency (all the types of fostering apart from private fostering). For more information on private fostering see the somebody else's child website and advice note.
Is fostering a job?
All foster carers are registered with and contracted to a local authority or voluntary or independent agency. Many foster carers are volunteers, but increasingly they are seen as professionals and receive a fee on a basis of being self employed - see are foster carers paid?
The foster carer's role is to provide high quality care for the child. All children in foster care will be looked after by a local authority and the foster carers will work in partnership with the local authority to provide this. The foster carers may also work with other professionals such as therapists, teachers or doctors to help the child to deal with emotional traumas or physical or learning disabilities.
What kind of people become foster carers?
There are no upper age limits for fostering, but fostering agencies expect people to be mature enough to work with the complex problems that children needing fostering are likely to have, and fit enough to perform this very demanding task.
Fostering agencies often recruit new carers through publicity campaigns or newspaper or radio advertisements. They may have information stands in public places.If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, the best first step is to get in touch with your local authority's fostering team or with a fostering agency in your area. You can find their details in the phone book or in our agencies directory.
People who want to become foster carers need to go through thorough preparation and assessment. They attend groups where they learn about the needs of children coming into foster care. Alongside this, they receive visits from a social worker.
The social worker will then prepare a report that is presented to an independent fostering panel, which recommends whether this person/family can become foster carers. Training does not stop when a person becomes a foster carer. All carers have an annual review and any training that's needed to ensure they are suitable to continue fostering.
Some carers also take a national qualification such as an NVQ level 3 Caring for Children and Young People (or an SVQ in Scotland). For more information about the training of foster carers see our advice note.
Allowances - All foster carers receive an allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child in their home.For foster carers working on behalf of an agency, this is set by the individual fostering agency, and is usually dependent on the age of the looked after child. Fostering Network produces an annual guide, Foster Care Finance, recommending the basic levels of allowances it believes agencies should be paying. In England the government has now introduced national minimum allowances for fosters carers.
Fees - Increasingly, fostering is being seen as a "professional" role and many local authorities, voluntary and independent fostering agencies run schemes, which pay foster carers a fee. This may be linked to the child's particular needs but is often a reflection of the skills, abilities, length of experience or professional expertise the foster carer has.
Tax relief - The introduction of tax relief in 2003 means that foster carers in the UK do not pay tax on their income from fostering, up to a maximum of £10,000 plus allowances.
National Insurance contributions Since April 2003, foster carers have also been entitled to Home Responsibility Protection - a way to make sure that you do not get less Basic Retirement Pension just because you have stayed at home to look after a child.
Fostering is different from adoption because when a child is in foster care, the child's parents or the local authority still have legal responsibility for them. But when a child is adopted, all legal responsibility for the child passes to the new family, as though the child had been born into that family, and the local authority and the birth parents no longer have formal responsibility for the child.
When there is no possibility for a child to return home to their parents, attempts will be made to see if anyone else in the family can care for them. If this is not possible, a family must be found who can provide "permanence" for the child, to allow them to feel as secure as possible. This either happens through long term fostering or adoption.
If a foster carer decides that they want to adopt a child, they can ask to be assessed as a possible adopter for that child. Their suitability will be considered in the same way as anyone else applying to adopt. Some foster carers can now apply to become Special Guardians.
This article was kindly provided by The British Association for Adoption and Fostering