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There is a range of reasons as to why children and young people need to be in foster care. These include but are not limited to:
- A family illness or bereavement.
- Family breakdown.
- Problems at home.
- A situation where their welfare is threatened.
All sorts of different children need foster care, including teenagers, babies, young children, children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and sibling groups. Many children and young people may have experienced neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse. While each child’s history will be different, every child will have faced loss and separation from their birth family.
Across the UK each day over 70,000 children live with almost 56,000 foster families. This is nearly three-quarters of the 97,000 children in care away from home on any one day in the UK. (Source The Fostering Network)
Government statistics show that the number of family and friends fostering households continues to rise, and is at an all-time high. These are approved foster carers that are fostering a child or young person who is known to them or is a member of their own family, for example a grandchild. As at 31 March 2021, just over a quarter of Local Authority fostering households (8,045) had family and friends care as their primary placement offer (27%). This is an increase of 7 percentage points from 2015 to 2016. Of all newly approved Local Authority households that were still active on 31 March 2021 (6,070), 58% were family and friends households (3,525).
Although record levels of enquiries were received from prospective fostering households, the conversion rate to applications continues to fall. There were 160,635 initial enquiries from prospective fostering households in the year ending 31 March 2021, but only 10,145 (6%) foster carer applications were received. This proportion has decreased from the 12% in 2014 to 2015. During 2020 to 2021, 32% of fostering applications from prospective households were approved. This is a decrease from 2015 to 2016, when 44% of applications were approved.
Of all newly approved foster carers during 2020 to 2021, 80% were White and 15% were from non-White ethnic groups. The remaining 5% were reported with their ethnicity marked as ‘not known’, in line with previous years. As at 31 March 2021, the majority (71%) of fostering households were approved to care for two or more children.
What is fostering?
Fostering is providing care for children/young people who need a safe, warm and stable environment, when their close biological family cannot provide this. There is no typical child in foster care, they are all different and have their own needs; some may need more special support than others, due to special needs or other complexities. For some children, foster care is their first experience in a family environment. However, for many children it is a short-term arrangement whilst the Local Authority work with their family to resolve the situation at home.
Some families go through periods of instability due to difficult circumstances and need time apart to find a solution. Common factors include things such as:
- Mental or physical health emergencies.
- Medical conditions.
- Family breakdown.
- Learning difficulties.
- Substance dependencies.
Some parents may have failed to meet the basic needs of their child, caused them harm, or exposed them to inappropriate behaviour or risk. Fostering removes the child from an abusive environment to a safe and secure place.
From time to time the parents of children with special needs occasionally need foster carers to take over so they can take a break and give them some respite. This break lets parents recuperate for a weekend, a couple of weeks, or the duration of the school holidays.
Foster care is generally on a temporary basis and, unlike adoption, the Local Authority still has legal responsibility for the children, whereas adopted parents take full responsibility for the child legally and will care for them permanently.
What are the types of fostering?
There are different types of fostering you could be involved with. These include:
- Long-term fostering – this is also known as permanent fostering, and refers to looking after a child or young person for an extended period of time.
- Short-term fostering – this is also known as temporary fostering. Short-term fostering may be as short as a few days or even a few hours, but also can be as long as a few months.
- Emergency fostering – this placement offers immediate short-term care, often at short notice. This may occur if a child has been exposed to an unsafe environment, there has been a sudden illness in the family or any other unforeseen situations which occur.
- Parent and child fostering – this is also known as mother and baby fostering, and is when a parent and their own child come to stay in a foster carer’s home for extra support.
- Parent and child assessment fostering – the assessment for a mother and baby fostering placement takes place over a three-month period, and assesses the parent’s ability to parent the child.
- Remand fostering – this offers young people who have been remanded by the courts an alternative care solution to being placed in custody.
- Therapeutic fostering – this requires special training and education to care for children with complex needs. Here, the foster carer becomes part of a therapy team.
- Respite fostering – this offers other foster carers a break, or respite, from their current fostering placements.
- Kinship fostering – the local council can arrange for someone to care for a child who they know or is part of their family, for example, a grandchild.
- Fostering for adoption – carers need to have been approved as an adopter by a local council or agency to do fostering for adoption. They foster babies or young children who they may go on to adopt. Someone who is fostering for adoption will be entitled to adoption pay and leave from when the child comes to live with them.
The application process is the same for all types of fostering. Sometimes one type of foster care may develop into another; for example, a fostering placement may begin on an emergency basis, but then turns into short-term fostering if the child needs an immediate fostering placement.
Who can foster?
Foster carers are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, which is important as children in need of fostering also come from a variety of backgrounds. It is the wealth of different life experiences, skills and qualities that foster carers have that help meet the needs of children and young people in foster care. The criteria for applying to become a foster carer is:
- You must be at least 18 years old, though most foster service providers will require you to be at least 21 years – there is no upper age limit for fostering.
- You must be fit and well enough to foster a child – being in good health, both physically and mentally, is an important factor.
- You are willing and able to care for a child or young person, often on a full-time basis.
- You live full time in the UK, in your own home or with a secure rental agreement.
- Your home is safe and suitable for a child or young person to live in.
- You have a spare bedroom big enough for a child or young person to live in.
People of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds can provide a child with a safe and secure home.
Sexuality has no bearing on a person’s ability to be a foster carer. Neither does being single – both single women and men make great foster carers, so being a single male won’t prevent you from fostering.
Foster carers do not necessarily have to have had their own children. Having your own children can give you valuable experience for fostering but it is by no means essential, as long as you have the dedication, empathy, time and space to welcome a child into your home, it is likely you would make a great foster parent, as these are the main qualities needed.
People with disabilities are also welcomed as foster carers. Children and young people come from different backgrounds and some of them have disabilities too, so it is great for them to have positive role models of all kinds.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, it can be difficult, but not impossible, for people who have full-time careers to become foster carers. As with most decisions regarding foster care, children’s best interests need to be kept front of mind.
Children in foster care often come from unstable backgrounds where they may have experienced abuse or neglect, which can impact their development. For many foster children, their experiences can lead to them developing a range of issues, such as attachment issues or challenging behaviour. Foster carers need to be able to drop their child off at school in the morning and be there to pick them up at the end of the school day. They need to be able to stay at home if their child is ill and accommodate weekends and school holidays. That need for flexibility is the main reason why it is very difficult to be a foster parent and to work full time; having some flexibility in your work is essential.
What are the benefits of fostering?
Placing children into a foster home, even for a short period of time, can transform their lives. For whatever reason, a child in care has been separated from their family. They may not be in contact with their friends either, and it is always a stressful situation. By providing stability, the family help the foster child benefit by supporting them through this difficult period. Foster carers can also give a safe environment that they may not have experienced before, helping the child with any psychological or behavioural issues.
Children in care may have experienced abuse or neglect. They may have been abandoned or have behavioural problems. Their parents could be suffering long-term illness, substance abuse, or be in prison. Whatever the reason, some of these children will not have benefited from a normal home life before, and so foster care offers that opportunity, and for some it could be their first experience of it.
A child in care may not have had an opportunity to stay at one school for long periods or they may have experienced difficulties in school. By providing a safe environment and a stable academic situation, children benefit from having less to worry about. This may help them to focus better on school work and eventually improve their academic abilities.
The benefits of fostering are not only felt by the children being fostered; foster carers also gain benefit from the experiences. Fostering can be extremely rewarding to the foster carers and the family as a whole. Foster carers have the opportunity to learn new skills and to work with other professionals to help children and their families when they need it.
All foster carers receive a foster care allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child – the fostering service you apply to will tell you how much you can get. The total amount you get depends on:
- Where you live.
- Which fostering service you use.
- The child’s age.
- If the child has specific needs.
- Your skills and experience.
You will also be entitled to qualifying care relief which means you will earn £10,000 from fostering before you have to pay tax and you get tax relief for every week you foster a child. The government provide more details of the financial arrangements.
How does fostering work?
You can apply to become a foster carer through your Local Authority or via an independent foster care service; however, you can only register with one fostering service. Before you can foster, you must pass a fostering assessment to check that you are able to care for a child. This assessment may be carried out by a social worker for Local Authority foster carers or by the foster care service.
This involves an assessment about your circumstances such as:
- About the property you live in and any pets you have.
- Your personal information including your relationship history.
- About your general level of health – you will need to get a medical statement, usually from a GP.
- If you or anyone in your home has ever applied to foster, adopt or become a childminder.
- About who else is living with you, including other children.
- About children in the family who do not live with you.
- The names and addresses of at least 2 people who can give references for you and every adult who lives with you – they do not have to be the same 2 people for everyone.
The assessment will also involve getting to know you and your family, for example about:
- Your personality.
- If you have religious beliefs.
- Your ethnicity, cultural background and what languages you speak.
- If you are willing and able to care for a child of a different religion, ethnicity or cultural background, or a child that speaks a different language to you.
- Your employment history and about your standard of living.
- About your hobbies and interests.
- If you have ever cared for children.
- If you have any useful skills relevant to fostering.
Different fostering services assess you in different ways, for example they could:
- Visit you at home.
- Call you.
- Invite you to meetings.
The Local Authority or independent fostering service will ask you to go to a preparation course on fostering. They will also ask your preferences about the children you will care for, such as age or gender; however, you cannot choose a child out of a group of children and you do not get a trial period with a foster child.
The Local Authority or independent fostering service reviews your application, and you will need to meet with their panel who will make a recommendation. They then make a decision on your application. The assessment process can take up to 8 months to complete.
If you are approved you will start training and meet your social workers. If you’re not approved you can appeal the decision. The Local Authority or independent fostering service should also tell you the reasons why you were not approved.
Once you are approved the Local Authority or independent fostering service will add you to their list of available foster parents. They will send you a profile of any child they think is a good fit. Once you have let the Local Authority or independent fostering service know if you would like to foster the child, they will tell you if you have been chosen. In some cases you will get to meet the child before they come to live with you; however, you might not if it is an emergency placement.
Throughout the time you are fostering, whether that is with the Local Authority or independent fostering service, you will get ongoing training, advice and support.
There are many different reasons why a child is taken into foster care, ranging from abuse, neglect and the sudden illness of a parent, through to a child arriving unaccompanied in the UK to seek asylum. Foster care provides these children with a safe, loving home, sometimes for just overnight or for a few days; other times for weeks, months or even years. Fostering is a fulfilling career working with other professionals to ensure that these children receive the support and care that they need.