If you are already fostering, you will no doubt already know that fostering children and young people can be as challenging as it is rewarding.

All foster carers should have access to useful information and effective support networks and resources in order to support them in their fostering role.

Even the most experienced of foster carers face new challenges and need support and independent advice from time to time.

So whether you are new to fostering or have been fostering for some time Fosterline can help you with some of the challenges you will face in caring for some of society’s most vulnerable young people.

Fosterline is a confidential, impartial source of advice, information and support for foster carers on a range of issues that may affect them. This could be managing relationships with your fostering service, questions about finance, training, supervision and support, or even discussing an allegation or complaint made against you.

If you need help on any aspect of fostering, our experienced team of fostering advisors can help you by telephone, via our “contact us” form, or by email to enquiries@fosterline.info.

Fosterline does more than offer advice; Fosterline is committed to guiding you through the process of resolving your issues and helping you identify other sources of support and organisations who can offer the level of specialist advice you need.

The service is completely confidential and no information about you will be shared with anyone else without your consent, unless of course, you tell us about a safeguarding issue, which we would be required by law to share.

Fosterline’s opening hours are Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm. An answerphone operates out of hours where you are welcome to leave a message and an advisor will contact you on the next working day.

Many foster carers contact Fosterline for clarification or support with aspects of the regulations or guidance, and some of the main ones are highlighted below:

Schedule 7 of the Children Act 1989 limits the number of children who may be fostered by a foster carer. The “usual fostering limit” is set at 3. This means that no one may foster more than 3 children unless:

  • The foster children are all siblings in relation to each other
  • Exemptions can only be granted by the local authority within whose area the foster carer lives and only in relation to specific placements (in which case they must set out the terms as detailed below), and
  • The foster carer’s terms of approval allow it (any terms of approval must be compatible with the number of children the foster carer is caring for even if an exemption to the usual fostering limit has been granted, unless the placement is an emergency and for less than 6 days)
  • A local authority cannot grant an exemption to the usual fostering limit to a foster carer living outside of its area.

In considering whether to grant an exemption to the usual fostering limit, a local authority must have regard to:

  • The number of children the person proposes to foster
  • The arrangements which the person proposes for the care and accommodation of the fostered children
  • The intended and likely relationship between the person and the fostered children, and
  • Whether the welfare of the fostered children (and of any other children who are, or will be living, in the accommodation) will be safeguarded or promoted.

Where a local authority exempts a person from the usual fostering limit, it must notify the foster carer in writing:

  • That s/he is exempted;
  • Of the children, described by name, whom s/he may foster; and
  • Of any condition(s) to which the exemption is subject to.

A local authority may at any time, by giving notice in writing, vary or cancel an exemption, or impose, cancel or vary a condition to which the exemption is subject. In considering whether to do so, it must have regard, in particular, to the considerations in relation to granting an exemption as set out above. It should also consider how it will review any exemption to the usual fostering limit.

Local Authorities are required to have a representations and complaints procedure in place in respect of these functions.

The local authority should nominate an officer with delegated powers to grant exemptions from the usual fostering limit, and ensure that fostering services and independent fostering agencies operating within the area are aware of the procedures to be followed in requesting such exemptions.

Since decisions in relation to exemptions from the usual fostering limit may be for children who are looked after by other local authorities and foster carers who are approved by independent fostering agencies, it is particularly important that decision-making should be both transparent and consistent. Local authorities may find it helpful to develop decision-making protocols between themselves and independent fostering agencies.

A person who either exceeds the usual fostering limit, or if exempted fosters a child who is not named in that exemption, is regarded as carrying on a children’s home for the purposes of the 1989 Act and the Care Standards Act 2000, and so needs to be registered as such with Ofsted.

A child who is not looked after does not count towards the usual fostering limited (e.g. a birth child, an adopted child, a child on a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) nevertheless, the needs of ALL children in the household must be taken into account in deciding whether to grant an exemption from the usual fostering limit. 

Frequently asked Questions about exemptions:

A:   The local authority in whose area the foster carer lives is responsible for granting any exemption, regardless of the fact that another Local Authority may be making the placement with the foster carer through the Independent Fostering Agency.

A:  An exemption is always required when more than 3 unrelated children are being placed in one household. All children whether part of a sibling group or not, count as individual children and therefore individual placements. Therefore, two sibling groups of 2 children will require an exemption to the usual fostering limit as the children are not all related to each other. A sibling group of 4 children who are not placed alongside any other foster children would not require an exemption, as they are all related to each other.

A:  Registration as a foster carer usually limits the number of children who can be cared for at any one time to 3. However, it is possible to approve a foster carer for more than three children provided that the fostering panel and agency decision maker are satisfied that the foster carer can meet the needs of more than three unrelated children, although the placement of more than 3 unrelated children will require an exemption. If a placement is made outside of the foster carer’s current terms of approval, then it must be terminated after 6 days, or the foster carer’s terms of approval must be changed by review.

Terms of approval can only be amended following a review as outlined in Fostering Services Regulations (2011 – as amended 2013) and the Agency Decision Maker’s approval of the amended terms. In July 2013, Reg. 28 of FSR 2011 was amended to allow this decision to be made without the need to issue a qualifying determination first. The need for a qualifying determination previously delayed any changes for 28 days, even when the foster carer was   in agreement with the change of approval. Where it is proposed to change only the terms of approval, a decision can now be made to change them with immediate effect provided that:

  • The FSP sets out whether the foster carer or member of their household (including any children placed) may have additional support needs aas a result of the proposed changes, and if so how these will be met, and
  • The foster carer agrees in writing to the proposed changes.

A: An exemption is not time limited unless a time limit is set as a condition of the exemption being granted. However, a local authority may vary, cancel or amend an exemption by giving notice in writing. The local authority will also want to consider how it will review any exemption to the usual fostering limited and will need to have specific arrangements with the fostering service regarding this.

Approval of all foster carers must be reviewed, and a decision about suitability made, within a year of approval, and thereafter whenever it is felt necessary, but at intervals of no more than twelve months. The review must consider whether the foster carer and their household continue to be suitable.

The fostering service must make whatever enquiries it considers necessary to inform this judgement; which may include checks in relation to any new members of the household.

A written report must be prepared, and in the case of the first review this must be presented to the fostering panel for a recommendation. If it is decided, taking account of any recommendation from the fostering panel if applicable, that the foster carer and their household continue to be suitable, then the foster carer must be notified in writing.

There is no requirement in the Regulations to refer resignations, changes or terminations of approval to panel for a recommendation. However, the fostering service provider is required to take account of any recommendation made by the fostering panel if the matter is referred to them. This decision will be made by the Agency Decision Maker.

The fostering service must identify a senior member of staff (usually referred to as the decision maker) who will receive the panel’s recommendations, and make decisions as required.

More than one decision maker may be appointed, but they may not delegate their authority to another person. Standard 23 sets out the qualifications, knowledge and experience required of the decision maker.

Regulation 27 requires that the decision maker must take account of the fostering panel’s recommendation before deciding whether or not to approve a person as a foster carer, and on what terms. Their decision must be made within seven working days of receipt of the panel’s recommendation via the minutes (standard 14).

The decision maker is also responsible for deciding whether a person and their household remain suitable to foster, and whether the terms of approval remain suitable, following each review of the foster carer’s approval.

The decision should be based on the written report of the review; taking account of any recommendation by the fostering panel (which must be provided on the occasion of the first review and may be provided for subsequent reviews) and any recommendation of the IRM.

Once a foster carer is approved, they must be notified in writing of this fact and of any terms of the approval. Terms may specify, for instance, that they may foster only a specific named child or children, or may identify a maximum number of placements which may be made at any one time.

Terms may also include factors such as short term or long term placements, short break care, or inclusion in a particular fostering scheme. Foster carers must also enter into a foster care agreement, covering the matters set out in Schedule 5 to the Regulations (regulation 2 and standard 14).

National Minimum Standard 14.5 requires that “foster carers and prospective foster carers are given the opportunity to attend and be heard at all Panel meetings at which their approval is being discussed and to bring a supporter to panel if they wish”.

They should have access to all reports that are being presented to Panel and to have made a written response to those reports if they wish.

If a carer takes a supporter to Panel, it will be the Chair who decides whether or not the supporter is allowed to speak on behalf of the foster carer. It would need to be made clear that if a solicitor is acting as a supporter, they are not there as a legal representative.

If the foster carer disagrees with the decision of the Agency Decision Maker, either not to approve them or to change their approval, they have the right to make representations within 28 days, either to the original fostering panel or to the Independent Review Mechanism (the IRM).

Once the foster carer has decided which route they wish to take, they should inform the Agency Decision Maker in writing within 28 calendar days of the date of the letter from the Agency Decision Maker informing them of their decision.

If, within 28 days, no representations are received and no application is made to the IRM, the decision maker is free to decide whether or not to approve the applicant as a foster carer (following a full assessment), continue the assessment (following a brief report) or amend their terms of approval.

If representations are received, the matter must be referred back to the fostering panel and a decision then made taking account of the panel’s further recommendations.

If the application is referred to the IRM, the fostering service must, within 10 working days of notification of this, supply the IRM with the documentation submitted to the fostering panel and any relevant information received subsequently, along with copies of the notices of determination (regulation 29). The decision maker must take account of the recommendation of the IRM, as well as that of the original fostering panel, in reaching a decision about approval.

A determination to change a foster carer’s terms of approval is not a qualifying determination if, following a review of the carer’s approval under regulation 28:

  • The fostering service provides the foster carer with a written statement setting out whether they consider the foster carer’s household, including any children placed there, to have additional support needs as a result of the change, if so what these support needs are and how they will be met, and
  • the foster carer provides their written agreement to the change.

Foster carers must not be pressured to accept changes to their terms of approval.

For more information on the Independent Review Mechanism see https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/independent-review-mechanism or visit our useful links page.

A foster carer may, at any point give written notice that they wish to resign from the role. As such, their approval is automatically terminated 28 days after receipt of the notice by the fostering service (regulation 28(13)).

The decision maker, alongside the fostering service, does not have the power to decline a resignation. Instead, they can only offer advice; informing the carer that their resignation will automatically take effect after 28 days – regardless of whether the notice is then withdrawn.