WHAT IS A FOSTER CARER?
Fostering is a way of providing a nurturing and safe environment for somebody else’s child in your own home when they are unable to live with their birth family and are in the care of the local authority. This may be in an emergency for a short period of time or could be longer term depending on the needs of the child and the type of fostering a foster carer is approved to do.
What do foster carers do?
When families foster, they need to provide a safe, secure and stable environment so that vulnerable children and young people can recover from any potential traumas they have experienced. Foster care is about giving children and young people the opportunities to thrive and reach their full potential. Foster carers work in partnership with the child, their family and other professionals such as social workers, education and health to meet the needs of the child. The foster carer may prepare the child for any planned transitions such as a return to their birth family or extended family network, a move to their adopted family, a move to a long term foster carer or a move to independence as a care leaver. There are different types of fostering such as emergency, short term, respite or short break fostering, long term fostering etc. The tasks required may vary according to the type of fostering being provided. Emergency foster care may involve being on standby to take a child at any time of the day or night whilst long term foster care may involve planned introductions and careful matching as the plan will be for the child to remain with the foster carer until they are at least 18 unless there is a change in the child’s care plan.
Who can foster?
Many foster carers choose to foster whilst raising their own families as the role can offer flexibility to work from home and enable them to use their experience to help care for a vulnerable child. Foster families are increasingly diverse and include single parents, same sex couples, or single carers without children, carers who are of post retirement age and carers who may have disabilities. Foster carers are needed from a wide variety of cultural religious and ethnic backgrounds to reflect the needs of looked after children. Couples whether married or co-habiting (or when in a relationship which involves the partner being part of the household for significant periods) will be required to be assessed jointly. A foster carer does not need to have had children of their own, they may have childcare experience in a paid or voluntary capacity or with caring for family and friends children or may have transferable skills.
An extended family member of friend may come forward to foster a child or children often referred to as a kinship or connected person foster carer. They are assessed in a similar way to other foster carers but to offer care to a specific child or children. In some cases they may receive temporary approval to enable them to care for the child or children whilst the full assessment is then undertaken.
Becoming a foster carer
The assessment process itself is in two stages but fostering services will undertake an initial screening before completing a full assessment.
Due to the very nature of the fostering, whereby you are looking after vulnerable children in your own home, the assessment is lengthy and detailed. It can also seem very intrusive with the need for medical and employer references, criminal records checks and background enquiries to ensure that applicants are suitable to foster children. The whole process takes between six to eight months from the point of initial enquiry to attendance at the fostering panel. A kinship fostering assessment is usually completed within 16 weeks.
Fostering and finances.
All approved foster carers receive an allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child in their care. The amount will vary dependent on the age of the child and the policy of the fostering service but the Department for Education publishes recommended minimum allowances here: https://www.fosterline.info/already-fostering/fostering-and-finances/ .
Many fostering services may also pay a fee or skill based payment to the foster carer and the amount will vary. All fostering services should have a Payment Policy that sets out the payments made and any criteria that may apply that can be requested by prospective carers. Some foster carers, dependent on their overall financial situation (and others in the household), may be eligible for other means tested benefits as the allowances and fees received for caring for a child will be disregarded when calculating entitlements.
All foster carers are self-employed and need to register with HMRC and complete a tax return. There is information about this and the special tax rules in place for carers in the link above.
What training and support is available?
As a prospective foster carer alongside the assessment most fostering services will require that the applicant(s) attend training to learn more about the role of the foster carer, the needs of looked after children and the role of other professionals.
When a foster carer has been approved they will be required to undertake mandatory training and to continue to complete ongoing training to develop and refresh their skills throughout their fostering career. Each fostering household will have an allocated supervising social worker who will visit regularly to support the foster carer and any child placed will also have an allocated social worker who will also visit the foster home. The foster carer will meet other professionals regularly at meetings such as Child Reviews, Personal Education Plan meetings etc. The foster carer will also have an annual review to consider their fostering role and continued suitability to foster and whether any changes are required in relation to their terms of approval (type of fostering they do and age/number of children they are for) and any training that needs to be put in place.
What is a private fostering?
This is a private arrangement between a parent and an extended family member, friend or neighbour to care for their child who is not in the care of the local authority. Birth parents remain financially responsible for the child and if the arrangement is to last 28 days or more the local authority must be informed as they will visit regularly to ensure the placement is meeting the needs of the child.
How can I find out more about fostering?
Fosterline is an impartial confidential advice line run by FosterTalk for prospective and current foster carers funded by The Department of Education. We are happy to answer any fostering queries and can signpost you for further information when necessary. Call us on 0800 040 7675 or find out more from our website https://www.fosterline.info/ or to book a call back or talk to us on live chat available weekdays 9-5pm.