All about Fostering

This film, made in partnership with the BBC Outreach volunteer initiative, shares the stories and experiences of real foster carers giving a true insight - the challenges and the rewards - of what it is like to foster.

Blog

“no other job loves you back in the way that fostering does.”

A foster carer talks about her experiences since she began fostering. Read her blog entry.

This information applies to the whole of the UK

This page is about fostering through a local authority or through an independent fostering agency that works with the local authority.

What is fostering?

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 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?

Types of foster care include:

  • 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).
  • Long-term and permanent - not all children who cannot return to their own families want to be adopted, especially older children or those who continue to have regular contact with relatives. These children live with long-term foster carers until they reach adulthood and are ready to live independently. For more information see past articles from Be My Parent News & Features on long-term fostering.
  • "Connected persons" or "kinship" fostering or "family and friends"- 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 "connected persons", or "kinship" fostering or  "family and friends". 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 fostering service provider (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 independent fostering provider. Increasingly foster carers are seen as professionals and receive a fee on a basis of being self employed - see are foster carers paid?

What do foster carers do?

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 IFP will support foster carers to work in partnership with the local authority.

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.

For more information see our advice note on foster care.

What kind of people become foster carers?

Fostering service providers, including local authorities, need a wide range of people to meet children and young people's very different needs.

Wherever possible foster carers are sought who reflect and understand the child's heritage, ethnic origin, culture and language, and fostering agencies need carers from all types of backgrounds.

People do not need to be married to become a foster family - they can also be single, divorced or cohabiting. Gay men and lesbians can become foster carers. You can read about different types of adoptive and foster families in past issues of Be My Parent News & Features.

There are no upper age limits for fostering, but fostering service providers expect people to be mature enough to work with the complex needs that children needing fostering are likely to have, and should have a good support network and be in general good health.

How are foster carers recruited?

Fostering service providers 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.

What preparation and training do foster carers get?

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.
  • Training is linked to the training and development standards for foster carers set out by the Training Support Development Standards (TSDS) which have to be met by the end of first year of fostering.  There are slightly different expectations for family and friends carers and short break carers.
  • Foster carers are supported to continue to attend training following approval.

For more information about the training of foster carers see our advice note.

Are foster carers paid?

  • 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 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.
More information on this can be found on http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/individuals/foster-carers.htm.

HMRC have also created a free e-learning module for foster carers which provides detailed information about tax credits and benefits along with advice about registering as self-employed, qualifying for care relief, what records you need to keep for HMRC and how to foster in partnership.  You can access the course here: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/courses/syob/fc/index.html.

  • 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.

What about adoption?

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. 

Foster carers also have the option of applying to become Special Guardians to children who are already in their care who need more legal security but where adoption is not the right option.

What to do next and further information 

If you are ready to take the first step to becoming a foster carer then contact your local fostering agency using our directory

You can also connect with peers and experts in the field on the Fostering Information Exchange Network which is an online knowledge sharing platform. They have more than 700 members now so join up and share your experiences.

If you are a foster carer, or a interested in learning more about becoming a foster carer, then you might want to contact Fosterline. This is a free, government funded helpline and website offering confidential, impartial advice, information and support on all issues related to fostering. Fosterline can advise you with any fostering related problems and talk through options for resolving issues with your fostering service. We can also help you find a fostering service using our unique mapping system and answer all your questions about becoming a foster carer.

Fosterline logoFosterline can be contacted on 0800 040 7675,  via the website  www.fosterline.info or by email on enquiries@fosterline.info. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm (excluding Bank Holidays) Language line and textphone facilities are also available.


We publish a wide range of books and other resources for foster carers, children in care and anyone interested in fostering. Popular titles include:

You can read articles about long-term and permanent fostering from the Be My Parent website.
More detailed information can also be found in our Advice Note Foster Care - Some questions answered 
Read the story of Andy, who has fostered over 80 teenagers across 26 years, in our blog