Introduction to fostering
Foster carers provide a safe, stable, nurturing home where a child or young person can live while their own family is unable to look after them.
Children go into foster care for many reasons. It may be because of a family illness, family breakdown and problems at home, or a situation where their welfare is at risk. Many will have experienced neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
Although every child’s story will be different, they all will have faced loss and separation from their birth family at some point.
Number of children you can foster
In England, the law states that you can only have up to three children in a foster placement at any one time, (although this does not apply to sibling groups). If a foster carer has more than three children in their care, their local authority must agree to an exemption to the ‘usual fostering limit’ of three children and of course you need to have enough room in your home to accommodate the children.
It is important to continue to make time for your own children and ensure that they still feel they are special to you. Research suggests that it is preferable to have a reasonable age gap between your children and those you foster. There is support available for sons and daughters of foster carers and you can discuss this with your social worker.
Types of fostering
Fostering can be short term or long term, ranging from a few days, weeks, months or even years. Children may need foster care from the moment they are born, and some children stay in care up to the age of 18 and beyond.. Some children may return to their birth families, others may be supported through continued fostering until they are ready to live independently and some may move onto adoption. When a child goes to live with a foster carer it is referred to as a placement.
Short term foster care
The most common type of foster placement is called short term foster care. When a child first comes into foster care, they usually will be placed in a short term placement. The fostering team will then try to find a permanent home for them in the future – through long term foster care, adoption or by returning home to their parents. Depending on the child’s circumstances, a short term placement can last from a few days to several years, and as a short term foster carer you can still provide a child with a stable and loving home.
Long term foster care
Some children can’t return to their birth family and may be placed in long term foster care until they are ready to live independently. A family home can provide the security and stability that a child needs to thrive and reach their full potential in life.
Parent and baby
Some new parents – such as very young parents or parents with a disability - have limited support to help them care for their new baby. Parent and baby placements provide a home for both the parent and their child. The foster carer provides supervision, advice and support and works with the parent to help them look after their child independently wherever possible.
Some children need to be looked after for a short period on a regular basis, which is called respite care. This could be for as little as one weekend per month or for a holiday. Respite care can give parents or other foster carers a break or can prevent a breakdown in the family. Some foster carers offer respite care in addition to other short and long term placements whilst others prefer to just offer respite care.
From the age of eighteen, a young person is no longer "in care" or "looked after", but they might carry on living with their former foster carers. This is called a Staying Put arrangement. The council will still provide support to the young person.
Sometimes a child will need to be placed immediately with a carer for a few nights, which is called emergency care. Some foster carers will be specially trained for this kind of placement. If an emergency placement is successful, the child may stay with this carer for a longer period of time.