What Is Foster Care?

Fostering is when an approved foster carer looks after a child by providing them with a safe, loving and nurturing home at a time when their parents are unable to care for them.

Why Is There a Need for Foster Carers?

Children are brought into care for many reasons, it may be that the child or young person’s birth parents are unable to care for them because of illness, mental health, or addiction problems.

Children may be placed temporarily until they are able to return to their birth parents, this can be for weeks or months or they may be placed in foster care long-term until they reach adulthood.

There is an increasing number of children each year who need to be placed in a foster home either long or short term. In 2022 there were approximately 83,000 children in care, and alarmingly more than 62% of these children and young people were placed in care because of abuse or neglect.

What Is the Role of a Foster Carer?

As a foster carer, you will look after the child or young person and help meet their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs.

You will undertake robust and vigorous screening to become a foster carer, which includes a pre-assessment and a formal assessment process.

If your pre-assessment checks were successful and wish to commence to the formal fostering assessment (application to foster), it will take between 4 to 6 months to complete.

During the assessment, you will undertake a range of meetings with a social worker and also attend a number of fostering preparation training courses, so that you are fully prepared for your first fostering placement.

Once you are approved as a foster carer you will be fully supported and the fostering agency you have chosen will provide a dedicated social worker who will support you every day.

There will also be additional support available to you such as health and education professionals who will assist you with any problems you or the child or young person may require support with.

Most agencies also have placement support workers (or resource workers) who help the child or young person to settle in placement, answer any questions they may have about their placement, share information about the fostering agency and encourage them to attend groups and outings with other young people.

Specialist support teams are often also available to provide guidance and strategies when managing any behaviour issues presented by the child or young person.

Is Fostering a Job?

Yes, fostering should be seen as a career.

Foster carers are registered with either a Local Authority or an approved independent fostering agency, which pays a weekly allowance to their carers to cover the cost of caring for the young person. Learn more about how much foster carers get paid and the other financial and tax benefits they receive.

For most carers fostering is a full-time job, however, it depends on your individual circumstances as there are various types of fostering placements that may allow you to work and foster at the same time.

While fostering is a career, being a carer should not be all about financial rewards. Fostering can make a substantial difference to the lives of children and young people as for many children, fostering might be their first experience of living within a safe, secure, loving, and caring home environment.

Foster carers experience enormous emotional rewards in watching a child thrive and trust, sometimes for the first time in their life.

Can I Foster?

Foster carers come from a variety of backgrounds and have diverse life experiences, but you must be committed to providing the best possible environment for the children and young people you are caring for and ensure that they have opportunities  (and support) they may otherwise not have had.

To become a foster carer in the UK, the general criteria is as follows:

  • Being at least 21 years old;
  • Must be medically fit to work;
  • Must not have any health issues that would impair your ability to adequately care for the child or young people placed with you;
  • Have a spare bedroom for the young person to live in; and
  • You must reside within the UK.

For explanations on these criteria and full information on the requirements of fostering, please visit our Can I Foster? page.

How Long Does a Foster Child Live with You?

Every foster placement is different, some last for days or weeks, whilst others can last for months or even years. The type of fostering placements available will differ by longevity depending on the referral type.

On occasion, if the issue that caused the young person to come into care is resolved, they may move back in with their parents or may stay with other family members. Others may stay in long-term foster care, some may be adopted, and others will move on to live independently when they are of an appropriate age.

What Is the Difference Between Fostering and Adopting?

While a young person is in foster care, the child’s parents or the Local Authority will retain legal responsibility for them. However, when a child is adopted, all legal responsibility for the child passes to the new family, and the Local Authority and the birth parents no longer have formal responsibility for the child.

Fostering is usually temporary while adoption is typically a permanent arrangement until the young person reaches adulthood.

Unlike fostering, adoption does not provide adopters with financial support. In most cases, once the adoption process is completed, the adoptive parents will have full financial responsibility for the child.

What Age Does Foster Care Stop?

A foster child can leave foster care at age 16yrs, however, this is optional. The transition from a foster home to living independently can be difficult for a young person.

To assist with the move to independent living, the young person may stay with their foster carers or move to supported housing first, so they have people around them who can teach them the relevant skills to live independently.

Those who choose supported housing will benefit from living within shared accommodation and receiving regular visits from social work teams who provide guidance, support, and training.

Once a young person turns 18, they are effectively no longer in care, but will still have a support team around them including their social worker. Using the ‘Staying Put’ scheme, young people can if they wish (and the foster family agree), stay with their foster family until the age of 21 or even 25 if they are registered within a training or education programme.

Can You Foster more than One Child?

Yes, based on the individual circumstances of each foster carer, it is possible to foster more than one child at a time.

This could be through fostering sibling groups, or through taking more than one foster placement simultaneously.  The number of children or young people you foster depends on the number of spare rooms you have in your home.

Your fostering allowance will increase depending on the number of children you are caring for and the type of placement for each child or young person.

Can I Choose the Child I Want to Foster?

You cannot choose the child or young person you foster, however, you can register your specific preferences such as age, gender, and religion.

The ultimate aim for all fostering services is to provide appropriate and caring homes for as many children as possible and provide foster carers with the appropriate support, guidance and training should they require depending on the age, behaviour, sexual orientation or ethnicity of the child or young person in placement.

Fostering Teenagers

You should remain open-minded about fostering older children.

63% of children requiring a foster home are aged 10 and over.

Fostering teenagers can be extremely rewarding as they are more likely to share interests similar to your own and that of your own children if you have any.  Older children need particular guidance and support with the many accomplishments and milestones associated with teenage years which will shape their future.

Matching Foster Children

Fostering services will review each referral individually and determine a fostering placement that is best suited to them. Some young people have complex histories so consideration of the gender mix, and composite of the potential fostering family requires careful consideration.

Where possible, fostering services try to match children with families of the same religious background or race to make transitions easier. In the cases where these matches are not possible, you will receive support and training to help accommodate the young person’s race, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Foster Carers who look after children or young people from multi-ethnic backgrounds have an immense opportunity to learn (and share) traditions, cultures, and backgrounds.

Foster carers can also receive training and support to help them create a safe and understanding environment for an LGBT+ young person.

The agency or Local Authority you are working with will never ask you to take a child or young person who is not suited to your skills, or family environment and you are not obligated to accept any referral you are offered.

The fostering agency or Local Authority will have matched your skills and circumstances specifically to the child or young person being referred and will consider it an appropriate good match, however, you will have the opportunity to review the referral and ask any questions when considering the referral.

You will never be obligated to accept the placement of a particular young person and should ensure you ask any questions that help you make the appropriate decision.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Foster Carer?

The time it takes to become a foster carer will solely depend on the agency or Local Authority you are joining. A fostering assessment will need to be undertaken alongside a number of specific checks which will need to be completed. Most agencies and Local Authorities also undertake preapproval training prior to you becoming a foster carer.

The average time for this process to be undertaken in its entirety is normally between 3 to 6 months.

Local Authorities will take longer, however, some independent fostering agencies will have ‘fast track’ fostering assessments available, which can be as quick as 2 to 3 months, however, these are subject to the appropriate completion of checks and your availability for training and the fostering assessment interview sessions.

For further information and answers to any other questions you might have regarding the process, please see our Becoming a Foster Carer page.

What Is a Foster Parent?

Some fostering organisations refer to individuals who look after children as “Foster Carers” while other organisations call them “Foster Parents”, but they are both the same role and the terms can be used interchangeably. 

Foster Parent can be misconstrued in that only people who have been parents before can be a foster carer, this is completely false.

Also, it can be reasoned that a child or young person would not wish for a foster carer to be called a ‘parent’, as of course most children or young persons will already have a parent and/or birth family.

Most Local Authorities and fostering agencies use a mix of both terminologies depending on the circumstances.

Do You Have Any Further Questions?

Let us know a time that suits you and one of our approved foster agencies will be in touch to give you any information or support that you need.