Choosing to foster is a big decision that will change your life. The support you receive, both from your fostering service and your network of friends and family, will be critical to help you throughout your fostering career.
All foster carers in the UK are trained, assessed and approved, and then receive ongoing support and training, by a fostering service. There are two main types of fostering services:
- Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, and health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland, have the ultimate responsibility to look after children and young people in care as their corporate parent, and directly recruit foster carers to care for them.
- Independent fostering providers also recruit foster carers to provide placements to these public authorities for specialist foster care, or where the public authority is unable to match a child with a foster carer from their internal pool. These independent fostering providers (IFPs) can be profit-making organisations, charities or other not-for-profit agencies. In Scotland they are known as independent voluntary providers (IVPs) and cannot be profit-making organisations.
Fostering services vary in size and the financial package, support and training they provide and will require different types of foster carers. When considering applying to foster, create a shortlist of services you would like to approach and take a look at their websites or contact them for some of the following information:
- A fostering information pack - the majority of fostering services produce a resource pack for prospective foster carers detailing the process of applying, being assessed and the benefit of fostering for their service, which you may be able to download.
- The types of foster carers they are seeking to recruit - do they need foster carers for babies, teenagers, children with disabilities or sibling groups (brothers and sisters) for example? How does this match with the type of foster care you would like to do?
- How they support their foster carers - all foster carers are assigned a supervising social worker who will support them when they have children placed in their care, but what other types of support do they provide? Do they have a local foster care association for foster carers or a one-to-one buddy scheme for newly approved foster carers to provide initial support? Once approved as a foster carer, do they offer further training to develop you as a foster carer? If you have your own children, do they have activities or information to support them?
- Fee-paying fostering schemes - all foster carers receive an allowance to cover the costs of fostering a child or young person, but some fostering services will also pay fees for certain types of fostering. Many foster carers say that money does not motivate them to foster, but being paid a fee could impact on your ability to afford to foster.
- The number of foster carers without a fostered child - good foster care involves finding the right foster carer, in the right place, at the right time for a child who needs them. As such, not all foster carers will have a child placed with them for a number of reasons, experiencing a 'vacancy'. Identifying if a fostering service on your shortlist has a number of vacancies and the reasons for these will give you an indication as to how likely you will be to have fostered children placed with you.
- What other foster carers say about the service - are there testimonials on the website from other foster carers? Does the fostering service have social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter? How are they interacting with people on these? Is there an opportunity to speak with a foster carer who already fosters for the service?
- Dates and times of information sessions - is there an opportunity to meet members of the fostering service in an informal setting, such as at an information session, a coffee morning or a stand on your high street or a local event? First impressions do count so this is a good chance to talk more about fostering for their service.