Choosing to foster is a big decision, and there are many different factors to consider. We answer some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from prospective foster carers, to help you with your decision-making.
Becoming a foster carer
What is the difference between adoption and fostering?
Fostering is a way of offering children and young people a home while their own family is unable to look after them. Fostering can be a temporary arrangement, and many fostered children return to their own families. Children who cannot return home but still want to stay in touch with their families often live in long-term foster care and have continued support from their local authority or health and social care trust. Foster carers never have parental responsibility for a child that they care for.
Adoption is a way of providing a new family for children who cannot be brought up by their own parents. It's a legal procedure in which all the parental responsibility is transferred to the adopters. Once an adoption order has been granted it can't be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances. An adopted child loses all legal ties with their first mother and father (the "birth parents") and becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name.
It is important to highlight that fostering is very different to adoption and so you will need to think very carefully whether it is fostering a child or adopting a child that you would like to do.
I don’t have a spare room – can I foster?
Most fostering services require you to have a spare bedroom, to ensure the child you foster has the privacy and space they require. The exception is babies who can usually share a foster carer’s bedroom up to a certain age (usually around 12-18 months).
If you are short of space, you may wish to consider short break care, which covers a variety of different types of part-time care. You could have a child to stay for a few hours or a day each week, giving their own family or their full-time foster carers a break.
Do I need specific qualifications to foster?
No. When you are preparing to foster you will receive training to help you and your family identify and build upon the skills you already have, and develop new skills needed to foster, usually through The Fostering Network’s The Skills to Foster course. Once approved, foster carers in England are supported to achieve Training, Support, and Development Standards for Foster Care, and foster carers across the UK should have access to and will be expected to undertake relevant ongoing professional learning and development.
What support is available?
If you are approved to become a foster carer there are various sources of ongoing support available to you. The most important will be your supervising social worker, a member of the team allocated to support you from your fostering service, who should meet regularly with you to discuss any concerns you have, offer you supervision, and arrange any training you feel you need. Membership of The Fostering Network provides access to a vast network of foster carers in a similar situation to you, and a range of information and advice services.
Ask your fostering service about membership of The Fostering Network when you apply to foster.
Can I foster if I have pets?
Having pets does not prevent you from fostering, in fact, they can be an asset to a foster family. However, every animal is different and your pets will be assessed as part of the process of becoming a foster carer, taking into account factors such as their temperament and behaviour. As a pet owner, you also need to think about how you would feel and react if a child injures one of your pets.
Do I have to be a British citizen in order to become a foster carer?
British citizenship is not required to be a foster carer in the UK. However, most fostering services would expect you to be a full-time resident in the UK. Children from a wide range of backgrounds need fostering, so foster families usually come from all walks of life. If you are in the UK for a limited time, fostering services will take this into consideration due to the time and cost implications of approving people to foster.
I live outside the UK, can I foster?
In general, you cannot apply to become a foster carer with a UK-based fostering service if you are living outside the UK. There are exceptions to this including "family and friends" foster carers looking after a specific child and British Armed Forces families who are posted overseas. You may wish to apply to become a foster carer in the country in which you are resident. For more information about fostering overseas, see the International Foster Care Organisation (IFCO) website.
I’m moving house soon, can I apply to foster before I move?
It is unlikely that a fostering service would begin the approval process if you are moving as your home forms an important part of your assessment. You must be able to demonstrate that you can provide a suitable and safe environment for children before you can become a foster carer.
Will a police record stop me from fostering?
Not necessarily. The law states that the only criminal convictions that prevent people from fostering are those that relate to an offence against children or a sexual offence. Minor offences should not count against you in your application to foster. All criminal convictions will need to be disclosed when you first apply to foster as the application process to become a foster carer includes an enhanced criminal record check.
Can I foster if I have a long-term health condition?
Your health will be considered when applying to foster and any long-term conditions are taken into account. The most important factor is whether you are physically and psychologically fit enough to cope with the demands of caring for a child – this may vary depending on the age of the children that you are approved for.
I have suffered from depression in the past, will that prevent me from fostering?
Past mental illness is not a bar to becoming a foster carer, in fact, there is no diagnosis that can automatically prevent you fostering. However, you would need to discuss this with any fostering service that you apply to. A medical report is always sought as part of the assessment process, and you would also need to consider the impact of fostering's emotional side on your mental health.
Do I have to speak English to a high standard to be a foster carer?
A large number of children in foster care do not have English as a first language and being placed in a home where their first language is spoken can be very beneficial for them. You will need a good level of spoken and written English to be able to communicate with other professionals, support children’s education and make notes and keep records. If you have any particular communication needs, a fostering service should be willing to discuss this with you.
We are a religious family, will this affect our application to foster?
It does not matter what your religion is and this should not affect your application to foster. Children should be placed with foster families that can meet their needs, including religious needs. However, you would need to consider how you would feel about discussing issues such as alternative religious beliefs or sexuality with a child, ensuring that you abide by the fostering service’s policies.
I have heard that I can’t become a foster carer because I smoke, is that true?
Most fostering services have their own policies in relation to smoking which take into account the impact on the health of any children that will be placed with you and also the importance of foster carers as role models for young people in care. This may mean prospective foster carers who smoke are given support to stop smoking or are unlikely to be able to foster certain groups such as children under five and those with certain health conditions. It is important that you discuss this with any fostering service that you wish to foster for to make sure that you are aware of their policy. All foster carers should provide a smoke-free environment for children.
Can I become a foster carer if one of my own children has disabilities?
You can apply to become a foster carer if one of your children has a disability. The fostering service that you apply to will want to discuss with you how you would balance the needs of any children who are placed with you with those of your own child and what the impact of having other children in their home could be on your own child.
Being a foster carer
How will fostering affect my children?
Fostering involves the whole family and will affect your children. The children of foster carers play a key role in the fostering household and should be included in all stages of the fostering process. It can be tough for children who find themselves sharing their parents with children who have led very different lives. However, many children also say that they have enjoyed their parents’ fostering and learnt a lot from it.
Foster carers say it is important to continue making 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 – either way – between your children and those you foster. Some fostering services run groups that support sons and daughters of foster carers.
Will I have a say in who I foster?
As part of the assessment to become a foster carer, it is usual to have discussions about the appropriate age range, the number of children you will be approved to foster, and any other considerations. Ideally, all placements will be well-matched and planned, but ultimately a foster carer has the right to turn down placements.
What if we don’t get on with the children?
It is inevitable that, as foster carers, there will be some children who you find fit in better with your family. Some children will also take time to adjust to living in your home. However, if there is a real problem with a child, then it is important to discuss this with your social worker. You may find if things are not working out for you, then the child will also be feeling that this is not the right place for them.
It may be that with extra support or training, caring for that child or young person becomes easier and more enjoyable. However, sometimes, it may be best for a child to move to another foster family.
Are foster carers paid?
All foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance which is intended to cover the costs of looking after a child in foster care, such as clothing, food and pocket money. Each fostering service sets its own allowance levels, and the amount varies depending on the age of the child. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales this should be at least the minimum levels in place in each country. The Scottish Government has committed to introducing minimum rates in Scotland too, although this is something that we are still campaigning on.
Some fostering services also pay their foster carers a fee on top of the allowance, in recognition of their time, skills and experience.
As both allowances and fees are set locally, you should check that the fostering service you might work for offers allowances which will cover the full costs of looking after a child and not leave you out of pocket. You can also enquire about the fees on offer, which are likely to vary depending on the type of fostering you are approved for.
Do foster carers pay tax and national insurance?
Foster carers are treated as self-employed for tax purposes. There is a specific tax scheme foster carers can use called Qualifying Care Relief. The scheme calculates a tax threshold unique to the fostering household which determines if a foster carer has to pay any tax from their fostering.
Anyone who is self-employed must register to pay Class 2 National Insurance Contributions. If a foster carer’s taxable profit from self-employment is nil or below £5,965 (2015-16) they automatically qualify for the Small Profit Threshold (SPT) and will be exempt from paying the contributions. The individual circumstances of the foster carer will determine if this is the best option for them or whether they have to make other arrangements to maintain their NI record.
How will fostering impact on my welfare benefits?
If you currently claim welfare benefits you are likely to be able to continue to claim while fostering. Foster carers are approved rather than employed by their fostering service, and this status has a particular effect on means-tested benefits. In the main, fostering payments when a child is placed with a foster carer are disregarded when calculating welfare benefits. Alternatively, foster carers may be able to claim Working Tax Credit because fostering is regarded as ‘work’ by HMRC when they have a child in placement.
Can I foster if I have previously had financial problems?
Previous financial problems should not prevent you from fostering. You will need to be able to show that you are now financially secure enough to provide a stable home for any children who are placed with you and that you are able to manage the fostering allowances paid to you.
I work full-time. Can I still foster?
A fostering service may have their own policy regarding foster carers working, but it is often possible to work part-time particularly if caring for school-age children and depending on the needs and age of children it may be possible to work full-time. Foster carers are expected to be available to care for children, attend meetings, training, support groups, and to promote and support contact between a child and their family. Fostering services would not usually consider it appropriate for a fostered child to be in full-time daycare while their foster carer works, but may consider the use of afterschool clubs and other childcare arrangements for older children.
If, after considering becoming a foster carer, you don't think fostering is for you, but would still like to help transform fostered children's lives, please make a donation to The Fostering Network.