How to become a foster carer

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So, you’ve made the decision that you’d like to become a foster carer. You think you have the right skills and experience, you have the desire to offer a safe and caring home to a child or young person…and, of course, you have a spare room. Now what happens?

Becoming a foster carer will typically take around eight months from the first enquiry. There is a series of visits and assessments with a social worker before and final interview with a panel which will make a decision as to whether you will be approved to foster.

This sounds quite onerous, but it’s a very important part of your fostering journey – it gives you plenty of time to ask questions and reflect on what it will mean being a foster carer (not just for you, but for your family and friends), and allows your fostering service to ensure that you are going to be a good foster carer.

This blog gives a summary of the various stages of becoming a foster carer. For more comprehensive information read our frequently asked questions.

Step one: Decide what type of fostering you want to do

There are several different types of foster care such as short-term, long-term, emergency, short break care and support care. There are more details on these on our types of fostering page.

You also need to decide who you want to foster (also known as your approval range). You can foster children from newborn to 18 years old (and now some young people stay living with their former foster carers until they are 21). You should decide upon an age group that you would feel most comfortable looking after.

Over time your fostering service may want to build up your skills so that you can widen your approval range. A further consideration is whether you would be willing and able to look after children with additional needs such as those with disabilities. You should let the service know your thoughts when you make enquiries, but they will also explore this further during step three.

Step two: Decide on a fostering service

This is a key decision and can be the difference between being a successful foster carer or not. Your fostering services should be knowledgeable, approachable and supportive. Speak to a few services and ask them lots of questions. There is more information about this on our choosing to foster page and you can find contact details for a service near you on our find a fostering service page.

Step three: Training and assessment

Once you find a service you will be invited to attend their pre-approval training - The Skills to FosterTM - which takes place over four to five evenings and/or weekends, depending on the fostering service.

The longest part of becoming a foster carer is the assessment by a social worker as to the suitability of your skills, experience and home environment for fostering, as well as an assessment of others in your household, including any children.

This is very in-depth and will allow plenty of opportunity for reflection. This stage can take around four to five months, after which your assessor will submit a full report, including input from you, to the fostering panel.

Step four: Panel

The fostering panel is a group of people with a range of skills, knowledge and experience to help make a decision as to whether you will be a suitable foster carer. Some panel members have a professional background in child or social care, and others have direct experience with the fostering process, either through being a foster carer themselves or through being fostered in the past.

They will consider your suitability to foster after reading through your assessment report and then asking you and the social worker questions relating to the report at an interview. After the interview the panel will make a recommendation about your approval to the fostering service.

Step five: Your first arrival

Once you have been approved as a foster carer you will be preparing for your first arrival. A child may be placed with you as soon as you are approved or it might take a while for a child to arrive. It is important that your fostering service makes sure you are the right foster carer to look after a particular child. Making a good match is essential for a successful fostering placement.

Read our Before the first arrival blog for tips when you’re from other foster carers.

For more information, check out our could you foster page here.