Family and friends foster care (England)

In England, ‘looked after’ children who cannot be placed with a parent or someone with parental responsibility must be placed with an approved foster carer (with preference given to someone who is a family member, friend or other person connected with the child who is also an approved foster carer) or in a registered children’s home (The Children Act 1989 s22 C). This results in family and friends being specifically assessed and approved as foster carers for children known to them – known as family and friends foster care.

Assessment, approval and support 

Family and friends foster carers are approved local authority foster carers who have been assessed in relation to their suitability to care for a named child or named children only, and this should be reflected in the terms of their approval. However the fostering assessment should follow the two stage process outlined in the fostering regulations and statutory guidance Assessment and Approval of foster carers. There is additional guidance regarding assessment and approval of family and friends foster carers, including how assessments address some of the issues requiring specific consideration. These are set out in Chapter 5 of the Family and Friends Care statutory guidance.  

Once approved, whether temporarily under Regulation 24 or following assessment and approval under the fostering regulations, family and friends foster carers are local authority foster carers and the legislation, regulations and guidance apply to them in the same way as for all foster carers.  NMS 30 sets out how the fostering service should ensure that family and friends foster carers receive the support they require to meet the needs of children placed with them. There are separate Training, Support and Development Standards for family and friends foster carers which must be completed within 18 months of their approval. 

Many children thrive in family and friends foster placements, and research shows that stability of such placements is at least as good, if not better than other foster placements. Many family and friends foster carers remain foster carers for the child for the duration of their childhood and continue to support them into adulthood. Family and friends foster carers can enter into Staying Put arrangements and the local authority is under the same duty to support those arrangements as with any other foster carer.


Changes to approval status

Special guardianship

Some family and friends foster carers go on to apply for special guardianship orders for the children they are caring for. This will require an assessment to be prepared for the courts. The Fostering Network’s Skills to Foster assessment report is modular and enables a fostering assessment to be updated and additional information regarding special guardianship to be included without the need to start again. The carers should resign as foster carers for the child once a special guardianship order has been made. An assessment of their support needs must be completed if requested, and many will require a level of financial, practical and/or emotional support.

Standards of care concerns

If concerns about a foster carer’s standards of care arise, support should be offered to address the issues identified. The social worker can, as with any other placement, review the care plan and it may be decided that the placement is no longer the most appropriate way of meeting the child’s needs. In such circumstances, the removal of the child does not automatically end the family and friend’s carer’s registration as a foster carer and the fostering regulations require that they either resign or a review recommending the termination of their approval is completed.  

If a child is moved from a placement with carers who are temporarily approved under Regulation 24, and their fostering assessment is not yet completed, the carers will either need to withdraw from the fostering assessment on the basis that the child no longer requires the placement, or the two stage assessment process will need to be followed as outlined in the statutory guidance Assessment and Approval of foster carers. Their temporary approval will expire after 16 weeks and there is no provision to end the temporary approval earlier than this. However, if the carers receive a qualifying determination that they are not going to be approved as foster carers under the fostering regulations and choose to request a review at the independent review mechanism, their temporary approval remains in place until such time as a final decision is made. 

For more information about care planning and family and friends foster care, go to the Practice Information Note: Placing children with family and friend’s carers

Family and friends carers who want to foster other children

Some family and friends foster carers would not have chosen to foster but, having fostered a relative, want to continue to foster other unrelated children. This is a good chance to build on the skills they have developed, although the impact on the relative child will need to be carefully considered if they are still fostered or living as a member of the household. 

While already approved as foster carers, their terms of approval are limited to named children only. In order to change this, a thorough foster carer review would need to be conducted which considers not only the skills and experience that they have demonstrated as family and friends foster carers, but also their abilities to care for other unknown children. This is because the original assessment considered their abilities and suitability only in relation to the named child.  

It is a robust and thorough review, not a new or ‘re-assessment’, that is required in these circumstances, since they are already approved foster carers. The review must consider the on-going suitability of their terms of approval, with a view to deciding whether to recommend these be changed to include unrelated children.


Mainstream foster carers who want to foster a relative

Sometimes, foster carers find that a child related or known to them requires support and they may be approached or want to foster that child.  This has implications for their fostering and each individual situation will require particular consideration.  It is worth remembering that:

  • If the foster carer is already approved by the local authority needing to place the child, they do not need temporary approval under Regulation 24. The fostering service will need to conduct a review and consider the suitability of their current terms of approval and recommend changes to these as appropriate. This will include consulting the social worker for any children already placed. Children can be placed outside a foster carer’s terms of approval for up to six working days under the Care Planning Regulations 2010 (Reg 23).  Terms of approval can be changed with immediate effect by a decision maker following a review if the conditions set out in statutory guidance (page 15) are met.  
  • If the carer is approved by an independent agency, or a local authority that is not the same as the local authority needing to place the child, they cannot be temporarily approved under Regulation 24 since foster carers can only foster for one service. The local authority wanting to place the child will need to liaise with the carer and their fostering service to agree on the best way to achieve the desired outcomes for each child. This may involve cooperation to change the terms of approval as above allowing the local authority to place the child in a placement managed by the current service; or placing the child elsewhere whilst longer term plans (that may involve special guardianship) are explored.  
  • In some situations, the court may make an assessment order that directs the child to live with the carers. In this scenario, the child is not placed in a foster placement but becomes a member of the fostering household, triggering the need for a foster carer review.  Although the carers are not acting as foster carers for that child, they may require financial and/or other support similar to that given to foster carers.

Useful resources from The Fostering Network