Support networks for foster carers in England

Many foster carers have access to their own support networks made up from family, friends and through their local community connections.  These personal networks can be really important to foster carers and children fostered when accessing emotional and practical support. 

This brief guidance outlines some key issues for fostering services and foster carers in England to consider when accessing support networks to undertake any caring roles of children fostered. 

Key points to consider

  • Foster carers should have access to a variety of support provided by their fostering service, such as formal supervision, peer support, out-of-hours support, respite care services and access to independent support.  
  • A foster carer’s own personal support network is really crucial and will usually be considered by the assessing social worker with the family during their foster care assessment. 
  • Different terms are used across England when describing support networks such as ‘support carer’, ‘back-up carer’, or nominated babysitter.  
  • Regulations and statutory guidance outline the requirements of fostering services to understand the assessment and approval of foster carers.
  • Across the fostering sector some services have developed formalised ‘support carer’ systems, this is not a regulatory requirement but is determined locally by the fostering service’s  policy and practice.
  • Effective placement planning and good practice should involve clear discussion by all parties around the involvement of any informal care and support, including the nature, frequency and length of time such support is required.  Agreements should be written into the placement plan and considered as part of delegated authority as per The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review June 2015 (3.192- 3.223).
  • Decisions about the delegation of authority/who can make decisions must be made within the context of the child’s care plan and the legal framework for parental responsibility. The placement plan should record who has the authority to make particular decisions about a child and foster carers should be actively involved in this process.  The government is clear that foster carers should be able to make everyday decisions about their foster children, wherever possible unless there is a valid reason not to do so.  Foster carers should be able to do this competently and confidently.

Who might be involved? 

Individuals such as friends, or family members who are nominated by the approved foster carer to undertake any informal caring of children fostered.  All agreements should be recorded within the placement plan.

  • For example babysitting activity while a foster carer has other social, personal commitments, school drop off or pick up, or care that may include overnight stays with friends or family members known to the child.
  • It is important that a foster carer is contactable and available immediately to resume the care of the child, unless alternative arrangements have been agreed with the fostering service or within the placement plan.
  • Undertaking the care of the child within the foster carer’s home may offer consistency and stability to a child’s routine and provide familiar surroundings.

Who should have a DBS check?

There is no requirement to undertake DBS checks and this should be made clear in local policy as specified in the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services (3.87).  In summary, it states there is no requirement for a fostering service to obtain a DBS check or to assess and approve a back-up carer, and makes reference to the need for a fostering service to use ‘professional judgment’ to ascertain whether it would be appropriate for a DBS check to be undertaken.  Additionally, there is no specified length of time that a child fostered can spend staying with someone else before a DBS check is required; again that is a matter for professional judgement, and local policy.

More information about DBS checks 

Respite and care planning 

Foster carers may need regular breaks to support them in their role, and often it is these breaks which help maintain placements when they are particularly demanding. Respite breaks can prove helpful in supporting fostering families that care for children with a range of needs.  It affords them the opportunity both to recharge their batteries and to spend quality time with their birth family.

In circumstances where the agreed care plan for the child recognises the need for regular respite care, the provision of this is held with the placing authority. This additional support to foster carers is formal in its nature, and hence the fostering service’s local policy should provide clear expectations on supporting foster carers in line with guidance and regulations (Vol 4: 5.66).

It is essential that informal and formal arrangements are discussed as part of the planning process so that everyone is clear about their role and responsibilities to ensure that a child’s needs are appropriately met as well as the support needs of the foster carer.

About support networks

  • Fostering services need to clearly outline what support they provide to their foster carers as outlined in NMS (S22), The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services (5.64-5.73), and Foster Care Agreement - Schedule 5 (reg 27 (5) (b)The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011.
  • There should be clarity of the nature, use and where relevant the type of assessment of anyone involved in the unsupervised care of any children that are fostered.
  • There should also be Clear expectations of how informal caring by others should be used by foster carers via delegated authority.