Get answers to all of your questions about foster care.
If you’ve got a question that isn’t answered here, just ask us – and we’ll answer it.
Questions about Using This Site
What is Foster Care Matters all about?
Foster Care Matters is an online resource hub for foster carers and prospective carers.
If you’re a foster carer, there are helpful how-to guides, courses, and much more. All designed to help you promote positive outcomes for the children you care for. If you’re an aspiring foster carer, you’ll find expert guidance, insights, and advice from people who understand the challenges you face.
Get more information about Foster Care Matters.
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It’s my first time here, where should I start?
That depends on your interest in foster care and the type of information you’re looking for. You could start by looking at how Foster Care Matters can help you.
If you’ve got a general interest in foster care, visit our fostering blog. Article topics include:
- Fostering Process
- Looked after Children
- Foster Care News
- Fostering Legislation
- Foster Caring Styles
Maybe you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, but unsure where to start.
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What’s included in your membership?
Membership gives you exclusive access to information, training, and networking resources. You’ll become part of a community where people share a common interest in fostering. Find our more about membership and the CAREHUB Fostering Community.
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Have you got a forum for foster carers?
One of our objectives is to establish some fostering forums. They will enable members to share helpful information, experiences, and best practices. We will be launching these soon!
Questions about Foster Care Basics
Why do children enter foster care?
The majority of children in foster care are unable to remain living with their parents due to some form of abuse or neglect. But there are other reasons too. These include:
- Physical or emotional needs have been neglected
- The child’s parent(s) experience serious ill health
- The child’s parent(s) are at the time, unable to cope
- The child’s parent(s) have been sent to prison
- Medical or educational needs have been neglected
Find out more about children in foster care.
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Are there different types of foster care?
Yes, there are a lot of different types of foster care and different types of fostering placements.
Some children just need a fostering placement for a few nights, others need longer. Most need a safe environment where their basic needs are met, others have more complex needs.
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How long do children spend in foster care?
There is no set amount of time children spend in foster care. In most cases the plan is for a child to return to live with their parents. It’s difficult to put a time on this because it depends on each child’s individual circumstances.
You also have to factor in the unpredictability of foster care. There are short-term placements and long-term placements. But short term placements can last a long time while long-term placements can end prematurely.
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Do children in foster care see their birth families?
Yes, most children want and need to stay in contact with their birth families. This is usually the best scenario if it is safe for them to do so. Foster carers are expected to encourage contact and often help to support it.
Questions about Fostering Requirements
- Do I need to be married or have a partner?
- Will I need references?
- Must I have a certain type of experience or specific qualifications?
- Must I own my home, (and have a garden)?
- I’m not sure if I’m the right age – is there a lower or upper age limit?
- What about employment – must I be employed/not employed?
- Can I foster if I’ve got a cat, dog or any other animals?
- Will I need a driving licence to become a foster carer?
Do I need to be married or have a partner?
No, your marital status is not usually relevant. You can foster children if you are married, single, divorced, or living with your partner. As a single carer you wouldn’t be able to foster any children who are considered to need 2 foster carers.
Will I need references?
Those dealing with your application will want to talk to some of your family members. They might also speak to other people who can give helpful opinions about your suitability to foster children.
You will be DBS checked (previously known as CRB checked). Not all past records will bar you from becoming a foster carer, but the child’s safety and wellbeing will always be carefully considered.
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Must I have a certain type of experience or specific qualifications?
The requirements to foster differ slightly according to which fostering agency you apply to. Some will expect you to have suitable child care experience, but the majority won’t. Generall you don’t need specific qualifications or experience, though relevant experience can be an advantage.
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Must I own my home, (and have a garden)?
You don’t have to own your home. You can be a foster carer if you rent your home or if you’re a homeowner. But there are some things about your home you need to consider:
Your home will need to meet certain safety requirements and be in a good state of repair. You’ll also need to have a spare bedroom with adequate space. And if you rent your property, you may need a letter from your landlord to confirm that you’re permitted to foster children.
Access to a garden might be preferable if you’re hoping to foster young children.
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I’m not sure if I’m the right age – is there a lower or upper age limit?
Young, older, somewhere between, it doesn’t matter. By law, you can apply to foster at the age of 18 but most fostering services like applicants to be 21 or over. There is no upper age limit. The main factor will be you’re ability to provide a good standard of care and meet the needs of any child placed with you.
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What about employment – must I be employed/not employed?
There’s no rule that states foster carers must be either working or not working. Your individual situation is considered related to your ability to meet the needs of a child placed with you. This includes things like making yourself available to attend relevant meetings and appointments.
Some fostering agencies insist that one foster carer in the household is at home on a full-time basis. Most agencies are more flexible and will allow you to work, as long as someone can be available for a child placed with you at all times.
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Can I foster if I’ve got a cat, dog or any other animals?
A lot of foster carers have cats, dogs, and other animals as pets. Pets can have a therapeutic effect on children, but it’s also important that they don’t pose any risk to them.
Fostering agencies and local authorities may assess the suitability of each pet. They will want to know that the way you keep your pet is safe and hygienic. That includes making sure they’ve had any relevant vaccinations and treatments.
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Will I need a driving license to become a foster carer?
Having a driving license is not always essential, but can make some aspects of the role easier. For example, you will need to attend certain meetings. You may also have to take your child to a school outside the area where you live. Local authorities used to provide taxis to transport children to school but this only happens now in complex situations. So, not having a driving license could limit which children you’re thought to be suitable for.
There are plenty of foster carers who don’t drive. When you’re choosing a fostering agency, this is one of the things you need to discuss. Again, it comes down to being able to meet a child’s needs.
Questions about Fostering Children
- If I apply to become a foster carer, what sort of training will I receive?
- How will I be assessed in the first place?
- Will I get support from a social worker or other professional?
- How long does it take to become an approved foster carer?
- Will I be given background information on the child I care for?
- I have strong religious beliefs – will this matter?
- Can I go abroad on holiday if I have a foster child?
If I apply to become a foster carer, what sort of training will I receive?
Foster carers receive extensive foster care training before any child is placed with them. This includes pre-approval training and induction training. Once you’ve been approved to foster you’ll have the opportunity to attend ongoing core training courses.
In addition, all agencies and local authority departments offer guidance on extra training courses. These don’t have to be long or extensive and you can decide how much extra training you take advantage of.
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How will I be assessed in the first place?
Following your enquiry, a trained social worker with experience in the care of looked after children will visit you at home. They will be interested in your family circumstances and will also need to look at practical issues such as the accommodation you can provide, your work experience, and your motivation to foster.
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Will I get support from a social worker or other professional?
Yes, you’ll become part of a team that’s involved with the care of your child. You’ll be allocated a supervising social worker who will visit you regularly to provide support and guidance.
Some fostering agencies and local authorities provide extra support. This includes things like phone support, trained mentors, and membership to independent support services.
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How long does it take to become an approved foster carer?
It’s difficult to say exactly how long it takes to become a foster carer. According to which agency you apply to, the whole process should normally take between 3 and 6 months. This gives you time to decide whether fostering is right for you. It also gives an agency the chance to decide whether they think fostering is right for you – and your family.
To some extent, the length of time it takes depends on you. You need to factor in how long it will take you to choose a fostering agency, and how ready you are to move through the process. It will also depend on the availability of training at the agency you choose to foster with.
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Will I be given background information on the child I care for?
You will be given confidential information about your child. This will be designed to help you meet their needs and understand their likely problems.
It’s important that you know a bit about a child’s background and their individual needs. But the amount of imformation you are given prior to a placement starting will vary.
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I have strong religious beliefs – will this matter?
This will not go against you or for you – but it will be taken into account when placing a child with you, so that an appropriate placement can be arranged.
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Can I go abroad on holiday if I have a foster child?
In most cases you won’t have any difficulty taking a child abroad on holiday. But, there may be circumstances that prevent you from doing so. Sometimes, a child’s natural parent(s) might not give their permission. Another reason could be that the child’s immigration status doesn’t allow them to. Some children don’t have a passport.
The decision lies with the local authority that’s responsible for placing the child. If a child is unable to travel abroad with you, it wouldn’t necessarily prevent you from going. You might choose to make use of respite care while you go on holiday.
Questions about Foster Care Payments
- Will I receive an allowance for looking after a child? What will I be paid?
- How does working as a foster carer effect income tax?
- I currently receive benefit payments – will these be affected?
- Will I have to pay National Insurance?
- Will I be paid during periods when I’m without a child in placement?
Will I receive an allowance for looking after a child? What will I be paid?
Yes. This will vary according to where you live, the experience you can offer, and any special needs of the child. There’s a distinction between the foster care allowance and foster care pay. The foster care allowance is designed to meet the general cost of caring for the child. Foster care pay is like a fee which you receive for all that you do as a foster carer.
Here’s some more information about foster care payments and allowances.
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How does working as a foster carer effect income tax?
For tax purposes, foster carers are classed as self-employed. There is a specific tax scheme for foster carers which calculates a tax threshold. This helps to determine whether they have to pay any tax based on their fostering income.
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I currently receive benefit payments – will these be affected?
Not usually. Allowances and payments for fostering are usually wholly disregarded when you are means-tested. However, your benefits may be affected if the payments come from somewhere other than:
- a local council
- a private organisation on behalf of the local council
- a voluntary organisation
You should speak to an adviser from the organisation that pays your benefit to find out more.
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Will I have to pay National Insurance?
For tax purposes, foster carers are classed as self-employed. The process of paying national insurance can seem complex, but does need addressing.
Some carers who don’t choose to pay class 2 NICs, can claim national insurance credits for carers. You will need to meet certain criteria, which includes caring for a child under the age of 12.
Class 4 contributions are payable at 9% on self-employment profits over a certain amount. This calculation takes place when you complete your self-assessment tax return.
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Will I be paid during periods when I’m without a child in placement?
This is another thing that depends on which fostering agency you work with. Some pay a ‘retainer fee’ during periods when you don’t have a child in placement, others don’t. Some pay a reduced amount for a limited period of time.
This is something you should ask about when you’re considering which agency to work with.
Questions about Fostering Services
What is an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA)?
Independent fostering agencies are voluntary or private organisations. They are made up of profit-making organisations, charities, and co-operatives. They were introduced in the 1990s to help local authorities meet the increasing demand for fostering.
Most fostering agencies deliver mainstream foster care, while some also provide specialist fostering services. This includes things such as parenting assessments and contact supervision.
Independent foster care agencies recruit, assess, approve, support, supervise and train foster carers. They are subject to strict regulations and ongoing Ofsted inspections to ensure the highest quality care.
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How do I find fostering agencies in my area?
There are hundreds of fostering services in the UK. You can easily use Google’s excellent search tool to find the ones in your area. Simply enter fostering service in Birmingham – replacing Birmingham with the area you live in.
If you want to apply to foster a child through your local council, you can find your local council’s contact details here.
Or, you can use The Fostering Network’s search facility to find a fostering service near you.
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How should I choose a fostering agency?
Fostering children can be rewarding, but can also be challenging too. The support and guidance you get from your fostering agency will have a big influence over how you overcome any challenges. So, choosing who you foster with is an important decision.
There are several things that you will need to consider. They include:
- Training and development opportunities
- The type and level of support you’ll receive
- The foster care allowance and foster care pay
- Geographical area covered by the agency
- How long their approval process is likely to take
Popular advice is to contact several agencies/local authorities in or around your area. Most will have an information pack which will enable you to compare them. You could also ask to visit them to ask questions and establish whether they match your expectations.
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What’s the difference between fostering with a local authority and an independent agency?
Local authority and independent fostering agencies (IFA’s) perform much the same role. But there are some key differences it’s worth knowing, if you plan to become a foster carer.
Each local authority has to identify which children are most suitable for foster care. They also have to find suitable foster families to place those children with.
Local Authorities generally place children with their own foster carers first. They seek the help of independent agencies if they have had difficulty placing a child.
Don’t forget, if you’ve got a question that isn’t answered here, ask us – and we’ll happily answer it.