There are few jobs more rewarding than being a foster parent – though strictly speaking, fostering is not a job at all, more a vocation.
Foster carers provide safe, stable and loving homes to children and young people who are not able to live with their natural parents. Some of these looked-after children will eventually return home, while others will remain with foster parents until they leave care.
Children and young people ‘go into care’ and are fostered for many different reasons, including family breakdown or crisis, abuse, parental illness and neglect.
Looking after a disabled child can be demanding for the birth parents and foster parents are often needed to provide short-term respite or longer-term care.
Fostering takes place in the foster carer’s own home with foster carers providing care as part of a team, including the foster carer’s own family, the child’s birth parents and social services.
Who can become a foster carer?
You don’t need any specific skills or qualifications to be a foster carer.
- You can be single or a couple, in a same sex relationship, married, divorced or living together.
- You can be from any cultural or religious background.
- You might have children of your own, adult children or no children.
- You can be in your 20s or your 60s, although you do need to be fit and well enough (physically and mentally) to meet the demands of looking after a child.
- You can work part-time or full-time, as long as you can care for the child at weekends and in school holidays, and be able to attend meetings.
- You can even have pets – they will be assessed for temperament and behaviour.
- Your home can be owned or rented, large or small; however, the child or young person must have their own bedroom (with the exception of babies).
What foster carers have in common is the desire to open their home and their heart to a child or young person, be flexible to their needs and provide a good standard of care.
In return, you will receive a fostering payment which includes a fostering allowance and a placement fee, ongoing training and continuous support from your fostering service.
Different kinds of placements
- Emergency fostering – taking a child in at short notice (often at night) and caring for them for a few days.
- Short-term fostering – these placements are short but are planned in advance, e.g. if a parent is going into hospital.
- Long-term fostering – this is when a child is not going back to their natural family and needs a long-term home. These placements are planned and foster carers are carefully chosen to consider the child’s background and cultural and religious needs.
- Respite care (short breaks) – respite care give the parents and child a break from their usual routine. The child might be disabled or have more complex needs.
- Supported lodgings – this is a form of fostering for young people aged between 16 and 18 who need support while they learn how to become independent (often but not always care leavers).
Getting the ball rolling
The first step is to make an enquiry to Fostering in Wales (for local authority fostering) or an independent fostering agency. After an initial discussion – or an invitation to an information open day – you will be visited at home.
If you still want to go ahead, the assessment process will begin. This involves finding out if you are suitable and what kind of fostering is best for you. While the assessment process is ongoing, you will be invited to complete a course giving you the skills to foster.
The timescale varies depending on the council or agency, but it can be up to eight months from your first enquiry. This gives the fostering service time sufficient time to decide if you are suitable – and enables you to do the same.
All potential foster carers and their immediate families must undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.