Your first step is to find out as much as you can about fostering.
Find and contact an agency
Your first step is to find out as much as you can about fostering by reading books such as Fostering a child and other publications and visiting our useful resources, http://corambaaf.org.uk/ and https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/.
If you are thinking about fostering, you need to contact a fostering agency in your local area. This could be your local authority fostering agency, a fostering agency in your neighbouring authority, or a voluntary agency or independent fostering agency (IFA).
Take your time to talk to agencies and decide which one is best for you. Bear in mind that you cannot be assessed by more than one agency at the same time.
When you first contact an agency, they will ask you a few questions about yourself, your family and your home. They will also ask if you have any thoughts about the child or children you feel you would be best able to care for in terms of age group, gender, disability and ethnicity, as well as the number of children. They will consider the type of fostering you would be most suitable for.
The next step is to meet with a social worker from the agency either there or at your home. This will give you the opportunity to find out more and decide whether fostering is right for you.
If you and the agency agree that you might be suitable to foster, you will be asked to complete a formal application form. When your application is approved, the assessment process really begins. This can take about six months, sometimes longer, but your social worker should keep you informed.
Along each step of the process, your fostering agency is required to respond to you promptly and keep you fully informed. If you are not happy with any aspect of the process, you should speak to your social worker in the first instance and, following that, the social worker’s manager, or the director of the agency if you are still not satisfied. All fostering agencies are required to have complaints procedures in place, and are regularly inspected by the government to ensure they are suitable to provide a service.
If you do not feel that fostering is right for you, you can stop at any stage during the process.
Most fostering agencies prefer to work to with families that live fairly nearby, to enable the child to live close to their family, friends and community. In some circumstances, such when it is not safe for the child to live in their home area, children may need to be placed with foster carers who live further away. Most agencies will work with families within a 50-mile radius to enable you to be adequately supported. Therefore it is best to choose an agency that is located near to you.
Local authority fostering agencies are usually based in the children’s services, social services or social work department of your local authority or neighbouring authority. There are over 200 local authority or government agencies in the UK. All children in care are looked after by a local authority, and local authority agencies will usually consider matching a child from their own ‘pool’ of foster families that they have recruited, before considering voluntary and independent agencies.
Voluntary fostering agencies are usually smaller than local authorities but they often cover a wider geographical area. Most voluntary fostering agencies have charitable status and tend to offer high levels of support and training.
Independent fostering agencies (IFAs) are independent agencies that are either run on a profit-making basis or have charitable status. Most independent fostering agencies tend to offer high levels of support and training, and usually specialise in caring for children with complex needs. For these reasons, they tend to prefer more experienced foster carers. Many independent agencies employ their foster carers and pay them a fee for the work they do.
If you are thinking about fostering you will usually be invited to attend an information session held by your fostering agency. There you will learn what fostering is about and get the opportunity to meet others involved in the process, such as other prospective foster carers, and often some adults who were fostered as children. This will give you a chance to really think about whether fostering is right for you, and if you are ready to embark on the process.
The people involved
The main people involved in the process of permanent fostering are:
- The child
- The prospective foster carers
- The prospective foster carers’ supervising social worker
- The child’s social worker and local authority fostering team for the child’s agency, if they are in the care of a different local authority to the foster carers’
- The child’s birth parents.
Other people involved can include:
- The children’s guardian (curator ad litem in Scotland) who acts on behalf of the child and represents the child’s interests in all court proceedings
- Professionals involved in the child’s care, including education and health professionals.
To find out more about the legal process of fostering and the people involved visit HM Courts Service or the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).