Permanent fostering – the basics

Are you considering permanent fostering? Read on to find out more...

What is permanent (long-term) fostering?
Who are the children waiting for permanent foster families?
Who can permanently foster?
Next steps?

Permanent fostering image

What is permanent (long-term) fostering?

Fostering more generally

In the UK, there are over 90,000 children in care, and of these, around 75 per cent are living with foster families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and around 33 per cent in Scotland.

Fostering ensures that children who cannot live with their parents or other relatives, can be cared for in a family situation, while plans are being made for them. Fostering may last for a short time or for much longer. Most children will return to their birth families within a year, when the issues that brought them into care are resolved. However, some will stay in foster care long term or may be adopted.

Permanent fostering (also called long-term fostering)

Not all children who cannot return to their birth families can be or want to be adopted, especially older children, those who continue to have regular contact with relatives, or those with complex care needs.

These children are often placed in permanent foster care, where they live in long-term, or permanent, foster families until they reach adulthood and are ready to live independently.

How does permanent fostering differ from adoption?

Long-term, or permanent, foster carers do not have parental responsibility for the child, as adoptive parents do. The foster carer cares for the child, while the child remains the legal responsibility of the local authority and/or the child’s birth parents.

Permanent foster carers provide high-quality care for a child, who remains in the care system. This is in partnership with social workers, others from the local authority and often the child’s birth parents. The child often has regular contact with their birth family.

Adoption and special guardianship are other permanency options for a child, and in these legal arrangements the child is taken out of the care system.

Why permanently foster?

Permanently fostering a child in the long term can be extremely rewarding. You provide a child with security, belonging and care as part of your family, seeing them thrive and make progress. Permanent fostering represents a chance to commit to a child and make an important difference to their life.

“Your life will never be the same again. Your friends may change, your lifestyle will certainly change, and you are never responsibility-free. But the rewards for me far outweigh these changes. To make a difference in someone’s life, to give someone a chance to be happy…That has surely got to be the biggest job satisfaction going.”
Angie, permanent foster carer

What are other types of fostering?

You can read about other types of fostering and other care options, such as kinship care and special guardianship.

Who are the children waiting for permanent foster families?

There are children of all ages and backgrounds across the UK who need long-term or permanent foster families.

Be My Parent profiles children who need permanent fostering on the website and in the newspaper. You can see short profiles of some of these children.

You can also subscribe to Be My Parent to receive the newspaper and view longer profiles online. The Be My Parent newspaper regularly has a separate section focusing on permanent fostering.

Long-term foster families are particularly needed for:

Older children

Older children may have strong bonds with their birth families, even if they are unable to live with them. For these children, who may have high levels of contact with relatives, permanent fostering is often a good option as it still gives them permanency.

Also for some children, where an agency has been unable to find an adoptive family within a certain time, the care plan may change to permanent fostering. This could be related to their age (as there are fewer adopters available for children over five), the need for placement with their older siblings, or the level of their needs.

Disabled children and those with complex needs

Many children waiting to be placed with a long-term family have physical impairments, learning difficulties, health conditions or emotional or behavioural difficulties.

For some children whose issues are particularly significant, long-term fostering could be a good way to provide a permanent family. This allows children to have a permanent family whilst also ensuring that their carers receive the appropriate level of support as foster carers.

Groups of brothers and sisters who need to stay together

Around half of children waiting for permanent families are groups of brothers and sisters. The majority want and need to stay together. Where appropriate and possible, it is important that they do so.

There is a shortage of adopters able to consider more than one child. Therefore, if a sibling group has a plan for adoption, but no adoptive family can be found, to reduce delay for the children, the local authority may consider changing the sibling group’s care plan to permanent fostering, in order that they can grow up together.

Who can permanently foster?

As children come from all walks of life, so do their permanent foster families.

Fostering services will be looking for people who:

  • like children and are able to communicate with them and see the world through their eyes
  • can value and understand the child’s past experiences
  • can empathise with the difficulties the child will have gone through
  • are adaptable and emotionally resilient
  • are willing to learn and seek support
  • have space in their lives and home
  • are patient, sensitive and have lots of energy
  • have generosity of spirit
  • have some experience of caring for children
  • and, importantly, have ‘stickability’: an ability to remain committed to a child through both good and challenging times.

Marital status and sexuality

Married and unmarried couples and single people (both male and female carers) can permanently foster in the UK.

Many children benefit from the one-to-one attention a single carer can provide. Fostering services will check you have a reliable support network to help you.

Your sexuality does not affect your eligibility to foster.


There are no legal lower or upper age limits for fostering, but some fostering services may set their own age policies for carers, for example, over 21 and not taking on over 65s.

A fostering service would expect you to have a level of stability and security in your life, and to have the health and stamina to care for the child placed with you until adulthood.


It is important for permanently fostered children to have a stable family life without any preventable disruption, such as a foster parent becoming seriously ill due to a long-term health condition. For these reasons, all prospective foster carers have a full medical examination carried out by their GP.


Being overweight should not affect your chances of being approved, as long as this does not cause you to have serious health problems or impact on your ability to provide good care.


Different services have different policies about smoking. Some won’t accept smokers as carers for children under five, disabled children or children with asthma. However, some will accept foster carers who only smoke outside, or as carers for older children or teenagers. If you do smoke, or have any other uncertainties about your suitability to foster, it is worth contacting a fostering service for a discussion.


Many disabled people are permanent foster carers, and their experiences often mean they have gained skills ideal for fostering, such as strength and determination, or the ability to care for a child with a disability. Your social worker will discuss your disability with you, and possible implications, if any, for parenting ability.


You do not need to own your home to be a long-term foster carer, and you need only sufficient space and stability of tenancy. If you rent your home privately, the fostering service may require you to have your landlord’s consent to foster.

Children of your own

You can permanently foster if you have your own young or grown up children. These could be birth, adopted or foster children. Existing parenting or childcare experience is viewed favourably. Existing children are an important part of the fostering household and must be included at all stages of the process. Older birth children can be good role models.

Police record

If you have a police record, then suitability to foster will depend on the nature of the offence, the circumstances, how long ago it was committed, and whether there is a likelihood of any repeat offending. Be honest with your fostering service from the beginning, before the police checks are returned.

Everyone who applies to permanently foster must have enhanced police checks. So will other adult members of the household and any regular visitors who may be involved in childcare.

People with a criminal conviction, or caution for specified criminal offences against children, or some sexual offences against adults, are not legally permitted to foster.


You do not have to be wealthy to provide long-term foster care.

As a foster carer you will receive a fostering allowance from the service to cover the costs involved in caring for a child. You may also receive a fee, depending on your service’s payment scheme.

Read more in our section: Legislation, allowances and fees

Can I permanently foster a child of a different ethnicity to me?

Studies show that children grow up best in a foster family who can support the child to develop an awareness of as many aspects of their culture, religion and ethnic origin as possible. This can help the child to have a positive sense of their own identity and heritage.

Many permanent foster carers do look after children of a different ethnicity to them.

Next steps?

Go to next section: Find a fostering service and get started

You can also:

Last updated: 21 May 15

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