What does it mean to foster?
Fostering is about opening up your home to welcome a child or young person into your family when they cannot live with their own. Some of these relationships last for days, others remain for a lifetime.
Children come into care for many different reasons. Sometimes it is because of a parent’s short-term illness or a temporary problem within the family. Some have experienced domestic violence or witnessed drug and alcohol misuse. Others have been abused or neglected. For many children and young people fostering is often their first positive experience of family life.
What does fostering involve?
As a foster carer, it’s a huge privilege, but also a challenge, to help these children to thrive and fulfil their potential.
Fostering is not the same as adoption, although they do have some things in common. Both involve welcoming a vulnerable child or young person into your home and caring for them as if they are your own children. The main difference is that fostering is often temporary, lasting anywhere between a few days to several years, while adoption is typically permanent. However, foster families often maintain loving relationships with the children they have fostered, even when they are adults and have moved on with families of their own.
There are many different types of fostering depending on the needs of the child. Sometimes children only stay with a foster family for a few days, while others will live with their foster family for their entire childhood and beyond. Foster families may be called upon to look after a new-born baby or a group of brothers and sisters, with a range of ages. Foster carers with relevant training and experience may care for children with complex needs or disabilities, as part of respite care or as a long-term arrangement. Foster carers also play an important role in providing homes for young unaccompanied asylum seekers.
How does it work?
Foster carers are part of what’s often termed ‘the team around the child’, which is responsible for the wellbeing and development of a fostered child. This team includes the foster carer, their supervising social worker, the child’s birth family and the child’s social worker, as well as a number of other people, such as education and health professionals, depending on the child’s specific needs.
When they first come into care, children may continue to see their parents at designated times each week. These meetings will take place somewhere away from the foster home and are usually attended by a contact supervisor on behalf of the local authority. However, foster carers play an important role in helping the children to understand and cope with family time and to maintain a positive relationship with their parents.
A child may also have a court-appointed legal guardian, whose main role is to make sure that local authority arrangements and decisions for and about children protect them, promote their welfare and are in their best interests.