Can I Foster? Top Tips on Becoming a Foster Carer in the UK
“Can I foster?” It’s a question we hear loads of times. Prospective foster carers with big hearts but not much information otherwise on what goes into becoming a foster parent often ask that question, along with many others related to the entire process. The truth is there is much that goes into meeting the requirements for fostering. Here’s an in-depth look into what it takes and how to go about starting your journey towards foster parenting.
The Foster Carer Manifesto
If you’ve begun to ask the question “can I foster” of yourself, well done you — you’ve begun down a long, challenging, and potentially rewarding path. There’s any number of children in the UK who are in need of foster parenting, and wanting to throw your hat into the ring in order to become one of those much-needed foster carers takes courage, dedication, compassion, and patience.
This is, of course, not quite so different than being the parent of a biological child, at least when it comes to mindset. However, it takes a special person, with a special mindset, to foster a child or young person. Because of their varied needs, foster children will often require a foster carer or foster parent to undertake additional emotional responsibilities; you may need to demonstrate even higher levels of emotional support towards a foster child as a result.
Yet your typical foster carer knows these things, perhaps almost on an instinctual level. You don’t say to yourself “can I foster” without thinking long and hard about what it means to take on such a responsibility to a child or young person in need. Becoming a foster carer isn’t a hobby or a job so much as it’s a career or a calling; only those that are supremely dedicated to the idea of providing children in need with the kind of physical, social, and emotional support they need to grow into happy and healthy adult members of society.
The Technical Requirements of What it Takes to Become a Foster Carer
Having the right attitude and emotional approach to the important job of becoming a foster parent is, admittedly, of crucial importance to the foster care process. At the same time, though, there are some technicalities that you’ll have to satisfy if you do wish to become involved in the lives of children as their foster carer. These technical requirements are easy enough to satisfy, though, as they are based on ensuring a foster child will have his or her basic needs met if you do foster them.
First and foremost, you will need a spare room in your house or your flat that can accommodate a foster child or a young person. No foster agency in its right mind would ever allow a child under its charge to live with a new foster family that doesn’t have adequate space in their home for an additional member, so if you do wish to foster you’ll need to ensure you’ve got a dedicated bedroom ready and waiting.
Secondly, becoming a foster carer requires you to be in relatively good health, both physically and financially. This only makes sense, as it’s difficult to care for any child unless you are healthy enough to take on the responsibilities of child care yourself. In order to determine this, you may be required to receive a successful health check from your GP. You’ll also have to show evidence of never having declared bankruptcy. As it’s not uncommon for foster children to have specialised medical needs themselves, making sure you as a foster carer are physically and financially capable is even more important — even though you will be provided with weekly allowances for every child you foster.
Additionally, many foster agencies make it an important point to review a number of references as a technical requirement for becoming a foster parent. The most relevant references will come from former partners that you helped raise children with and adult children of your own that have since moved out, but other relatives, colleagues, or even long-time friends are appropriate references.
Foster agencies provide skills training during this time as well. This consists of an intensive “Skills to Foster Training” seminar delivered over a 2-3 day span, most often scheduled for over a weekend, delivered in-house by a foster agency to applicants in the assessment process.
An additional requirement, one that takes the most time to satisfy, is to endure a period of fostering assessment by a social worker as required by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). Such a Fostering Assessment is a long-term endeavour, one that can take between four and six months. Once the social worker completes their assessment, it is presented to an independent Fostering Panel for a final review and approval recommendation.
Next, you will need to become certified by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). You’ll need an Enhanced Disclosure from the DBS, as will anyone living in your home over the age of 16. If this seems excessive, remember that a DBS disclosure is required of anyone who works with children in the UK. That includes anyone who works at a creche, a nursery, or a school. Becoming a foster carer is still a job, after all, perhaps the most important one of the bunch.
Finally comes the biggest and most nerve-wracking step: being subjected to review (and hopefully final approval) by a Fostering Panel. These independent panels are made up of at least five individuals, and they play a crucial role in determining whether you’ll become a foster carer or not. You’ll meet with this panel in order to answer any final questions these members may have concerning your application.
It’s the job of a panel to be thorough, but it’s not as if you’re standing trial — panelists know what a tough job it is to be a foster carer, and they want what’s best for not just a foster child but for you as well. Think of it as less of a grueling ordeal but instead one last time to showcase all of your positive attributes, such as compassion and patience, that will enable you to be an outstanding foster carer. If the panel agrees, you’ll be given its final recommendation to proceed. At this point, it’s up to the Agency Decision Maker, who receives the panel’s recommendation, to make the final decision in favour of your foster carer status.
So to review, here are the technical requirements of becoming a foster parent:
- Have a spare room in your home
- Be in good health
- Have appropriate references
- Attend the Skills to Foster Training seminar
- Undergo a BAAF Fostering Assessment
- Receive an Enhanced Disclosure from the DBS
- Review and final approval recommendation from a Fostering Panel
At that point, a final decision will be made on whether you’ll be selected as a foster carer. This is an exceedingly thorough process, especially with the requirement of a BAAF Fostering Assessment, so you can expect it to take as long as six months before you’re informed if you’ve been selected as a foster carer. Once you’ve satisfied these requirements for fostering, though, you have the opportunity to use that time to prepare yourself, both emotionally and mentally, for being a foster carer.
The Preparation Process
The foster care process involves more preparation than just getting your paperwork sorted and cleaning up your spare bedroom in anticipation of a long-term guest. You’ll also need to ensure you’re prepared to take on the awesome responsibility of fostering a child or young person on their journey to adulthood. This process can be self-guided, but many foster agencies provide intensive skill seminars to help you on your way.
This process begins shortly after you ask yourself “can I foster” and involves meeting with a social worker. Conducted either over the phone or in person, this chat allows you to get any questions you may have about the foster care process at the very beginning before moving on to more substantial preparations. Once you’re satisfied with your initial answers (and after you satisfy the technical requirements discussed above), you can then move onto the skills preparation portion.
Since the final selection process does take several months, you’ll have a number of opportunities for skills education. Foster agencies typically offer intensive courses that you can participate in during this waiting period; these courses take place over the course of several days and will offer you the opportunity to attend group sessions, led by experienced social workers. These sessions typically consist of in-depth, directed discussions about a number of different topics related to becoming a foster carer, including:
- The role foster carers play in helping foster children
- What can lead to children coming into care
- The type of support foster children may need
- The role foster carers play in promoting positive identities for foster children
- The wide support network that foster carers can call upon, and work together with, to promote the wellbeing of a foster child
- How to manage transitions, promote good behaviour, set boundaries, and build relationships with a foster child
- Methods for integrating a foster child into an existing network of friends and family members
The goal set for you, as foster carers, is to not just provide support to a child or young person in need of care. It’s also to provide room for a foster child to exhibit positive growth during the entire process, and that often means developing these relevant skills yourself to facilitate that process.
What You Can Expect Upon Selection
With standards set high in order to protect the interests of children and young people in need of being fostered, not everyone who asks themselves “can I foster” and then applies to become a foster carer becomes one. However, if you are selected to become a foster parent there are a number of things, both initially and ongoing, that you can expect to happen.
First and foremost, it’s time to learn that you don’t have to go it alone in your journey to becoming a foster parent. In fact, when you partner with a foster agency to become a foster carer you gain access to an impressive raft of support structures, such as the following:
- Access to a social worker: Upon selection, you’ll be assigned a social worker to guide you through the process of matching you with a child to foster. It doesn’t stop there, though, as you’ll be able to call on this social worker for guidance and support throughout the entirety of your foster carer experience.
- Individual development planning: One of the many resources your social worker can provide for you comes in the form of personal development planning to help you grow as a carer and as a person. As foster carers come from all backgrounds and all walks of life, this planning process can help fill in gaps in your skillset and aid in developing you in directions you never thought possible.
- Access to a mentoring scheme: You never have to go it alone when it comes to navigating the world of foster caring. It’s typical to be assigned a mentor, in the form of an experienced foster carer, to buddy up with in order to provide you with a unique perspective on the types of issues that only other foster carers are likely to have experienced.
- Regular foster carer group meetups: No one is an island. Foster carers need wide networks, and that’s why foster agencies either encourage or outright organise monthly meetups of foster parents and the children in their care. From providing play date opportunities to developing a wider array of relationships outside the mentoring scheme, such periodic forums are ideal for making the foster care process more fulfilling.
- Access to even more advanced support: Sometimes you’re going to need even more help. That’s only natural; you won’t be able to anticipate every event and issue that crops up. In instances where your assigned social worker or your mentoring buddy aren’t sufficient help, you’ll also typically have access to advanced help in the form of at-home support visits.
- Regular respite: It’s a tough job, being a foster carer. Many foster parents don’t have the respite opportunities that others have, for example in the form of relatives such as grandparents, so foster agencies regularly offer respite services, including up to two weeks paid respite a year. This vital self-care provides you with the ability to be there more successfully for any foster children under your care.
How Much Do Foster Carers Get Paid?
It takes more than compassion and dedication to raise a child. It doesn’t matter if it’s a foster child or not — any parent will tell you that there are certain financial requirements as well. The costs associated with the care and feeding of a child or young person are manifold, and they range from clothing and school supplies to simply giving them with the ability to enjoy their lives by providing them with toys and other entertainment options.
That’s why foster agencies ensure that those that take on the heavy responsibility of fostering a child receive compensation in order to support his or her mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. This compensation can and does vary according to a number of different factors, many of which are set in place by the government, with the most notable being a weekly allowance that foster carers are entitled to for doing the crucial work of providing a safe, secure, and nurturing home for a young person or child.
This weekly allowance is a recommendation set out by the government, and changes based on the age of the child in foster care and the location in which the foster carer lives. It’s typical that these payments are disbursed by the fostering departments of local authorities. Generally, though, you can expect weekly allowances of around £127 for babies if you live outside of London or the South East. This weekly allowance increases for older foster children, up to a minimum of £191 a week for young persons aged between 16 and 17.
If you live in the South East or in London, these allowances are higher in order to account for the higher cost of living in these regions. Foster carers living in the South East or in London will receive £140 and £146 a week respectively for babies; again this amount increases until a foster child is between the ages of 16 and 17, where respective minimum weekly allowances are £214 and £222.
Please be aware that these figures can and do change all the time, as the government reviews minimum allowances every April. If you’re looking for more specific information on how much do foster parents get paid, you can visit the government’s foster carers resource page, which provides a complete breakdown for the current financial year.
More than Minimum Allowances
Minimum weekly allowances can and do help provide foster carers with the necessary financial resources to ensure the needs of any children or young people in their care are met. However, as the name implies, these are minimum allowances. A foster agency will typically pay more than this minimum, though; Perpetual Fostering, for example, pays between £300 and £650 per child fostered. How foster agencies determine the total weekly pay you receive as a foster carer are through evaluating a number of specific circumstances, though again these circumstances are largely dependent on things such as:
- the specific physical, mental, or emotional needs of a foster child
- any specific skills you may have that are relevant to your ability to perform as a foster carer
- a particularly large commitment, such as fostering both a mother and baby at the same time, or a child with exceptionally special needs such as round-the-clock medical care
In these cases, the additional amount a foster carer can earn per week will increase. Again there is little specificity as to how much does a foster carer get paid, so if you are selected to foster a child the final amount will be determined on an individual basis.
Other Benefits to Becoming a Foster Parent
In addition to receiving a weekly allowance for serving as a foster carer, there are some other benefits you’ll be awarded as well. One of these is the fact that a portion of your earnings from becoming a foster carer will be tax-free. This takes two forms: an annual fixed tax exemption as well as additional variable tax relief, conditional on how many weeks of the year you provide services for a foster child in your care.
The first form, the annual tax exemption, is fixed at £10,000 per year. It’s important to note that this exemption is shared across the entire household, regardless of the number of carers under the same roof; a single foster carer, for example, would receive the entirety of it, while two carers would have to share the exemption. Additionally, if you do not serve as a foster carer for the entire year, this exemption may be reduced a commensurate amount.
The second type of tax relief comes in the form of an amount that you can add to your fixed £10,000 exemption. This accrues for every week you serve as a foster carer and is either £200 per child under the age of 11 or £250 per child over the age of 11. This adds up to an additional £10,400 to £13,000 in tax relief depending on age of foster child and whether you serve as a foster carer for the entire 52 weeks of the year.
A final note on tax relief: these fixed and variable exemptions are in addition to your tax-free personal allowance. While you can’t apply your standard £11,850 allowance for the 2018-2019 financial year to your foster carer tax exemption, you can apply that personal allowance to any income you make from a different source. This is extremely helpful for foster carers who also have an additional job or career outside of providing care for foster children.
The Answer to “Can I Foster?”
At this point, most of the answers to the question of “can I foster” should be well answered. You’ve learnt about the application process, the amount of time it takes to have your application considered, and what types of requirements you need to satisfy in order to be eligible for becoming a foster parent. You’ve also learnt what types of opportunities you’ll have to hone some very important skills during the application process in order to prepare you for the eventuality that you will be selected, answering that question of “can I foster” with a resounding “yes”!
Beyond that, however, you’ve learnt what kind of support systems you’ll have available to you in the event you are chosen to become a foster carer. You’ll have access to a dedicated social worker to answer your questions and to work with you on personal skills development, a mentor buddy and a larger network of fellow carers to rely on for experienced advice, and advanced support in emergencies and other unique situations. You’ll also gain access to respite services as well when you simply need an extra bit of self-care.
Finally, you’ve learnt all about the compensation and other benefits of becoming a foster carer. These include a minimum weekly allowance per child fostered, additional compensation for special circumstances or if you possess special skills, and even tax relief for doing the hard work of providing the kind of dedicated, compassionate help needed to prepare a foster child for adulthood.
You may still have unanswered questions. That’s only natural — becoming a foster carer is a major endeavour, one that you shouldn’t undertake without some serious contemplation. A qualified social worker can aid you in answering these remaining questions, which will help you decide not just “can I foster” but “should I foster”. If you’re dedicated, compassionate, patient, and committed to provide one or more children with the support they need to succeed, then that answer may very well be yes.