Frequent Asked Questions

Deciding to become a foster carer can be a life-changing decision. This means there is plenty to think about. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions compiled from prospective foster carers. The answers below should give an understanding of the main issues connected to fostering. We would, of course, like you to get in touch with us if the answer to your specific question is not listed - or you would like additional infor-mation - or just clarification about a particular question(s).

Background Questions

1What is Fostering?
Put simply, fostering is when children or young people are placed with foster carers as their parents are no longer in a position to care for them. This can be on a temporary basis lasting for one or two days. It can last for a few months or in certain cases years.
2What is the difference between fostering and adoption?
Fostering is different from adoption as it involves looking after a child or young person on a temporary basis. Adoption is a permanent arrangement involving adoptive parents assuming full legal responsibility for a child or young person until they reach adulthood. A child who is adopted loses all legal ties with their “birth parents” becoming a full member of their new family - usually taking the family’s name.
3Why do children require foster care?
There are a number of reasons why children are fostered. It can be because of family breakdown or an illness in a family. If abuse or neglect is involved, a child may become the subject of a Child Protection Order. Any child coming into care will find the process unsettling. Foster carers provide children with safe, stable homes for as long as they are needed.
4Are there different types of foster care.
A. Yes. These can include emergency care, short term and long term fostering. Visit our page for a full explanation of the different types of fostering arrangement.
5What is the difference between fostering for a local authority as compared to an IFA (Independent Fostering Agency)?
A. There are several main differences: older children can be more difficult for local authorities to place so agencies will tend to have older children need a foster home; foster carer allowance-es are often higher with agencies; the levels of support and training opportunities can vary be-tween agencies and local authorities - there can be more support and opportunities with an agency to develop your career in specialist areas such as therapeutic fostering.

General Questions

1Will I need qualifications to be a foster carer?
No. During your preparation to become a foster carer, you will receive training. This will help you to identify skills you may already have that can be developed. Through the standard ‘Skills to Foster’ course you will be helped to acquire the specific skills needed to become a foster carer. Carers are expected to participate in ongoing training courses that are provided to support ongoing professional learning and development. These fall under the Training, Support, and Development Standards for Foster Care. More information is available at - https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/guidance-for-foster-carers
2How old do I have to be to foster?
You have to be at least 21 years of age (the law states you can apply to foster from the age of eighteen).
3Do I have to be married to foster?
No. Many foster carers are single people, cohabiting or in a civil partnership. If you are not on your own, it is important that you are in a stable relationship.
4Can I foster a child if I am gay?
Yes. There are many foster carers from the LGBT community. We welcome all applicants regardless of their sexual orientation. You can be gay, straight, male, female or transgender.
5Is there an age limit to my becoming a foster care?
Around half the people in the UK think of you are over 55 you can’t foster. This is far from the truth - there is no upper age limit. There are people still fostering well into their seventies. Older people can have a wealth of valuable life experience to offer. Most foster carers in the UK are aged between forty to sixty. What matters most is you are fit enough to meet the demands and challenges of being a foster carer.
6What do I need to foster?
Most importantly, an interest and concern for children and young people. The ambition, com-mitment and energy to support them to achieve their full potential. On a practical level, you must have a spare room for a child or young person. This is so they can have the privacy and space they will need. There should be plenty of storage space and a place for them to work if they are an older child. The exception to this is made for babies - up to around eighteen months - who are normally allowed to share a foster carers bedroom.
7Do I need to own my own home to foster?
You do not need to be homeowner to foster.
8Can I foster if I have pets?
Owning pets will not prevent you from fostering. They will be assessed as part of the application process to ensure their temperament and behaviour does not pose a risk. Having a family pet can be a real asset to a foster family.
9Can I foster without previous childcare experience?
Not everyone who fosters will have had experience of working with children or young people. It can be helpful - but it is not essential. Many people have transferable skills and with training and support these can be developed. There are certain areas of fostering - such as therapeutic care where past experience of working with children; though not a requirement, can be valuable.
10Can I foster if I am moving home?
Assessing your home will be an important part of the approval process. This is because safety checks will be made and advice given. Your home will have to be a suitable and safe environment for a child or young person. This means you should apply to foster when you are in the home a child will be living with you.
11Can I foster if I live outside the UK?
You cannot make an application to foster with a fostering service provider based in the UK. There can be rare exceptions, such as “family and friends” where foster carers may be looking after a child and members of the British Armed Forces families posted overseas. If you are resident in another country and wish to foster, information is available on the IFCO website (International Foster Care Organisation).
12Do I have to be a British citizen to foster?
You do not have to have British citizenship to foster in the UK. You will be expected by most fostering service providers to be a full-time resident here - or have leave to remain.
13What is the required standard of English I need to foster?
There are now a significant number of children in foster care for whom English is not their first language. Foster carers are sought from all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. They can provide well-matched placements where the first language of a child can be spoken. This can be very beneficial for a child coming into care. All foster carers will need a good level of written and spoken English. This is so they can communicate with other professionals about the needs of a child as well as keep records - which is a very important part of the job of fostering.
14Can I foster if I have my own children?
Yes. If you have your own children you will already have some of the important experience foster carers need. If you have your own children, we will need to give consideration to them when placing a child or young person in your family. Your own children will play an important role in your household. And they should be included in all the different stages of the fostering process. It can be difficult for children to find they are sharing their parents time and attention with a foster child. Many children report that they find it rewarding and have learnt much from their parents being foster carers.
15How much choice will I have about who I prefer to foster?
The final choice is always yours. All our foster carers are approved to care for children aged 0 to 18 of both genders. We will always look for the best match to your stated preferences. If you are going to be relying on your fostering income, you might have to be flexible in relation to the age range, gender and ethnicity of a child. A foster carer’s preferences that are very narrow - perhaps for a three-year old girl might have to wait longer.
16Will my views count in relation to who I am asked to foster?
Of course. When you apply to be a foster carer, you will be asked about your reasons to foster and an important part of that will include your preferences: the number, gender and age range of the children you want to offer a foster home. Other considerations will be discussed with you - your preferences may change along your fostering journey. The goal is for all placements to be well-matched as they are more likely to be stable. A foster carer has the ultimate right to turn down a placement referral.
17What information can I expect about a foster child to help me make a decision?
For every child in local authority care needing a foster home, there will be an individual referral. These are usually very detailed and all the information about a child will be shared with you. This may not be the case where an emergency placement is concerned. Some children have to be removed at very short notice from an unsafe environment. This means there may not be much information available. What is known will be shared with the foster carer and as information comes to light, this will be available from the social worker.
18Can I foster a child of a particular ethnicity?
Yes. this would be covered when your preferences are discussed. Where possible placements are always approached with the closest ethnic and cultural match in mind. Sadly, there are more children coming into care than there are foster families to look after them. Fostering providers will always try to work as closely within your preferences as is possible. It may take time to find the closest match. If you are providing child - whatever their background - with a stable home, even if on a short term basis, you will be doing valuable work for a vulnerable child.
19What if we can’t get along with a foster child?
If there is a real problem with a particular placement it is in nobody’s interest that it continues and so you will not be expected to continue if things are really not working out. However, if difficulties start to arise, it is important these are discussed early with your supervising social work-er. Sometimes additional support or training can make a difference. When a foster child comes into a new home, it is a period of change and adjustment for all concerned. Sometimes it just takes a little time…
20Can I foster if I smoke?
You can smoke, but you won’t be able to foster a child under five years of age or children with certain health conditions. Being a foster carer means you are setting an example for a child or young person every day. This means you should always avoid smoking in their presence and never in a car or your home.
21Do I have to be able to drive to foster?
There is no requirement to be able to drive - but it does generally make things a lot easier. Children may have to be taken to school or to contact meetings with their “birth parents”. Young children will also have medical and dental appointments at various times. Fostering can be challenging and take a lot of energy. Having access to a car can make a big difference.
22Can I foster if I am disabled?
Being disabled is not necessarily a bar to fostering. Every case will be looked at on an individual basis. Much will depend on the nature and degree of a particular disability. All our foster care applicants have to have a medical check as part of the approval process. We would need to be sure you can meet the demands of fostering without affecting your own health.
23Can I still foster if I have a disabled child?
You can certainly apply to foster if you have a disable child. A fostering service provider will ask how you will balance the needs of a foster child coming into your home with those of your own child. No two cases are the same - so a decision will be made when all the individual fac-tors have been taken into account.
24Can I foster if I have suffered from depression.
This will have to be discussed with the fostering service provider. A past mental illness will not necessarily prevent you from fostering. The assessment process includes a medical report which will look at your suitability. Fostering can make emotional demands on a carer, so you need to be confident you this will not affect your mental health and general well being.
25Can I foster if I have a criminal record?
This can depend on the nature of an offence. The law says that individuals cannot foster if they have a conviction relating to an offence against children or a sexual offence. A minor conviction will probably not affect your application. It is important when applying that any conviction is disclosed as all applications to foster include an enhanced criminal record check.

Procedural Questions

1How long does it take to become a foster carer?
The amount of time taken to become an “Approved” foster carer varies from person to person. On average it takes between four to six months to complete the process of approval.
2Who assesses my application to be a foster carer?
Once you have applied, you will be allocated a supervising social worker (SSW). They will guide and support you through every stage of the application process. With their help, you will produce a detailed report known as a Form F. When completed, this will be presented to the Fostering Panel who will consider your assessment and make a recommendation regarding your approval as a foster carer. The Panel is made up of people with varied and in-depth experience of all the various aspects of fostering.
3Once approved, how long will I wait before my first placement?
The day you are approved, we will look to match you with a foster child that fits with your preferences and approval criteria. The amount of time taken can vary because we want that all important first placement to be a positive experience for all concerned- so we don’t rush.
4I am a foster carer - can I transfer to another agency?
It’s very simple and straightforward process which we will manage on your behalf. The same applies whether you are transferring from another agency or as a foster carer with a local authority.

Financial questions

1Do I have to pay to apply to be a foster carer?
There is no cost to making an application to be a foster carer.
2Do I have to pay for training?
The introductory ‘Skills to Foster’ course is free - as are all the courses you will be offered, We expect our carers to commit to training so they can build their knowledge and skills.
3How are foster carers paid?
All foster carers are paid a weekly fostering allowance. This is intended to cover the full costs of caring for a foster child. It is for items such as clothing, food, pocket money and travel and their leisure activities.
4How much tax will I have to pay on earnings from fostering?
H M Revenue & Customs provide generous tax relief for foster carers. A fixed tax exemption of up to £10,000 per year (less if for a shorter period) can be shared equally among any foster carers in the same household. You don't have to pay tax on the first £10,000 income earned from fostering. There is more information regarding tax, national insurance and benefits for fos-ter carers at https://www.gov.uk/foster-carers/help-with-the-cost-of-fostering
5Will I be paid in-between placements?
No. We do not pay retainer fees. Our placements team will work hard to ensure you have referrals to consider so that any gaps between placements will be kept to a minimum.
6How can I earn more as a foster carer?
We are committed to our foster carers building a rewarding career with us. We are looking for more people to train to become therapeutic foster carers and they receive an enhanced rate. This recognises they are caring for children with challenging behaviour and complex needs. There is detailed information on this aspect of foster carer on our website: visit http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/therapeutic-foster-carer/
7Can I take up other employment and still foster?
Yes, but many foster carers prefer to foster full-time, so they are always available to meet the needs of the child they are caring for. This means they are always free to attend meetings and participate in training opportunities. We want our foster carers to regard fostering as a full-time career, which is why we provide a very generous allowance. Some foster carers work part-time, but commit to always being available at short notice should the need arise.
8Can I foster if I have had past financial difficulties?
You should not be prevented from becoming a foster carer if you have had financial problems. It will be important that these are resolved, so you are able to provide a stable and stress-free home environment for a child. And it will be important you are able to manage the fostering allowance you receive.

Please remember if you have any further questions, or need any further explanation, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line 0330 311 2845. You can also arrange for a call-back from us at a time to suit you. Just send us a message via the panel on this page.