This information applies to Scotland
Fostering is the process whereby children are placed with families other than their own on a short-term or long-term basis. Unlike adoption, fostering is often a temporary arrangement and many fostered children continue to have contact with their own families and will eventually return to them, although some children may eventually be adopted – either by their foster carer or by another family. Some foster carers offer emergency care at very short notice.
There are regulations about fostering which local authority social work departments must enforce.
Anyone can apply to be a foster carer (whatever their sexual orientation) if they feel that they would be able to look after a child. There are no upper or lower age limits and single people (whatever their sexual orientation) can foster as well as married or unmarried heterosexual couples.
Many agencies run introductory courses for prospective foster carers. Details of courses are available from local social work departments.
Most fostered children are looked after by local authority foster carers. These are people who have applied to the local authority or to a voluntary organisation which looks after children to become a foster carer. Once s/he has been approved, the local authority or voluntary organisation will place children with her/him.
There are also a number of independent foster care agencies in Scotland.
A local authority may only place children with approved foster carers. Prospective foster carers will participate in a rigorous assessment process which will take at least six months. Local authorities use fostering panels to approve applicants. If the applicant is married, or if care is to be shared by two people, both will be assessed. As part of the approval process, applicants will need to provide two referees, who may be interviewed by the agency, and agree to medical and criminal records check on themselves and all members of their household who are over 18. In an emergency, a child may be placed for a limited period with a non-approved foster carer, if that person is a relative or friend of the child.
Once a foster carer has been approved, s/he enters into an agreement with the local authority. This agreement includes details of the support and training to be given to the carer by the local authority and arrangements for the child to have contact with family members. The carer must agree to treat the child as if s/he were a member of the carer's family and not to administer corporal punishment to the child. In turn, the local authority must provide the carer with detailed information about the child, including her/his personal history and her/his health and educational needs and also the support that will be provided to foster carers.
The Agency must carry out a review of foster carers at least once a year, at which the carer will have an opportunity to give her/his views. As a result of the review, the local authority may withdraw its approval of a carer.
Foster carers do not automatically have the same rights with respect to a foster child as the child's parents. They do have day to day responsibility for the care of the child and if the child is the subject of a permanence order, the court that made the order may have granted the foster carers some parental responsibilities and rights towards the child. The rights of the child's parents depend on how the child came to be looked after by the local authority.
For more information about parental responsibility, see Ending a relationship.
For more information about care orders, see Children who are looked after by the local authority.
A child in foster care has the right to have her/his views taken into account, depending on the child's age and understanding. In particular, the child should know who is responsible for her/him within the local authority and should be able to discuss any problems with this person.
An agency foster carer who is looking after a child will receive a fostering allowance from the local authority, which is designed to cover the costs of caring for the child. Local authorities are allowed flexibility to decide their own systems of payment but guidance from the Scottish Government sets out what should be taken into account. Allowances vary according to the child's age and needs. In some cases, a reward element or fee is also paid. Agencies should issue a leaflet explaining fees and allowances and should provide written guidance on tax and National Insurance liabilities.
The Fostering Network (see below) publishes recommended minimum weekly fostering allowances. The Network also recommends an additional four weeks allowance to cover birthdays and holidays.
A local authority foster placement will end in one of the following ways:-
- the child is old enough to live independently
- the child returns to her/his parent as part of a planned arrangement
- the child is removed by a parent – if the child is subject to a supervision requirement or order, this can only be done with the local authority's approval and must be agreed by the Children's Panel
- the foster arrangement breaks down
- the child is moved by the local authority to another placement
- the child is adopted – either by the foster carer or another family.
A foster carer may wish to keep in touch with a child s/he has fostered. If informal arrangements cannot be agreed, the foster parent may in certain cases be able to apply to court for a contact order.
For more information about contact orders, see Ending a relationship.
Some children are looked after by private foster parents. A parent of a child under school leaving age may privately arrange for that child to live with someone who is not a close relative. If this arrangement is to last for at least 28 days it is legally regulated, the carer is known as a private foster carer and the local council must be told about the arrangement.
The local council must check on the suitability of the private foster carer and a social worker should visit the child regularly to ensure that the child is being well looked after. A council may remove a child from a private foster carer at any time if they believe that the child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering significant harm.
A person is legally disqualified from acting as a private foster carer if s/he has been convicted of an offence involving a child; has had her/his own child taken into local authority care; or has been refused permission to run a day nursery or to act as a childminder. In addition, a local authority may prohibit someone from acting as a private foster carer if s/he is not a suitable person, if her/his premises are unsuitable; or if the arrangement is not in the child's interests.
If the child is to stay with a carer for less than 28 days or the carer is a close relative, for example, a grandparent, the arrangement is not legally regulated and it is not necessary to inform the local council about the arrangement even if the carer is paid. This type of arrangement can be ended at any time by the child's parent.
The Fostering Network provides information about all aspects of becoming a foster carer through its confidential Fosterline Scotland service, which can be contacted by email of phone and is open Mon-Thurs: 10am-4pm.