How to Become a Foster Parent: the Definitive Guide

The decision to foster a child is both rewarding and life-changing. At times, however, fostering can seem like a daunting prospect, so we’re here to make it simple for you. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the various steps of the fostering process, to help you understand how to become a foster parent and determine if this is the path for you.

How to Become a Foster Parent

The seven steps to becoming a foster parent can be summarised as follows:
Step 1: Understand Fostering Requirements
Step 2: Decide What Kind of Fostering Is Right for You
Step 3: Commit to the Time Frame
Step 4: Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Step 5: Go through the Fostering Process
Step 6: Prepare Your Home and Family for Fostering
Step 7: Welcome a Child Into Your Home

Step 1: Understand Fostering Requirements

It is not unusual for people considering fostering to experience apprehension about expressing their interest. While this is largely due to harmful misconceptions, there are certain fostering requirements that must always be borne in mind.

What disqualifies you from being a foster parent in the UK?

As a result of these requirements, below are some things that would automatically lead to rejection from any fostering agency in the UK, or that may hinder the fostering process in some capacity:

  1. A history of violence. Of course, this will usually be revealed in the DBS check, but it’s important to note that this does not mean you cannot foster a child with a criminal record. If the incident took place decades ago and there is sufficient evidence that you’ve changed as a person, most fostering agencies will consider these factors and refrain from rejecting you outright. In any case, remember to always be honest with your assessing social worker, as by hiding anything that may be deemed important, you will undoubtedly come across as untrustworthy.
  2. A lack of a spare bedroom. One crucial requirement is the availability of a spare bedroom. Foster children must have their own separate room and cannot share accommodations with your own children or yourself. Unfortunately, not having a spare bedroom is an immediate no from all fostering agencies.
  3. Not being a UK resident. Fostering agencies value diversity and actively encourage individuals from various backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. However, you cannot foster if you’re not a UK resident or have permanent leave to remain in the UK. This requirement also extends to your partner, should you have one.
  4. Being under 21 years of age. All potential foster carers are required to be above the age of 21, so if you are over 18 and match all other criteria, you will have to wait a few more years before applying to become a foster parent.

Becoming a Foster Parent Myths

Although there are certainly circumstances which would disqualify you from becoming a foster carer, unfortunately, many people refrain from fostering due to various harmful misconceptions. Below are some of the most common misconceptions about fostering in the UK along with the reasons why they are untrue:

  1. Unemployed people cannot foster. Being unemployed can actually be beneficial, as it allows you to dedicate more time to the child in your care. You will also be paid to foster.
  2. Members of the LGBT+ community cannot foster. Sexual orientation has no impact on the fostering assessment. Your ability to be a fantastic foster parent is not determined by your sexual orientation.
  3. Single people cannot foster. In reality, single individuals can absolutely foster. The key factor is prioritising the child’s needs, as you will have support throughout your fostering journey.
  4. You can only foster if you own a home. You don’t necessarily have to be a homeowner to foster. Your living arrangement will always be assessed, but as long as your house is safe, clean and has a spare room, you will usually be eligible to foster.
  5. The elderly cannot foster. While the minimum age to foster is 21, no upper age limit exists. However, it is true that you must be mentally and physically fit to care for a child.
  6. Transgender people cannot foster. Your gender identity does not in any way hinder your ability to foster a child.
  7. Disabled people cannot foster. Having a disability or medical condition does not immediately determine your ability or inability to foster. The nature of your condition will have to be considered on an individual basis.
  8. People with pets cannot foster. Many foster families have pets, as they can teach children responsibility and care. There will be guidelines regarding the safety of your pet, and you will have to prove that the animal is clean and healthy.
  9. People with babies cannot foster. Having a baby does not automatically prevent you from fostering. However, your chosen agency will assess your ability to care for the foster child as well as the baby to ensure you won’t become overwhelmed.

Step 2: Decide What Kind of Fostering Is Right for You

If you’re wondering how to become a foster parent, it’s important to understand that fostering encompasses an array of options. Different foster care agencies provide different fostering arrangements, which will be catered to their local needs. There are many factors to consider when deciding what type of fostering to pursue, including skills, family dynamics and lifestyle. With that in mind, below is a general overview of the different kinds of fostering on offer: 

Short term foster care

This is where a child will need support for only a short time period, which typically ranges from a few days to a few years.

Emergency foster care

When a child needs fostering due to unforeseen circumstances. This often occurs at very short notice, and may last from a night to a few weeks, depending on each situation.

Respite foster care

In respite fostering, children are temporarily placed with another family to give their birth family or primary carers a break.

Long term fostering

Occurs when children remain with their foster family for an extended period, usually until they are allowed to leave care.

Therapeutic fostering

This is normally called for when a child or young person has undergone significant neglect or trauma, and living with foster carers would likely help the child heal.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC fostering)

This is for children who have escaped horrific incidents in their home countries and as a result require extra support due to their heightened state of vulnerability.

Parent and child fostering (P&C)

A special arrangement in which a foster carer lives with a family while they are unable to look after their child themselves.

Step up or step through fostering

Occurs when children need to transition from a residential home to a foster family.

Disability and additional needs fostering

Entails providing dedicated care for children with various learning difficulties and physical disabilities, including ADHD and autism.

Staying put arrangements

For children and young people in care who have already formed strong attachments to their foster parents, enabling them to continue to live with their carers even after they have turned 18.

Kinship care

Takes place when parents are unable to care for their children, and rather than relying on foster carers, friends and family step in to help. This is usually an informal arrangement, but may also come with various degrees of state involvement or oversight.

Bear in mind that certain types of foster care will be more appropriate for carers specialising in specific areas, while others would be better suited for those with wide-ranging experience or skills.

Step 3: Commit to the Time Frame

While most agencies aim to complete the fostering process in a timely manner, the safety and wellbeing of children will always remain the priority.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Foster Parent?

Overall, it takes between three to six months to become approved as a foster carer. Some fostering agencies, however — including Compass — offer a fast-track assessment process without sacrificing important safeguards.

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Step 4: Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Acquiring knowledge on how to become a foster parent is only half the journey, as being a foster parent is a significant commitment that calls for careful deliberation and self-reflection. By assessing your own character, you can determine if you are ready to provide a stable environment for vulnerable kids.

What qualities make a good foster carer?

When assessing candidates, fostering agencies will typically be on the lookout for a number of important qualities. These include patience, empathy, flexibility, resilience and the ability to advocate for the child’s needs. Be sure to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses to see how well they align with these desired qualities.

Evaluate your motivations

Understanding your motivations for becoming a foster parent is also essential. Ask yourself why exactly you would like to foster a child and what you hope to achieve throughout this journey. Remember to also consider your expectations and be realistic about the challenges that come with foster parenting. By taking a moment to self-reflect, you can set realistic goals and better navigate any future obstacles.

Embrace the challenges

Foster parenting can be both extremely rewarding and challenging. With that in mind, it is important to be aware of the difficulties that may potentially arise, including navigating complex emotions, dealing with behavioural issues and working with dysfunctional families. However, it is equally critical to recognise the profound rewards of making a positive impact on a child’s life, watching them grow in wisdom, and providing them with love and stability.

A couple learning about how to become a foster parent consider their strengths and weaknesses.

Step 5: Go Through the Fostering Process

Below is a complete breakdown of the fostering process, including how long each step is expected to take:

1. Initial enquiry – 24 hours.

This is the earliest stage in the process, when you inform a fostering agency of your intention to foster. You should hear back from them within 24 hours.

2. Initial visits – 48 hours.

After the initial enquiry, an assessing social worker should then contact you within 48 hours to arrange a home visit. While in-person visits are typically preferred, certain agencies, including Compass, will also be able to do this virtually.

3. DBS check – Approximately 8 weeks.

Regardless of agency, all foster carers are required to undertake a DBS check. These check for any convictions a person may have, including whether they are barred from working with children. Bear in mind that anyone in your household over 18 will also need to undergo a DBS check.

4. Fostering medical – 1 to 6 months.

One of the most common fostering requirements is that all foster parents are both physically and mentally healthy. This is why you will also have to undertake a medical assessment. The time this takes to complete will depend on your availability as well as the availability of your GP.

5. Home visits – 3 to 6 months.

Ordinarily, the assessing social worker you meet during your initial visit will maintain close contact with you throughout your fostering assessment. You should expect between 8 to 10 visits, as they get to know your home environment and assist you with the necessary paperwork.

6. Foster carer training – 3 days.

Different agencies offer different fostering training courses that potential carers are required to attend. These normally take place during the fostering assessment and take no more than a few days to complete.

7. Checks and references – 3 to 6 months.

Most fostering agencies will also ask you to fill out a ‘Reference and Chronology’ form. These tend to be comprehensive, demanding contact details of any references that may help form a bigger picture of your character.

8. Fostering panel – 1 day.

Once all previous steps have been completed, you will then be invited to attend your Fostering Panel. This is where a final decision is made about your readiness to become a foster carer.

An illustration linking to foster carer stories.

Step 6: Prepare Your Home and Family For Fostering

To ensure a positive experience at home for both you and the foster child, it is critical to create a nurturing and supportive environment. By taking proactive steps to prepare your home and involving your family members throughout this process, you can establish a stable foundation for welcoming a new child into your care. Here are some simple, yet effective measures you can implement:

  1. Make your home safe and accommodating for a foster child. Consider important factors including childproofing, providing a comfortable bedroom, and keeping essential supplies readily available. To ensure compliance with home requirements and safety standards, be sure to consult the guidelines provided by your fostering agency.
  2. Establish a sense of routine and security. Meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the child or young person in your care is just as important as tending to their physical well-being. Adapt your home environment accordingly to cater to their emotional needs.
  3. Communicate openly with your family. Preparing your home for foster care will also mean prepping your family for any changes in household dynamics and encouraging their active participation. With that in mind, remember to also address their concerns and questions.

Step 7: Welcome a Child Into Your Home

The last step in becoming a foster parent is a final waiting period, as before welcoming a child into your home, your fostering agency will have to match you with a child.

The foster care placement process

The foster care placement process is a careful matching and placement procedure that is designed to ensure all foster children are paired with suitable foster families. This process entails close collaboration between fostering agencies and social workers as well as the child’s biological family. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the foster care placement process:

  • Initial referral. The fostering agency receives the child’s referral from the Local Authority. This is then reviewed, and a placements team will begin evaluating all available foster carers and determine if any of them would be a good match for the child. If a match is not found, the referral is handed back to the Local Authority. 
  • Match found. As soon as a match is found, the carer is contacted and provided with a brief overview of the referral. This includes the child’s gender, age and any specialist care requirements. It also includes information regarding the child’s behaviour, physical health and emotional state. Foster carers will then have time to discuss this with their supervising social worker and decide if they’re a suitable match.
  • Carer is found to be suitable. If the foster carer is deemed suitable for the child, the fostering agency will then communicate their interest to the Local Authority. This is a great time to request additional details about the child’s care plan or any other specific information you need.
  • Local authority review. Once all questions have been addressed, foster carers are finally formally offered a referral by the fostering agency. The Local Authority then reviews the offer, and if they agree that the foster carer is suitable, then they will notify the fostering agency of their acceptance.

Final Thoughts on How to Become a Foster Parent

Becoming a foster parent is an ongoing journey that requires continuous learning and support. Consequently, it’s important to make the most of any support services provided by your fostering agency. This may include connecting with fellow foster carers, attending support groups and online communities, and even one-on-one professional counselling.

If you are thinking about fostering in the UK, you should also bear in mind the legal and administrative consequences and make sure you’re prepared to keep everything organised. Stay on top of all paperwork and documentation, including contact details for your chosen agency, social workers and legal professionals.

By actively seeking support and utilising the available resources, foster carers can enhance their skills and well-being, and ensure they are providing the best possible care.

Have we answered all of your questions?

For more information on how to become a foster parent, get in touch with Compass today and request your free digital brochure.

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