An Introduction to Foster Care in the UK

Why Foster?

Fostering in the UK is at an exciting time, with more opportunities for people around the country to take care of children from vulnerable backgrounds with a view to raising them to become responsible and upstanding individuals in society.

Media outlook

Despite applications for foster parentage falling in the decades since the 1960s, recent cases of fostering in the media have raised awareness with hopeful consequences.

Since 2007’s notorious case surrounding the death of Peter Connolly – a young infant known as Baby P in court documentation – the spotlight has been upon improving the social care and fostering services in the UK. The dramatic improvement in checks on individuals and couples applying to receive foster children has emboldened thousands of new applicants yearly, meaning that many children who otherwise could not find a good home to grow up in have one.

Things are looking up

With support among the population plentiful and background checking more thorough and sophisticated than ever, now is the time to hold cautious optimism about the future of foster care in the UK.

For how long does a child stay in care?

In general – very variable

Most instances of fostering are temporary, with children involved often returning to their biological families within 12 months. Some children, however, remain fostered for longer if familial issues persist. Fostering contrasts from adoption in that adoption is a definitive, permanent change of family whereby the child is intended to be part of the adopting family at least until coming of age. In rare cases, foster children may elect to be adopted should problems with their biological family persist or worsen.

Even when a child is not adopted, so long as their carer is proving a good home and everyone is happy, the foster care arrangement can continue indefinitely as if it were an adoption. It’s kind of like the difference between permanent work and temporary ongoing work. Adoption is like a permanent contract; where as temporary ongoing work is like foster care because it can continue for a long time or be cut short at a moment’s notice.

In emergencies – initially short term

The most prominent form of foster care is called emergency foster care. This is focused upon housing a child for the very short, medium or long term depending on the problems arising and their length. Most instances of fostering fall into this category, with many incidents – for example medical emergencies in the family, absence of biological family care due to disappearance or incarceration, or abuse in the family home – forming the backdrop preluding this kind of foster care. Many foster carers are accustomed to offering a child comfort in what can be a highly stressful time of crisis.

Carer considerations

What’s the main thing?

The essence of foster care involves responsibility for the child. Whether they arrive in infanthood, mid childhood or adolescence; the majority of charities in the UK emphasise that most children simply want a secure, happy environment where activity and good care abound.

What else must a carer consider?

Education of foster parents notes the need to pay attention to their foster child’s personality and interests, while emphasising the importance of outdoors activities such as sports or even days out hiking or camping in the country.

How to get started

To learn more about becoming a foster carer in the UK, the government’s website provides a good starting point. Although you can work for a private foster care agency and potentially earn a lot from it, you can also work with your local council – there’s plenty of options – but generally you always need to be registered officially so it’s always best to start by exploring the central government’s official guidance here: