The main difference between fostering and adoption is that fostering is usually temporary. As a foster parent you have the role of a parent but not the legal responsibility. Within the UK there are over 6,000 children in need of a foster home, for lots of different reasons. Because of these differing reasons, there are differing types of foster care.

Emergency- When children need somewhere safe to stay for a few nights.

Short-term- Carers look after children for a few weeks or months while plans are made for the child’s future.

Short breaks- When children who are disabled, have special needs or have behavioural difficulties regularly stay for a while with a family. This means their parents or usual foster carers can have a break.

Remand- When young people are remanded by a court to be looked after by a specially-trained foster carer.

Fostering for adoption- When babies or small children stay with foster carers who may go on to adopt them.

Long-term- Not all children who need to permanently live away from their birth family want to be adopted, so instead they go into long-term foster care until they are adults.

‘Family and friends’ or ‘kinship’- A child being cared for by the local council goes to live with someone they already know, usually a family member.

Specialist therapeutic- For children and young people with very complex needs and/or challenging behaviour.

It might be that the thought of adoption seems too permanent for you to consider at this time but fostering may feel like something that you can offer instead.

The fostering process

The process is similar in some ways to the adoption process. Fostering has to be carried out through an agency and in the UK, there are a mix of local authority and independent agencies. You still need to have initial checks including checks through the Disclosure and Barring Service, a review of medical reports and a home assessment. You will also need to attend training sessions to learn about issues you may face and decide what type of fostering you can offer. The whole process should take between six and eight months.

As with adoption, this information is collated and goes before an independent foster panel who will recommend whether you are suitable as a foster parent and if so for what type of fostering.

The fostering agency then make the final decision based on the recommendation from the fostering panel. At this point, the fostering agency will look for a child – or children – to place with you. This can happen much quicker than an adoption placement because there are more children waiting for foster homes than there are awaiting adoption.

You are not entitled to paid leave from your employer if you have a foster child placed with you, but it is still a huge commitment and will take up a lot of your time. It is likely you will have to attend meetings with social services and the birth parents as well as other agencies such as education or health professionals. In recognition of the cost and time care of providing foster care, agencies do provide a weekly allowance per child. In fact, some people do see becoming a foster parent as a career.  

For further information on fostering we suggest starting with the following websites: