Each Local Authority or Health and Social Services Trust usually has its own fostering service. There are also many independent fostering providers, which may be charities or private companies.
Children come into the care of the Local Authority (or Health and Social Services Trust) where they live. The Local Authority will then place the child in the most appropriate placement, which could be foster care, residential care or some other arrangement. The Local Authority will look for available placements within their own fostering service and with independent fostering providers.
You may choose to foster either for a Local Authority, a Health and Social Services Trust or an independent fostering agency. Consider doing some research before deciding who you wish to apply to. View the Fostering Network's map to help you find fostering service in your area.
Once you’ve made an initial enquiry to a fostering agency, you will usually receive an application form to complete, and then Local Authority, employment, medical and police checks will be carried out. Personal references will also be taken from your friends and family on your suitability to foster a child. These checks are a legal requirement and are to safeguard the children. You will often then attend fostering preparation or training sessions. These will enable you to meet other prospective foster carers and explore in detail what it means to you and your family to foster a child.
The assessment process will continue with visits from a social worker, and then an assessment report will be completed and presented to the fostering panel by your assessing social worker. The fostering panel consists of a group of professionals from healthcare and social work backgrounds and independent people who have experience of fostering or the care system. You are invited to attend the panel. The panel will decide whether to recommend that you are approved as a foster carer. Its recommendation is then passed to the agency, which will make the final decision.
Once you are an approved foster carer, which may take around six months, you will be allocated your own social worker from the fostering agency, and will be offered ongoing training and development. From that point on, the team will start to look for a suitable child to place with you. Where a potential match comes to light, they will aim to give you information about the child and their background, and it will always ultimately be your decision as to whether to accept the child into your home. Sometimes children are placed in an emergency, and there might not be much information available about the child or young person.