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How do we help?

We offer independent, impartial support and advice to foster carers across the UK.

Our aim is to make a real difference to the lives of foster carers which, in turn, helps them make an even bigger difference to the lives of the children in their care.

Already fostering?

Become a member of FosterTalk for just £44 a year and receive a wealth of benefits including:

  • Legal support and insurance
  • Fostering, counselling and medical helplines
  • Personal finance and tax advice
  • Education advice
  • A quarterly fostering magazine
  • Hundreds of discounts on high street shopping and family days out.

We work with foster carers, social workers and fostering experts to develop our services. So when you join us, you know you’ll get the support you need to make the most of your fostering journey.

Interested in joining FosterTalk? Find out more about becoming a member here.

Thinking about fostering?

If you’re interested in becoming a foster carer but haven’t yet started your fostering journey, we can still help.

Fosterline is a free, confidential helpline offering advice on fostering issues, which includes answering questions from potential carers.

Would you like to know what fostering involves, how long it takes to become a carer or what training and support you’ll receive? We can help. Simply call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 from 9am-5 pm, Monday to Friday.

Calling outside of office hours? Leave a message and an advisor will call you back the next working day. For more information on Fosterline, please visit www.fosterline.info

Fosterline is delivered by FosterTalk, and is funded by Department for Education

Foster carer training

All Fostering Service Providers are expected to ensure that foster carers are trained in the skills required to provide high quality care and meet the needs of each child or young person placed in their care.
As a foster carer, you are expected to attend all relevant training. This will include:

  • Pre-approval training – Skills to Foster,
  • Induction training – Working in Partnerships,
  • Ongoing core training – Safe Caring.

You should also be provided with the opportunity to attend:

  • Ongoing specialist training – Men who Foster, Working with Challenging Behaviour,
  • Professional vocational training – NVQ level 3.

If there are two adults in the household approved as foster carers you are both expected to complete the relevant training.

Fostering Service Providers will usually organise training to facilitate your attendance so this may take place in the evening or at weekends.

The Training, Support and Development Standards (TSD)

In England, all foster carers are required to complete the Training Support and Development Standards within 12 to 18 months of becoming approved as a foster carer.

Following the closure of the Children’s Workforce Development Council in April 2012, responsibility for the training, support and development of foster carers passed to the Department for Education. This includes the TSD standards for foster carers, including online resources, such as training materials and case studies, and the TSD workbooks.

The Training, Support and Development (TSD) standards form part of a foster carer’s induction in the role. They provide a national minimum benchmark that sets out what foster carers should know, understand and be able to do within the first 12-18 months after being approved. You can present your evidence in a range of ways. The most important thing is that you evidence all of the standards under each of the headings.

The TSD standards are used as Ofsted inspection criteria and in 2011 they became part of the National Minimum Standards too. Supervisors play a key role helping foster carers complete the TSD standards within the required timescales. All approved foster carers in England must complete the TSD standards.

Foster carers may be unsure of what’s expected of them and sometimes feel overwhelmed, especially if they’ve not undertaken any qualifications in recent years. There are a lot of useful case studies and examples on line, and your fostering service may set up a group for foster carers completing their workbooks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Family and friends carers (kinship carers)

As family and friends (kinship) carers, you may often take care of children at short notice and in difficult circumstances, therefore the deadline for them to complete the standards has been extended. Those who are new to fostering a family member or a friend’s child have up to 18 months to complete the standards.

A shorter version of the TSD standards workbook is available to use with family and friends (kinship) carers. This may also be used with Support Carers.

If you’re a foster carer about to start the TSD standards, or you’d like help completing the workbook, talk to your supervising social worker who will be able to support and guide you. The TSD standards workbook takes you through each section of the standards.

Further information and frequently asked questions.

Allegations and concerns

FosterTalk offers locally based, independent Advisors to provide face to face support, advice advocacy and or mediation for foster families during difficult times such as allegations and complaints. This is available through our Foster Carers Independent Support Service (FISS) which can be commissioned by your fostering service on your behalf.

Some fostering services allow you to self-refer which means you can contact us direct to ask for support. If you are unsure whether you are authorised to self-refer please feel free to call us to discuss and we will advise you accordingly.

FosterTalk provides a practical approach to independent support that delivers a flexible and responsive service. It’s a highly valued service for foster carers, so if you have had an allegation or complaint made against you, and would like advice and support during the process, call FosterTalk on 01527 836910 and speak to one of our fostering advisors.

Watch the video below to find out more about how the service supports foster carers.

 

For more information about how we support foster carers who have had a complaint or allegation made against them click here.

 

Reviews and terminations of approval

Reviews and terminations of approval of foster carers Fostering Services Regulations (England) 2011, (as amended 2013)

The fostering service provider must review the approval of each foster carer not more than 1 year after approval and thereafter whenever the fostering service considers it necessary, but at intervals of not more than one year. (Reg 28(2))

The review must consider whether the foster carer and their household continue to be suitable to foster, taking into account the views of the foster carer, any child placed with them in the preceding year, and the child’s placing authority. (Reg 28.3)

The fostering service must also make whatever enquiries it considers necessary to inform this judgement; which may include checks in relation to any new members of the household.

At the conclusion of the review, a written report must be prepared setting out whether the foster carer continues to be suitable to foster, and the terms of their approval. In the case of the first review this must be presented to the fostering panel for a recommendation. If it is decided, taking account of any recommendation from the fostering panel if applicable, that the foster carer and their household continue to be suitable, then the foster carer must be notified in writing, together with the terms of their approval.(Reg 28(4))

If, taking into account any recommendations made by the fostering panel, the service provider is no longer satisfied that the foster carer(s) are suitable to foster, or that the terms of their approval are appropriate, it must

Give written notice to the foster carer(s) that it proposes to terminate, or vary the terms of approval (a qualifying determination) together with its reasons, and a copy of any recommendation made by the fostering panel, and

Advise the foster carer that within 28 days of the date of the notice the foster parent may submit any written representation s/he wishes to make to the fostering service or request a review of the qualifying determination by the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) (Reg 28(7)

The Role of the Panel and Agency Decision Maker

There is no requirement in the Regulations to refer changes or terminations of approval to panel for a recommendation. However, the fostering service provider is required to take account of any recommendation made by the fostering panel if the matter is referred to them. This decision will be made by the Agency Decision Maker.

The fostering service must identify a senior member of staff (usually referred to as the decision maker) who will receive the panel’s recommendations, and make decisions as required.

More than one decision maker may be appointed, but they may not delegate their authority to another person. Standard 23 sets out the qualifications, knowledge and experience required of the decision maker.

Regulation 27 requires that the decision maker must take account of the fostering panel’s recommendation before deciding whether or not to approve a person as a foster carer, and on what terms. Their decision must be made within seven working days of receipt of the panel’s recommendation via the minutes (standard 14).

The decision maker is also responsible for deciding whether a person and their household remain suitable to foster, and whether the terms of approval remain suitable, following each review of the foster carer’s approval.

The decision should be based on the written report of the review; taking account of any recommendation by the fostering panel (which must be provided on the occasion of the first review and may be provided for subsequent reviews) and any recommendation of the IRM.

Once a foster carer is approved, they must be notified in writing of this fact and of any terms of the approval. Terms may specify, for instance, that they may foster only a specific named child or children, or may identify a maximum number of placements which may be made at any one time.

Terms may also include factors such as short term or long term placements, short break care, or inclusion in a particular fostering scheme. Foster carers must also enter into a foster care agreement, covering the matters set out in Schedule 5 to the Regulations (regulation 2 and standard 14).

Attending Panel

National Minimum Standard 14.5 requires that “foster carers and prospective foster carers are given the opportunity to attend and be heard at all Panel meetings at which their approval is being discussed and to bring a supporter to panel if they wish”.

They should have access to all reports that are being presented to Panel and to have made a written response to those reports if they wish.

If a carer takes a supporter to Panel, it will be the Chair who decides whether or not the supporter is allowed to speak on behalf of the foster carer. It would need to be made clear that if a solicitor is acting as a supporter, they are not there as a legal representative.

Resigning as a foster carer

A foster carer may, at any point give written notice that they wish to resign from the role. As such, their approval is automatically terminated 28 days after receipt of the notice by the fostering service (regulation 28(13)).

The decision maker, alongside the fostering service, does not have the power to decline a resignation. Instead, they can only offer advice; informing the carer that their resignation will automatically take effect after 28 days – regardless of whether the notice is then withdrawn.

 

 

The Independent Review Mechanism (IRM)

The Independent Review Mechanism

If the foster carer disagrees with the decision of the Agency Decision Maker, they have the right to make representations within 28 days, either to the original fostering panel or to the Independent Review Mechanism (the IRM).

Once the foster carer has decided which route they wish to take, they should inform the Agency Decision Maker in writing and within 28 calendar days of the date of the letter from the Agency Decision Maker.

If, within 28 days, no representations are received and no application is made to the IRM, the decision maker is free to decide whether or not to approve the applicant as a foster carer (following a full assessment), continue the assessment (following a brief report) or amend their terms of approval.

If representations are received, the matter must be referred back to the fostering panel and a decision then made taking account of the panel’s further recommendations.

If the application is referred to the IRM, the fostering service must, within 10 working days of notification of this, supply the IRM with the documentation submitted to the fostering panel and any relevant information received subsequently, along with copies of the notices of determination (regulation 29). The decision maker must take account of the recommendation of the IRM, as well as that of the original fostering panel, in reaching a decision about approval.

A determination to change a foster carer’s terms of approval is not a qualifying determination if, following a review of the carer’s approval under regulation 28:

  • The fostering service provides the foster carer with a written statement setting out whether they consider the foster carer’s household, including any children placed there, to have additional support needs as a result of the change, if so what these support needs are and how they will be met, and
  • The foster carer provides their written agreement to the change.

It should be noted that the foster carer can only make representation either to the fostering provider or to the IRM, not both.

It should also be noted that there is no IRM in Scotland or Northern Ireland, where different Regulations apply.

For further information on the IRM for England click here

For further information on the IRM for Wales please click here

Delegated authority

Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers

Delegated authority is all about giving children in care as normal lives as possible, with the same opportunity as other children, and with foster carers being able to make every day decisions without having to ask a social worker for their consent. Every local authority is required to have a published policy setting out its approach to delegation of authority in respect of looked after children in foster care. Volumes 2 and 4 of the Children Act 1989 statutory guidance confirm that, except where there are factors that dictate the contrary, foster carers should be given delegated authority to make day-to-day decisions about health, education, leisure, etc.

Overnight Stays, school trips and holidays:

In making decisions whether or not to allow a looked after child to stay overnight with a friend, go on holiday with a friend’s family, or go on a school trip, foster carers and responsible authorities should consider the following:

  • Are there any restrictions in the child’s care plan or placement plan
  • Are they any court orders prohibiting or restricting overnight stays or holidays
  • Are they any factors in the child’s background, past experience or behaviour that preclude the trip or holiday
  • Are there any grounds for concern that the child might be at risk in the household concerned or from activities proposed
  • What is the age and understanding of the child about the trip
  • What are the reasons for the stay/trip
  • How long is it for

Looked after children should always be told of the criteria that will be used to make decisions, and once these factors have been considered and weighed, they should be told of the reasons for the decision being made. Needless to say, contact details for where the child will be staying and information about all activities to be undertaken should be provided to the foster carers, in the same way as for your birth child.

Two further points worth mentioning are:

  • There is no statutory duty to obtain DBS checks in relation to a private household where a child may stay overnight or visit, or who the child may accompany on holiday or a school trip
  • There is no requirement for the adults in the household that the child visits or accompanies on holiday to be approved as a foster carer, as the child remains formally placed with their usual foster carers.

Further information:

Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Vol 2, Care planning, placement and review (June 2015) contains a full description of the regulations concerning delegated authority

 

A useful checklist entitled “Things you need to know about delegated authority” can also be found here

 

Leaving foster care

When a young person reaches the age of 18, any Care Order is automatically revoked, and they are no longer considered to be “looked after”. However, foster carers play an important part in ensuring that young people are prepared for the move to independence or by continuing to support them after the age of 18 through supported lodgings and other schemes, such as Shared Lives and Staying Put.

Arrangements for young people leaving care at the age of 18 vary according to where they live in the UK and it is important to be aware of the guidance and policies that apply to them. It is also important that foster carers understand the implications of changes to their financial arrangements if they continue to care for a young person after the age of 18.

Some young people prefer to move to independent living and foster carers play an important role in supporting young people as they begin this transition. Other schemes are briefly discussed below, with links to organisations that can provide further information and support.

Staying Put

The age of leaving home among the population as a whole is rising and the transition to adulthood is becoming increasingly complex. Children looked after often leave care to become independent before the age of 18. Research and evidence highlights that where children in care experience an extended transition more akin to their peers, outcomes improve and the experience is more normative.

The Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers Regulations and Guidance 2010 and the Fostering Regulations and Guidance 2011 (Children Act 1989) both require local authorities to have a Staying Put policy. The Staying Put policy should set out the practical, financial, tax and benefit issues (for both the foster carer and the child) which impact on the decision to extend foster care as Staying Put care when a looked after child reaches the age of 18 years.

New guidance isued by the DfE sets out the Department for Education, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions (DfE, HMRC and DWP) frameworks that local authorities must be aware of, and take account of, when developing a local Staying Put policy.

The work undertaken across the DfE, HMRC and DWP to produce the guidance has enabled changes to be made within HMRC that has aligned the tax rules across foster carer and Staying Put carer. Work with DWP has ensured that the local authority payments (Section 23) made to Staying Put carers are disregarded when calculating a carer’s entitlement to benefit. Other elements of the work, which have been included in the guidance, have been to clarify the complex benefit and tax rules in regard to Staying Put arrangements. The final element of the work and guidance has been to set out the different safeguarding frameworks in regard to Staying Put young people remaining in arrangements where foster children live, and in situations where the Staying Put young person is the only young person living with their carer.

The primary aim of the guidance, and the requirement for local authorities to develop a local Staying Put policy, is to ensure arrangements are in place that can enable a young person’s foster care placement to be extended beyond their 18th birthday. Staying Put will enable young people to experience a transition from care to independence and adulthood that is similar to that which most young people experience, is based on need and not on age alone.

For further information go to:

Staying put arrangements for care leavers aged 18 years and above

Supported Lodgings

Supported Lodgings provide vulnerable young people with places to live in the homes of local people. These might be the same people who fostered the young person when they were “looked after” or they might have been specifically recruited to be Supported Lodgings carers. These hosts/carers are assessed, vetted and trained for the role.

Most of the young people are aged 16 to 21, but exceptionally some may need support up to 24. Young people generally spend a maximum of two years living with their hosts/carers, from whom they receive significant practical and emotional support. Supported Lodgings schemes provide family-based support to young people to help them to develop the confidence and capability to live independently.

Currently there are 113 schemes registered in the database of the Supported Lodgings Project in England.

Whilst such Supported Lodgings schemes provide substantial individual support, young people who require a higher degree of support and possibly personal care (perhaps due to medical conditions or disabilities which will prevent them from becoming fully independent in the longer term) may be eligible for Shared Lives (formerly adult placement) schemes.

Supported Lodgings have been developed as an accommodation option in recognition of the evidence that, when an alternative to foster care is needed, a supportive domestic environment is more suitable for some young people than other forms of accommodation such as foyers, hostels and rented housing.

Payments to hosts/carers

The payments received by Supported Lodgings hosts/carers constitute a combination of rent and payment for the provision of support. These can be broken down into rent, service charges, support costs and food/meals. Payments to Supported Lodgings hosts/carers may be derived from Supported Lodgings schemes, from Children’s Services Departments or from Supporting People.

In addition it is common practice that young people contribute to the cost of their Supported Lodgings including payment of housing benefit.

For further information about Supported Lodgings visit: www.leavingcare.org.

The website of the National Care Advisory Service, which is a national advice, support and development service focusing on young people’s transition from care. NCAS is supported by national charity Catch22.

Advocacy for looked-after children

Every child or young person in foster care has the right to advocacy from someone independent to help them express their views or make a complaint.  Foster carers speaking to our fostering advisors are often worried that they will get into trouble if they help to find an advocate for a young person in their care. This is not the case, and the following information is provided to help you to identify the best source of support for your foster child.

Each child or young person in foster care has an allocated social worker and an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) who is responsible for chairing reviews of their care plans at regular intervals. The IRO is responsible for ensuring that the child or young person’s views are taken into account at reviews and in every decision made about them. The IRO is also responsible for providing information about advocacy services that the young person can contact if they wish to do so.

Local Authorities are expected to publicise their arrangements for advocacy services in their area  and to provide information about children’s rights to every child or young person they look after. Some local authorities provide Children’s Rights services “in house” and some contract with other organisations to provide these for them.  Since April 2013, the government has provided funding to support two independent children’s rights organisations, National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) www.nyas.net/  and Voice http://www.anationalvoice.org/about/about-anv provide advocacy and advice for looked-after children and care leavers.

What can an advocate do?
An advocate can help a child or young person make a complaint or any other representation about their care for example issues around contact with birth families or placement moves.  They can accompany them to reviews or other meetings and ensure that their voice is heard in a way that the foster carer is unable to do.  Having access to a Children’s Rights officer or Advocate is the right of anyone in care and neither a foster carer nor young person should feel that they will get into trouble if they ask for an advocate to help them express their views.

If you need to find an advocate for your foster child, the first port of call should be the child’s social worker or IRO.   However, if this fails then you should contact either NYAS or VOICE who will be able to advise you which advocacy services are available in your local authority area. Wherever possible, the young person should do this themselves, but a foster carer can make contact on their behalf in the first instance. The advocacy services will always want to speak to the young person to ensure that it is their views that are being reflected.

Other children’s rights organisations:
There are a number of other advocacy and children’s rights organisation which can be found in our useful links section. They also offer telephone helplines and publish useful and advice and information for children and young people in care.

The Children’s Commissioner will also take up issues on behalf of children and young people in care. Their website can be found here: www.Rights4me.org.uk

Finally, our fostering advisors are always happy to help you explore the best options for advocating for your young people and talk through next steps.

Exemptions from the usual fostering limit

Introduction

The usual fostering limit

Schedule 7 of the Children Act 1989 limits the number of children who may be fostered by a foster carer. The “usual fostering limit” is set at 3. This means that no one may foster more than 3 children unless:

  • The foster children are all siblings in relation to each other
  • Exemptions can only be granted by the local authority within whose area the foster carer lives and only in relation to specific placements (in which case they must set out the terms as detailed below), and
  • The foster carer’s terms of approval allow it (any terms of approval must be compatible with the number of children the foster carer is caring for even if an exemption to the usual fostering limit has been granted, unless the placement is an emergency and for less than 6 days)
  • A local authority cannot grant an exemption to the usual fostering limit to a foster carer living outside of its area.

In considering whether to grant an exemption to the usual fostering limit, a local authority must have regard to:

  • The number of children the person proposes to foster
  • The arrangements which the person proposes for the care and accommodation of the fostered children
  • The intended and likely relationship between the person and the fostered children, and
  • Whether the welfare of the fostered children (and of any other children who are, or will be living, in the accommodation) will be safeguarded or promoted.

Where a local authority exempts a person from the usual fostering limit, it must notify the foster carer in writing:

  • That s/he is exempted;
  • Of the children, described by name, whom s/he may foster; and
  • Of any condition(s) to which the exemption is subject to.

Cancelling or varying an exemption

A local authority may at any time, by giving notice in writing, vary or cancel an exemption, or impose, cancel or vary a condition to which the exemption is subject. In considering whether to do so, it must have regard, in particular, to the considerations in relation to granting an exemption as set out above. It should also consider how it will review any exemption to the usual fostering limit.

Local Authorities are required to have a representations and complaints procedure in place in respect of these functions.

Procedure for granting an Exemption

The local authority should nominate an officer with delegated powers to grant exemptions from the usual fostering limit, and ensure that fostering services and independent fostering agencies operating within the area are aware of the procedures to be followed in requesting such exemptions.

Since decisions in relation to exemptions from the usual fostering limit may be for children who are looked after by other local authorities and foster carers who are approved by independent fostering agencies, it is particularly important that decision-making should be both transparent and consistent. Local authorities may find it helpful to develop decision-making protocols between themselves and independent fostering agencies.

A person who either exceeds the usual fostering limit, or if exempted fosters a child who is not named in that exemption, is regarded as carrying on a children’s home for the purposes of the 1989 Act and the Care Standards Act 2000, and so needs to be registered as such with Ofsted.

A child who is not looked after does not count towards the usual fostering limited (e.g. a birth child, an adopted child, a child on a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) nevertheless, the needs of ALL children in the household must be taken into account in deciding whether to grant an exemption from the usual fostering limit.

 

Frequently asked Questions: 

 

Q1:  I foster for an Independent Fostering Agency. Who would need to grant any exemption?

A;   The local authority in whose area the foster carer lives is responsible for granting any exemption, regardless of the fact that another Local Authority may be making the placement with the foster carer through the Independent Fostering Agency.

 

Q2:  I have a sibling group of 2 children and have been asked to take another sibling group of 2. I have been told that I do not need an exemption as “a sibling group counts as one placement” Is this correct?

A:  An exemption is always required when more than 3 unrelated children are being placed in one household. All children whether part of a sibling group or not, count as individual children and therefore individual placements. Therefore, two sibling groups of 2 children will require an exemption to the usual fostering limit as the children are not all related to each other. A sibling group of 4 children who are not placed alongside any other foster children would not require an exemption, as they are all related to each other.

 

Q3:  A foster carer is approved for up to 3 children, and has one child in placement. The LA is being asked to grant an exemption to allow them to care for the child they currently foster PLUS a sibling group of 3 = total 4 children.  Does the agency have to take them back to panel to increase their approval number?

A:  Registration as a foster carer usually limits the number of children who can be cared for at any one time to 3. However, it is possible to approve a foster carer for more than three children provided that the fostering panel and agency decision maker are satisfied that the foster carer can meet the needs of more than three unrelated children, although the placement of more than 3 unrelated children will require an exemption. If a placement is made outside of the foster carer’s current terms of approval, then it must be terminated after 6 days, or the foster carer’s terms of approval must be changed by review.

Terms of approval can only be amended following a review as outlined in Fostering Services Regulations (2011 – as amended 2013) and the Agency Decision Maker’s approval of the amended terms. In July 2013, Reg. 28 of FSR 2011 was amended to allow this decision to be made without the need to issue a qualifying determination first. The need for a qualifying determination previously delayed any changes for 28 days, even when the foster carer was   in agreement with the change of approval. Where it is proposed to change only the terms of approval, a decision can now be made to change them with immediate effect provided that:

  • The FSP sets out whether the foster carer or member of their household (including any children placed) may have additional support needs aas a result of the proposed changes, and if so how these will be met, and

 

  • The foster carer agrees in writing to the proposed changes.

 

Q4:  How long does an exemption last for?

A: An exemption is not time limited unless a time limit is set as a condition of the exemption being granted. However, a local authority may vary, cancel or amend an exemption by giving notice in writing. The local authority will also want to consider how it will review any exemption to the usual fostering limited and will need to have specific arrangements with the fostering service regarding this.

 

For further guidance please click for pdf – or telephone FosterTalk for advice.

Assessment and approval of foster carers: Amendments to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 4: Fostering Services, July 2013

Assessment of pets

Having pets does not prevent you from fostering, however, every animal is different and your pets will be assessed as part of the process of becoming a foster carer, taking into account factors such as their temperament and behaviour, and where they eat and sleep. You may be restricted to the ages of children you can foster depending on the type of pet you have.

As a pet owner, you also need to think about how you would feel if one of your pets was harmed or injured by a child. This would be addressed as part of the assessment process.

For further information click here.