There is no such thing as a typical fostering situation and the care of a child or children could last anything from a few days to several years. Children and young people come into care for a variety of reasons and most of them return home after a relatively short period of time.
At the other extreme, if the child cannot return to their birth family, and the decision is to look for an adoptive home, this will be carefully planned. It is likely that foster carers will look after the child and help them think about what the future holds whilst a new, permanent family is found for them.
There are many situations which fall in-between those described above, and if you decide to progress through the approval process in order to become a foster carer, you will have plenty of opportunity to explore which type of fostering would be right for you and your family.
Short Term Fostering
Some children need to be cared for away from their home for a short period of time. This is often so that decisions can be made about their future. If there are brothers and sisters, every effort is made to keep siblings together in the same foster family – sadly this can’t always happen. It is important for us to find as many foster carers as possible who could consider caring for more than one child at a time.
There is no typical reason for a child or children needing to be looked after by a foster carer. We will always try to keep children with their families and offer support to enable this to happen, rather than look after them away from their homes and families. When children do need to be cared for away from their homes, this could be because their family is experiencing a crisis, and has requested that their child is looked after for a short time while they sort out their difficulties. Alternatively, children may have experienced some form of abuse, trauma or neglect which has resulted in them being placed elsewhere for their own safety.
Children who are looked after by foster carers in the short term can be any age. All children will experience distress at being separated from their family and are likely to show some emotional reaction to this. Short term fostering can be for a period of days, weeks or sometimes months. Sometimes decisions about the child’s future cannot be made quickly and placements can last a year or longer. Generally most children return to the care of their family unless it is unsafe for them to do so.
Long Term Fostering
If a child is unable to return to the care of their birth family, but adoption is not appropriate for that child, long term foster carers may need to be found to care for them.
As the title suggests, these foster carers will normally care for a child for a longer period of time than a short term carer – often through to independence. Children who need long term fostering are likely to be older children (not usually younger than 7 years old). These older children may benefit from keeping in regular contact with their brothers, sisters, parents and wider family.
Children in long term placements may stay with their foster carers until they leave home to live independently. However, it may be that changes occur and decisions can be made which result in a child returning to the care of their parents earlier than expected.
Long term fostering allows children and young people to live with a family where they can feel secure and experience a stable family environment, while maintaining contact with their birth family where that’s right for them. Foster families who can open their homes to these children right through to independence are currently being sought by the Fostering Service.
Respite foster care is time limited. A respite foster carer could care for a child for a week or two at a time, for example during school holidays, or at weekends – and could be the same child on a regular basis. Foster carers who offer respite fostering generally look after children who are already cared for on a full time basis by other non-related foster carers, or by kinship carers (extended family members). Some dedicated respite carers will have a regular arrangement with a particular child or sibling group and become an important part of the child’s care plan. This respite period can benefit both the foster carer and the child.
A foster carer who is approved as a short term or long term carer can also provide respite care if they have the capacity and you may choose to do this between placements.