What is foster care?

A guide to types of foster care
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What is foster care?

When a child is unable to live with their birth family or other legal guardians (for whatever reason), then they might be placed in the care of foster parents.

Becoming a foster parent can be a life-changing experience, not only for the carer but also for the young people in their care. There are a number of different types of foster care placement that anyone thinking of becoming a foster carer should be aware of before deciding whether the lifestyle could be right for them. Terminology and precise arrangemenets may differ between fostering organisation, but the basic types of fostering are:

Emergency placements

An emergency placement is where a foster carer takes in children or young people who need somewhere safe to stay on an immediate basis and will usually last for a few nights. By nature, the foster carer does not get much notice of an emergency foster placement.

Short-term placements

A short-term placement is a temporary arrangement for a child or young person which provides them with a safe environment to stay in while they wait for: a) the opportunity to return to the care of their own family/guardian; b) a chance to move into a long term foster placement; or c) an adoptive family to be found. Though the description suggests that this is type of care will only last briefly, short term arrangements can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months but have also been known to go on longer.

Long-term placements

If a child is unable to return to their birth parents or legal guardians, then long term solutions need to be implemented. In this case, long-term foster care may be a preferable option to adoption; usually, where the children are older or maintain regular contact with their birth family. Children in permanent foster care are still legally tied to their lawful guardians, but live with their foster parents until they are old enough to live independently.

Respite placements

Where a child or young person's birth parents might not be able to look after them on a full-time basis, the child might be able to stay for short periods on a respite placement to give their primary care givers a break. This type of placement generally lasts for a single weekend up to a couple of weeks.

Parent and child placements

These usually involve a single parent and their child or children coming to stay with the foster carers, where they will be given support and taught the parenting skills that they might need to continue looking after their child alone. A foster carer operating parent and child placements will often be given additional training and some take part in a professional team to assess the parent's ability to look after their children alone.

Remand placements

A remand foster carer will take on a young person who has been remanded into public care by the courts. This type of placement is usually short term and will require the foster carer to work in close co-operation with youth offending and justice teams.

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