Fostering is a way of providing a family life for children who cannot live with their own parents.
It is often used to provide temporary care while parents get help sorting out problems or to help children or young people through a difficult period in their lives.
Often children will return home once the problems that caused them to come into foster care have been resolved and that it is clear that their parents are able to look after them safely.
Others may stay in long-term foster care, some may be adopted, and others will move on to live independently.
What do foster carers do?
The foster carer’s role is to provide high quality care for the child. All children in foster care will be looked after by a local authority and the foster carers will work in partnership with the local authority to provide this.
The foster carers may also work with other professionals such as therapists, teachers or doctors to help the child to deal with emotional traumas or physical or learning disabilities.
What kind of people become foster carers?
Fostering service providers, including local authorities, need a wide range of people to meet children and young people’s very different needs.
It is best for children to live with foster carers who reflect and understand the child’s heritage, ethnic origin, culture and language, and fostering agencies need carers from all types of backgrounds.
People do not need to be married to become a foster family – they can be any gender or sexual orientation, they can also be single, divorced, or cohabiting. There are no upper age limits for fostering, but fostering service providers expect people to be mature enough to work with the complex problems that children needing fostering are likely to have, and fit enough to perform this very demanding task!
What sort of children are referred to Acorn House?
All sorts of children.
As an agency, we are able to provide high levels of service and support to foster carers and the children in placement. We can, therefore, accept children who have complex histories and may display some challenging behaviour. Our carers receive high levels of support and training from us in order to help these children.
Would previous convictions prevent someone from fostering?
A previous criminal conviction would not necessarily disqualify you from fostering; it would depend upon the nature of the conviction and when it occurred. It is standard for us to check DBS records (formerly known as CRB) at an early stage in the application process so we would need you to discuss any convictions with us as soon as possible so that we could decide whether or how it might affect your application. This information would remain confidential at all times. It is important that you are open and honest with us at all times.
What is the difference between an independent fostering agency and Local Authority?
The Local Authorities are ultimately responsible for the well-being of all children in public care. They need to find the best way of looking after these children to make sure that they receive the best possible standard of care.
Independent fostering agencies such as Acorn House provide a specialist fostering service to Local Authorities and we work in partnership with them. We have our own foster carers and social workers who work hard to ensure that the needs of the carers and children are met to high standards and without delay. If you foster for Acorn House, we will give you a great deal of support with frequent visits from your supervising social worker, high-quality training and 24-hour telephone support from our duty social worker
What sort of checks are carried out on me and my home?
We undertake an assessment process that provides you with information about fostering and lets us get to know you. We carry out a criminal record check as well as checks with the local Social Services Department, the Health Service, the Education Department and a register which lists those prevented from working with children. We would also need to carry out a standard safety check on your home.
If I am going to be the main foster carer, do you need to carry out checks on my partner?
We regard all couples living together as partners in the fostering process so we would require that you both have the necessary checks and training and that both take part in the assessment process. We are required to carry out checks on anyone in the household over the age of 16. Even if you are the main carer, anyone sharing your home will have some involvement in and influence on the fostering task.
Can a child I foster share a bedroom with one of my own children?
At Acorn House, however, we will only place a child in a home where he or she will have their own bedroom (unless they are a young sibling group).
Can I still go out to work and be a foster carer?
Although some Local Authorities and agencies will allow this, at Acorn House we have a flexible approach and can consider flexible work patterns that can still allow the carer to fully meet the child’s needs. We can discuss this on an individual basis.
Can I choose how long I want children and young people to stay with me?
Before you are approved / appointed as a carer with us, we will have discussed the different types of placements that are needed for our young people. You can decide which types of placement would suit you best. If you would prefer emergency or short-term placements, you do need to be aware that it isn’t always possible to know at the beginning of a placement exactly when a child will move on.
Can I choose which age group or sex I would prefer to foster?
Yes, you can. However, you need to bear in mind that the majority of children referred to Acorn House are in the 10+ age group and we tend to have more boys than girls. If you are relying on income from fostering, you are far more likely to have continuous placements if you are willing to take teenagers as well as younger children.
We do also require carers with sufficient space to take sibling groups. These children are often younger.
How much will I know about the child/young person before they are placed with me?
We discuss every placement with our carers and it is your decision as to whether to take a young person. We will provide you with as much information about the young person and their background as possible, including any presenting behaviour and how to manage it.
You do need to be aware that sometimes we have very little information, especially in an emergency. We would always, however, seek to find out quickly as much as possible
Will I receive an induction?
Yes, you will receive a comprehensive foster carer handbook and induction once you have been approved as a foster carer at our Panel.
The Induction and Handbook provides:
information for newly approved foster carers
information to help existing foster carers complete their training programme
an understanding of the administration processes and paperwork involved in fostering
In addition to the Agency induction, each Foster carer is required to complete the Training Support and Development (TSD) Standards for foster care. This was previously known as The Children’s Workforce Development Councils (CWDC) and they produced a workbook and accompanying guidance to help foster carers in England complete the TSD Standards for foster care.
The guidance will take foster carers through the TSD standards, and will allow them to record their work either in the new editable evidence workbook or online.
The TSD standards for foster care form part of a foster carer’s induction in England. They provide a national minimum benchmark that set out what all foster carers should know, understand and be able to do within the first 12 months of approval.
Who is responsible for taking the children to school and to the doctor etc?
We would normally expect carers to undertake these tasks. Occasionally, if you have a particular problem, your social worker would endeavour to make alternative arrangements.
Are we allowed to smack foster children?
No form of corporal punishment is acceptable under the regulations governing fostering; this would include any form of smacking, slapping or shaking. We provide training to all our carers on alternative and effective ways of managing any difficult behaviour.
What sort of help would I get with a child who has special needs or a disability?
If a child has on-going medical needs, this will be explained to you before the placement is made and you will receive all the assistance necessary.
What sort of support will I get if I’m finding it difficult to cope?
You will have your own Acorn House Supervising Social Worker and support will also be available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We also have a team of support workers who work with our carers and young people. We provide two weeks’ paid respite for children each year where this is felt to be in the best interest of the child and the placement, and, on occasion, additional regular respite breaks if considered necessary.
You will never be expected to cope on your own. We want and need you to tell us if you are having any problems at all so that we can help and support you and the young person with you.
Our carers have also found that regular Support Group meetings have helped them to form a great network with other carers who are very supportive.
What sort of training will I get to be a foster carer?
We hold the ‘Skills to Foster’ training course that takes place over a few days. During the course you will be given information about the assessment process and about fostering. Most work is in the form of exercises and role-play. Lunch and refreshments are provided.
Once our carers have completed our assessment process and have been approved / appointed, we encourage and support those carers interested, to achieve professional qualifications by providing training to Level 3 Diploma in Child Care.
We provide a full training program throughout the year and this will be discussed in detail during the foster carer assessment and induction programs.
How much training will I have to do?
Initially, you will be required to complete the Skills to Foster training, which is a compulsory course (either mid-week or at weekends). After this, each foster carer is required to complete 21 hours of mandatory training and personal development per year. This is a national requirement.
New carers are also required to undertake the TSD induction standards in their first year as foster carers.
Acorn House arranges various training courses throughout the year at its regional offices or other suitable venues. Lunch and refreshments are always provided.
Can the training be done on-line?
Some of the mandatory training can be completed on-line. Acorn House has subscribed to a highly regarded online training provider for foster carers, from a range of short online courses to higher level tutor-assessed qualifications. All are mapped to relevant standards and guidance to help agencies demonstrate that they are meeting statutory requirements for training and support. Full details will be provided at the foster carer induction. However, not all of the mandatory training is suitable to be delivered on-line so there will always be a requirement for carers to attend training courses.
How much allowance will I receive per week and how is this decided?
The basic allowance is between £263 – £440 per week per child fostered depending on the age of the young person and the placing Local Authority. For sibling groups, Local Authorities negotiate discounts with the Agency which means that the carer receives a slightly reduced payment. However, sometimes, enhanced payments are made (if, for example, a child has particularly challenging behaviour and the Local Authority / Health and Social Services Trust has requested that they are a ‘solo placement’ with no other children in the household).
Foster carers are provided with full details of allowances for each child placed and are provided with a copy of our current rates during the induction.
Each child will receive a contribution from Acorn House for their birthday and religious celebration (Christmas, Eid etc). This will be paid directly to the carer.
Do Acorn House provide family holidays?
A number of Independent Fostering Agencies provide a short UK holiday for fostering families, usually in a chalet or holiday park. Acorn House consulted with our young people who suggested that they would prefer to be treated the same as other young people and go on a family holiday with their foster family. As a result of this, Acorn House provides a contribution of up to £400 per year plus £50 spending money per child to foster carers to contribute to their family holiday. Holiday contribution is only payable once the young person has been in placement for 6 months.
What does the weekly allowance cover?
Your weekly allowance for each child fostered is intended to cover living costs such as food, clothes, travel within a twenty-mile radius of your home daily (including transport to and from school, medical appointments, contact etc), pocket money, savings for the child, hobbies and household bills etc. Occasionally, extra contributions can be made especially if the child is placed with little clothing.
Will I be taxed on this income?
For the purposes of calculating tax, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) treat foster carers as self-employed. Foster carers receive favourable tax treatment on income derived solely from fostering. Under a tax relief introduced in 2003, foster carers whose gross receipts from foster care do not exceed an individual limit will be exempt from tax on their income from foster care.
On top of the £10,000 exemption, you also get tax relief for every week (or part week) that a child is in your care. This means you don’t have to pay tax on some of your earnings over £10,000.
The tax exemption and tax relief are known as Qualifying Care Relief
For example, if you are paid £420 per week to look after a 12-year-old child, this equates to a total income of £21,840 per year. There is Tax Exemption of £10,000 per year on this income and Tax Relief of £250 per week for this placement which means that the total tax-free amount is £25,000. You will not pay any income tax on your income of £21,840 as it is below the figure for Tax Exemption plus Tax Relief.
Tax Exemption = £10,000
Tax Relief for Child 1 (52 x £250) = £13,000
Total Tax-Free Amount = £25,000
However, if you have a second child placed with you, you will be liable to pay income tax on a proportion of your income as your total income will exceed the Tax Exemption and Tax Relief allowance.
There is a different way of calculating tax payable by Foster Carers – Full details can be found at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/individuals/foster-carers.htm
Foster carers will be provided with additional tax documentation during their induction including access to regular seminars by HMRC.
Please refer to the HMRC link for further details
Will I have to pay National Insurance?
All foster carers must register as self-employed, so must register to pay National Insurance contributions. You can obtain get information by calling the Newly Self-Employed Helpline on 0845 915 4515.
Do I qualify for tax credits?
Fostering counts as self-employment, so you may be entitled to Working Tax Credit (and also Child Tax Credit if you have children of your own). You need to get advice about Tax Credits, which takes into consideration your own individual circumstances. Eligibility and assessments for tax credits can be made by contacting 0845 300 3900.
Do I qualify to claim any benefits?
Eligibility to benefits is assessed on an individual basis by the relevant central or local government department, and Acorn House cannot offer advice specific to benefit eligibility.
The government department responsible for benefit entitlement is called the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Any queries about fostering allowances and benefit eligibility needs to be assessed by the DWP. Find information by calling 0800 882200 or visit www.dwp.gov.uk
Jobcentre Plus delivers benefits to many people of working age, so contact your local office for advice.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefits are calculated and administered by your own Local Authority.
Alternatively, seek specialist advice from an advisory agency such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) or a welfare rights service
If I decide to apply, how long will I have to wait before I begin having placements?
We aim to complete the assessment within 16 weeks. Assessments is in form of two Stage’s.
Stage 1: Is all the statutory checks and references.
Stage 2: The assessments of yourselves, family and your home environment.
Depending on your circumstances we may commence stage 1 and stage 2 at the same time. Alternatively, we may defer stage 2 until stage 1 is completed.
Once your assessment – the ‘Form F’ – is completed, it will be presented to our Fostering Panel. If you are then approved you can begin taking placements. However, if you are fostering for another agency, you would be required to give notice of your intent to resign before an assessment could begin, they require a minimum of 28 days’ notice
Are all children in care badly behaved?
Children who need to be fostered have often had a difficult start in life and may have little reason to trust adults. They may show their distrust and distress in many ways, including ‘naughty’ behaviour, nightmares, or being quiet and withdrawn.
As part of the fostering process, you’ll be taught about understanding and managing challenging behaviour.
How much contact does the birth family have after a child is fostered?
Each case is unique, but most children in foster care continue to see their families.
The level of contact is usually higher – perhaps several times a week – when children are in short-term foster care and efforts are continuing to get them back into the care of parents of relatives. For very young children, this can be 7 days per week in certain circumstances.
For children in long-term foster care, contact may be weekly, monthly or less often. It depends on what’s right for the child.
Contact can only be suspended or ended if there’s a good reason, if seeing their parents is distressing for the child and no longer in their best interests, for example. This will always be discussed with the Social Worker in an on-going way before any changes are made to contact arrangements.
How do I make a complaint about a fostering agency?
All agencies and local authorities are required by law to have a complaints procedure, details of which they must provide on request.
If you’re still not satisfied, independent fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies are regulated by Ofsted, which can deal with any complaints. Call 0845 640 4040 or go to www.ofsted.gov.uk.
Complaints about local authority fostering and adoption services should be made to the local authority in question, using its own complaints procedure.
Can I become a foster carer if I smoke?
All foster carers have to sign a smoke free home agreement, agreeing not to smoke in the house. We will not consider people who smoke to foster babies and children under 5 years.
Can I become a foster carer if I am in a new relationship/recently married?
If you are in a new relationship and intend on applying to foster jointly, we require you to have been together a minimum of 2 years. Partners who do not reside with the main carer will be assessed and certain checks (such as DBS checks) will be carried out. If you are recently married or residing together, we require you to wait 6 months before proceeding to foster.
Can I become a foster carer if I am pregnant/having fertility treatment?
We require a 2-year age gap between birth and fostered children; we would therefore not proceed if you are pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment.
Can I become a foster carer if I am moving home/starting a new job?
Moving home or starting a new job can be a stressful time, we ask for at least 6 months to have passed before we will proceed with an initial visit.
Do I need any Qualifications?
No formal qualifications are required and any adult over the age of 21 can apply.
I have a holiday home can I foster?
Yes, you can still foster even if you have a holiday home. However, it is important that consideration is given to the needs of the children that are placed with you, as they may not be able to go on regular breaks with you due to a number of possible reasons. Fostering will involve some changes to your lifestyle and it important that you consider these. It may be useful to discuss this through with a social worker from Acorn House to assist you in your decision making. You will be required to complete a Health & Safety risk assessment of your holiday home.
Do I have to be able to drive and have a licence?
Ideally yes, this give greater flexibility and choice of referrals you can take, however non drivers will be considered if they can demonstrate excellent public transport links, but referrals maybe fewer.
What kind of household insurance will I need?
It is the responsibility and key requirement that foster carers hold full household insurance which covers public liability. Carers must also have full comprehensive car insurance that covers business use.
I receive benefits will they be affected if I foster?
It depends upon the benefits that you receive, and the area in which you live. We would strongly recommend that you seek advice from a senior manager at your benefits office for clarification on this matter.
Acorn House will provide additional documentation during the induction.
Am I allowed to go abroad on holiday if I have a foster child?
A foster child can be taken on holiday with the agreement of the local authority, which is responsible for placing the child, but some children are not allowed to be taken out of the country due to their immigration status.
Will I get paid if I have no placements?
No. We cannot guarantee placements
How will fostering affect my own children?
Becoming a foster family will change your family and the way you do things. This of course affects your own children. You will be busier than you used to be. You will meet families with a variety of lifestyles and different values.
Family routines may need to change for carers and their children to ensure everyone is kept safe. Your children will be included as part of the assessment. Acorn House offers support and advice to foster carers regarding this and offers support to carers’ children as well.
How many children can I care for at any one time?
The Children Act 1989 states that 3 foster children are maximum occupancy, Acorn House requires that foster homes must have a separate bedroom for each child placed unless they are same gender siblings and this has been agreed with their Local Authority.
In very exceptional circumstances exceptions to the fostering regulations ‘maximum occupancy’ limit can be sought from the Local Authority in which you reside.
What information will be kept about me and my family?
While you are being assessed, detailed descriptions of you and your family will be recorded. This will include detailed information regarding your childhood, relationship history and significant family events. At the end of your assessment, you are shown all reports (excluding references) and you have the opportunity to discuss their content. This assessment profile is called a Form F. It is used to help a Social Worker who is intending to place a child with Acorn House decide whether your family is a good match for the child or children. While you are working with Acorn House, you can have access to your file on request to the Managing Director
Who sees my Form F?
When the Form F is complete it will be sent to a panel of up to 10 people. You will attend the panel meeting with your assessor and the panel will consider your approval to become foster carers. Acorn House has an agency decision maker who sees the Form F and the panel recommendations and will makes the final decision to approve you as foster carers.
Post approval, at various points, your Form F assessment will be sent to Local Authority Social Workers who feel that your family may be a suitable match for a child in their care. All professionals who see your Form F are bound by a code of practice around confidentiality.
Your Supervising Social Worker (if different from your assessor) will then read your Form F to ensure they are aware of your skills and knowledge and undertake work with you on an ongoing basis to ensure progress is being made and you are developing within your role.
Is there anything other than looking after children that I will have to do as a foster carer?
There are a number of expectations other than caring for a child and meeting their needs. These include:
Attending mandatory training sessions regularly
Attending monthly fostering support sharing good practice workshops
Meeting with your Supervising Social Worker from Acorn House at least monthly
Taking part in regular reviews and updates of your fostering role
Attending a number of regular meetings regarding the child
Where appropriate attending meetings regarding the child with Social Services, education, health and possibly the courts or the police
Keeping daily written records and diaries with regards to each child who is placed with you
Providing monthly summaries for each fostered child
Transport to and from school, medical appointments, contact etc
I am in a same-sex relationship does this mean we can’t become Foster Carers?
Not at all. Foster Carers reflect society as a whole. Many children are very successfully raised by gay and lesbian couples. Again, as part of the assessment process and your ongoing support from Acorn House we will talk to you about the possible existence of other gender role models within your support network as sometimes it is important for looked after children — who have the same needs as any other child — to experience positive relationships with both male and female adults.
What is it really like to be a foster carer?
As a foster carer you will be faced with situations which may be unfamiliar to you. It isn’t something you can do alone – fostering will have an impact on your family.
Helping a child or young person can be rewarding but it can also mean coping with difficult or challenging behaviour. Most of our carers find that the rewards of fostering far outweigh the problems and frustrations.
Can I talk to your existing foster carers before I apply?
Yes, of course. We will gladly put you in touch with any number of our long-standing carers who will give you objective first-hand accounts of their experiences (warts and all!)
Do I need a big house?
No, so long as any child or young person placed has their own separate bedroom and space to keep personal possessions it does not matter what size your house is. Ideally each child in the household should have their own bedroom.
Why might a child or young person leave a placement?
There are numerous reasons why a placement may come to an end. It may be part of a Care Plan that the child or young person is ready to return home, a specified piece of work has come to an end, or the young person moves on to independent living.
What personal qualities do I need in order to become a good foster carer?
In order to become a good foster carer, you need; to have patience and a good understanding of the needs of the children that you are caring for. A good sense of humour is always a good thing to have and above all else you need to be loving and caring.
Do Acorn House provide any specialist help?
Yes. We have access to a clinical psychologist who provides training and support sessions at our North Manchester office and can also provide individual help if required.
Can I transfer from another Fostering Agency to the Acorn House?
The decision to move from your current agency to Acorn House is a decision that you as a foster carer have every right to make and you should not feel pressured by your current agency to remain with them. If you need advice on transferring to Acorn House, we are happy to help and advise you to make this as smooth as possible.
Once the decision has been made the foster care assessment process will start.
If there is a child in placement with you the first consideration is for their stability and welfare. The Local Authority will hold a protocol meeting within 28 days to discuss the effect of the transfer on the foster child or children in placement. We would then meet with your current agency and the child in placements’ social worker to discuss and agree transfer arrangements and how to manage this process so that the child/children in placement with you is not disrupted.
If you have not been able to provide your Form F from your previous agency, an assessor will be allocated to you to begin a new Form F assessment, including taking new references. Throughout this process you will be supported by an experienced Social Worker. In readiness for your approval at panel all parties will be made aware that your current approval will end and that you may be approved by Acorn House.
If there are no children in placement, the process is more straight forward. Contact us and we will guide you through the transfer process.
What happens during the assessment process?
The assessment process usually takes around four months, and involves a thorough look at your life. The Supervising Social Worker is highly skilled and experienced in undertaking these assessments and will support you every step of the way.
At the beginning, we will require your consent to undertake checks on you and your family with the DBS (Formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau), Local Authorities and other agencies such as the NSPCC, Armed Services (if applicable), and Probation Service.
We pay for you to have a full medical check with your own GP.
We ask you to provide six referees (four of whom must be non-family members) who can comment on your suitability to become a foster carer. We will choose 3 from your list.
We invite you to attend the ‘Skills to Foster’ training course, which will give you the opportunity to learn more about the fostering process, meet an experienced foster carer and meet local people who are also in the fostering assessment process.
A Supervising Social Worker will arrange to visit you and your family on a regular basis to enable them to collect all of the information for the assessment report. Once completed, this report is checked by our Registered Manager, prior to be presented to the Fostering Panel. You’re invited to attend the Panel, where a recommendation will be made.
Although this process sounds like a big commitment, most people who go through the assessment have told us they found the experience very satisfying.
Will I find it difficult when children move on?
You probably will; the children you care for will make a huge impact on your life, and you may surprise yourself with your ability to help a child move on. You will have a period of missing a foster child once they are gone. However, you will have made a difference when it mattered, and go on to make a difference for many more children. Throughout this process, you will be supported by your Supervising Social Worker and from talking with other foster carers.
Any Other Questions
We have tried to answer as many FAQ’s as we could think of but there may be something else you may wish to know. Please do not hesitate to ask, we will be very happy to respond quickly. There’s no such thing as a ‘stupid question’!
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