How fostering a child works

Thousands of children in the UK need a foster carer who can provide a safe and secure place to live – and there are nowhere near enough foster carers to fulfil that urgent need.

Becoming a foster carer to a child is a life-changing and enriching opportunity for anybody who takes it on.

But taking your first steps into the world of fostering can be difficult as you wrestle with the many questions that inevitably go alongside such a big decision. And if you don’t get reliable answers, it can easily put you off.

At Diagrama Fostering, we understand that knowledge and understanding of the realities of fostering are key to making that decision as stress-free as possible.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of eight of the most asked questions we get asked by prospective foster carers. We’ve pulled together all the information you might need to join the thousands of ordinary people who have made the decision to provide a vulnerable child with a home where they can thrive.

1. What children need foster care?

When it comes to children requiring foster care, every circumstance is different. From parental illness to drug abuse. There are a host of reasons why a child might not have a permanent home.

What children in need of foster care all have in common is that they will all have suffered some type of trauma.

Some children in need of foster care:

  • have specific learning difficulties
  • have their own babies
  • are part of a sibling group
  • are refugees.

For most, fostering will be a short term solution. For some this becomes long term and may eventually lead to adoption.

Many children in care are teenagers. They’ll need foster carers who listen to them with patience and understanding. Siblings can take great comfort from one another at traumatic times of separation from parents. While having more than one foster child may seem a bit daunting, at Diagrama Fostering, we try to keep brothers and sisters together wherever possible.

Dedicated support for children with additional needs

Where children require additional physical, behavioural or educational needs, Diagrama offers dedicated support so that foster carers feel they have all the tools they need to address any complex needs.

We also support foster carers who have taken in refugee children with any additional emotional, practical, language and cultural needs.

Children can live with their foster family from birth until their 21st birthday.

Every child is different, and it is, therefore, impossible to know how to support every child’s specific needs.

Read more about the children who need foster care here.

2. Can I foster?

Anyone over 21 can apply to become a foster carer, and there is no upper age limit. However, your age and health may be taken into account when considering the age and needs of the children suitable for placement with you.

No formal qualifications are needed to become a foster carer. If we believe fostering is a good fit for you, we’ll provide the relevant training for free.

Foster carers can be single, married, in civil partnerships or an unmarried couple. At Diagrama Foundation, we welcome foster carers from all backgrounds regardless of race/ethnicity, but we would need you to be able to speak and write English.

We welcome enquiries from people of any or no religious faith. We encourage applicants to be non-smokers. It is our policy not to place children under the age of five in households where there are people who smoke, vape or use e-cigarettes.

You can read more about What you Need To Become A Foster Carer here.

3. Do you need to own your own home to foster a child?

You do not need to own your own home to become a foster carer. We only ask that your foster child has their own bedroom and your home has appropriate, adequate and stable accommodation.

One question we often get asked is, ‘Can I foster a child if my children still live at home?’. Having your own children is a great way to gain the skills and experience you need to become a foster parent. If your children are still at home, their needs will be considered when we’re matching you with foster children and young people.

And family pets can be a great asset – however, every animal is different, and your pets will be assessed as part of the process of fostering with Diagrama, taking into account their temperament and behaviour.

Learn more about who can become a foster carer here.

4. Can I still work while fostering?

In some circumstances, you can foster and continue to work. Providing you can balance the needs of your foster child/children with your career. If you foster as a couple, one of you will usually be designated the “main” foster carer, and the other could then work in another role.

Read how others fit in fostering around their work in this blog: ‘How I fit fostering in with my career’

There is an expectation for foster carers to be available to care for children, attend meetings, training, support groups, and to promote and support contact between a child and their family.

It is important for our foster carers to thrive for them to enable the children in their care to thrive. That means you need to find a placement arrangement that works for you and your family.

If you plan to work full-time while fostering, you may be more suited to a ‘part-time’ foster care role, such as respite care.

Respite foster care allows families – whether that be a foster family, adoption family or birth parents – to take a short breather. This is usually for a weekend but can be up to two weeks.

Being self-employed as a foster carer

Foster carers are given a weekly allowance to cover the costs of the foster child’s needs and as pay for the foster carer’s skills and care.

5. How much does a foster carer get paid?

As a Diagrama Foster Carer you will work on a self-employed basis and will become a valued member of our team. Expenses will be covered. You will also receive a minimum fee of £400 per child, per week, depending on the individual needs of each child. Fostering fees are negotiated with the Local Authority on an individual basis.

You must make weekly savings (currently £10 per child) and provide appropriate pocket money. This payment also covers expenses for clothing, including school uniforms, shoes, coats etc, as well as any clubs and costs associated with that.

Parent and child fees are charged at a full fee for the child and parent if under 18 or half fee for the parent(s) if the parents are over 18. Full fee for each additional sibling.

Additional bonus payments of £100 are paid to help with birthdays, holidays and Christmas.

Holiday pay for foster carers

We also provide 14 days’ paid holiday every year to carers and their families.

If you have any other question regarding Foster Carers pay, book a call with a social worker.

The Government offers additional tax exemptions for foster carers.

For example, if you have one child (aged under 11) in your care for 52 weeks a year, you would receive just under £21k a year, before expenses, and would be tax-exempt. This could rise to £41,600 a year for fostering two teenage children (the equivalent of a taxed salary around £57k).

6. How do you become a foster carer?

People often ask - what is the procedure for becoming a foster carer?

The first step is a vetting process which aims to ensure that fostering is right for you. Then, as you explore fostering as a career with our team, we will help you to identify the options you are most suited to.

At Diagrama Fostering, our team is committed to supporting you and ensuring you have the skills to support the children and young people in your care. We provide a comprehensive training programme for all our foster carers.

Your application to become a foster carer has six stages and takes approximately six months to complete. Booking a call with one of our experienced and friendly social workers, or attending an information event, are great ways to find out more about the fostering process from the people who understand what’s involved. You can also download a fostering information brochure here.

The six steps to becoming a foster carer

Your application enquiry

You can get in touch with our fostering team by calling 0800 802 1910, by email or by attending one of our information events. We will help answer any questions you may have, and we’ll ask you to tell us a bit about yourself and why you are interested in becoming a foster carer. You’ll also receive one of our introduction packs which will explain in detail more about what’s involved for you.

Your foster care home assessment

Next, one of our team will visit you at home and go through the registration process. This will take around two hours and gives you a chance to ask questions and discuss your expectations, skills and experience. It also gives us a chance to see where you live and assess your home. Providing we’re both happy to proceed; you’ll then be invited to complete an application form.

Statutory checks and foster care training (also known as Stage 1)

As part of our rigorous vetting process, you’ll be asked to undergo Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and local authority checks, as well as a medical examination by your doctor. We also take up personal and employment references. These will all be paid for by Diagrama Fostering. You will then be booked onto the mandatory Skills to Foster course.

Form F Assessment - assessing your abilities to be a foster carer (Stage 2)

A social worker then assesses your abilities to be a foster carer. They may visit several times, and everyone in your home will be included in this. Your Form F will be written up and will include our recommendation on your suitability to become a foster carer. This will be presented to our fostering panel (see question 6), who will make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker.

Matching you with your foster child

Now you’ve been approved as a Diagrama foster carer; we will work together to draft your profile, which will highlight your qualities and skills and include photographs and information about your home and family. We’ll share this with local authorities looking to place children in care. As soon as that happens, finding a match can happen very quickly.

Support for you as your foster child arrives

Soon your first foster child will be placed with you – and this is really just the start of your journey together. We provide a comprehensive fostering support service whenever you need it – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Read more about the fostering approval process here.

What’s a fostering panel?

Fostering panels can be daunting but are a necessary step in the approvals process. At this point, you’re likely to have lots of questions, but representatives from Diagrama Fostering will be on hand to help you.

Diagrama’s Fostering Panel essentially makes a recommendation on your suitability to be a foster carer. Our panel is made up of people with a wealth of knowledge and experience who meet regularly to consider information about individuals applying to become foster carers.

It’s made up of independent social workers, independent community members, people with personal experience of fostering and adoption, a therapist, and a medical adviser. They all have different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and faiths.

Meeting with the fostering panel

You’ll meet the panel on a Zoom call. We know it can be uncomfortable to be put on the spot, but we will do our best to prepare you in advance for the likely questions.

All you have to do is explain to the panel why you want to be a foster carer – it’s as simple as that!

The panel will already have read your assessment and had a chat with your social worker. They will ask you a few questions, and they will understand that you might well be nervous. They will have done this before and will do their best to put you at ease.

After the meeting, you will be put in a breakout room while panel members work out their recommendation. The panel chair will then join you to tell you and your social worker in private what this is.

Fostering panel recommendations

Once the panel has made a recommendation, it goes off to the Agency Decision Maker, who has seven days after receiving the meeting minutes, to make a formal decision about your application (this is called a Qualifying Determination). You will be informed verbally and in writing of the decision.

If your application is approved, you will then move onto the matching stage, as explained in question 5 above.

If it isn’t, you’ll be told the reasons why and you then have three options:

  • To accept the proposed decision.
  • To make representations back to the panel.
  • To apply to the Independent Review Mechanism – Adoption and Fostering (IRM) to see if the decision can be changed.

Your Diagrama social worker will be there to support you throughout this stage.

Read more about what to expect at your panel meeting.

7. What type of foster placement options are available?

Short term placements: These are needed when there is an ongoing legal process to consider the future of the child. ‘Short term’ can be up to two years.

Long-term placements: Long-term placements offer stability and consistency for children, young people and sibling groups.

Respite and holiday placements: These last as short as overnight or up to two weeks to help give regular foster carers, birth families and children rest and support.

Fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASCs): Our experienced foster carers can manage challenges associated with caring for refugee children, including acting as advocates throughout any legal process.

Fostering for adoption: Our sister agency Diagrama Adoption supports prospective adopters who can consider fostering before adoption – for when adoption looks likely for the child in care, but there is a chance they could be reunited with their birth family.

Nicky and Rupert took this route to building their family – you can find out about their fostering for adoption experience here.

Sibling placements: Offering multiple placements to keep brothers and sisters together. We help our foster carers fully prepare for sibling placements. Keeping siblings together under one roof is always a priority.

Parent and child placements: This is where the child is placed with a parent for support and assessment as to whether they can look after their child. This is usually a short term role to ensure safety for the child. Parents can range from teenagers to more mature parents, and the children can be anything from newborns to older children generally under school age.

Special requirements: Placements for children with special needs are provided on a full-time or respite basis. We have foster carers with specific skills and experience in managing a range of special needs.

Emergency or unplanned placements: Our emergency placement foster carers will accept children at very short notice – often on the same day – and until longer-term arrangements for care can be made. These placements can then remain in place indefinitely.

8. Why should I choose to foster a child or young person with Diagrama Fostering?

There are lots of fostering agencies out there to choose from when you are thinking about becoming a foster carer, and it can be tricky to know which one to go with. Every agency is different, and the important thing is that you feel you have a team around you who will offer comprehensive, professional foster care support whenever you need it.

No matter what type of foster care you decide is right for you, Diagrama Fostering will be on hand 24/7 to offer you support, guidance and training throughout your journey. We make sure you never have to face a challenge on your own. As a foster carer with Diagrama, you will not only receive excellent training, pay and allowances – you will also benefit from expert support throughout every stage of your fostering career.

Foster carer stories

Nothing beats hearing first-hand from a foster carer what it is really like to foster a child. Jan and Asa’s experience is inspiring: ‘I wouldn’t have missed being a foster parent for the world’.

Our foster carers are right at the heart of our team. We make training and supporting our foster carers a priority because we know that foster carers who have confidence in their own ability to care for children are the ones who are best able to provide a home where vulnerable children and young people can thrive.

Foster carers Richard and Sharon openly encourage others to consider becoming foster carers like they have: ‘Diagrama was so supportive every step of the way’

A foster agency that doesn’t put profits first

Unlike commercial foster agencies, any decisions made within our organisation are always made with the best interests of the children at their heart, as we are a charity and not a profit-driven agency.

Once approved as a foster carer, you will be assigned a dedicated supervising social worker who will be in weekly contact and will visit you at home once a month, or more if needed.

We take time to find the right child to match you with

Before putting any of our foster carers forward for a placement, we take time to make sure the individual needs of everyone involved are fully considered. We will look at the needs of the child in care and see if your skills, home environment and your experience will fit to provide the best care for them. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure the match is a stable one.

Support available round the clock, 365 days of the year

There is always a member of our fostering team on call for you to talk to 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Our team of experts can help you work through any challenges you are facing and find the right solution. We believe providing excellent support is paramount to ensuring the best experience for you and the best outcomes for the children in your care.

We also offer 14 nights respite cover per year. This is where Diagrama Fostering pays other foster parents to look after your foster child or children. Our respite carers often look after the same children for short breaks. Over time, are often seen as extended foster family.

Our foster carers are encouraged to get to know one another, and you will be able to meet up at regular support groups, activities, and events held.

Read more about the training we offer here.

Transferring to Diagrama Fostering is easy

We are always keen to hear from foster carers who want to broaden their skills, work with a therapeutic, child-focused agency and give their foster children the best possible chance in life.

Everyone has the right to transfer agencies, and the process is governed by the Fostering Network ‘Protocol for The Transfer of carers between Agencies’. At Diagrama Fostering, we don’t actively seek to recruit foster carers from local authorities or other agencies. However, we understand there are occasions when it is appropriate for foster carers to transfer. We can support you with that.

Read more about transferring to Diagrama Fostering here.

Ready to make a difference as a foster carer?

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, you can download a fostering information brochure here to find out more about the support you can expect to receive from Diagrama Fostering. If you’d like to speak to a member of our team, please call 0800 802 1910 during office hours.

Multi ethnic family of four drawing at the table
Family group of hands cradling a cut out family silouette from white paper

Book a call with a member of our team

We're ready to help you begin your fostering journey. Book an informal intro call with one of our social workers today. We'll tell you more about Diagrama, help you understand if fostering is right for you and answer any questions you may have about the process.

On this informal and confidential introductory call with our social workers you will get to:

  • Discuss your current circumstances to find out if fostering is right for you.
  • Learn about how Diagrama support foster carers with a generous benefits and support package.
  • Ask us any questions you have about fostering.