Types of fostering

There are many different types of fostering that foster carers can choose to specialise in, each with their own challenges and rewards. It is important to explore which type of fostering will be most suited to you and your family.

Foster carers are usually trained and approved to look after children for a certain period of time. Here are some of the different types of fostering - you may find that your fostering service has different names for some of them. 


Emergency foster carers will need to be prepared to take a child into their home at any time of the night or day and have them stay for a few days. This type of fostering is unplanned and used at short notice, for example, if a lone parent is taken into hospital and there is no one to care for their child. Longer-term plans must then be considered.


This can mean anything from an overnight stay to a period of several months. Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place to stay until the child can return home to their own family or a longer-term fostering placement or adoption arrangement can be made.

In Scotland, this type of fostering is called interim fostering and refers specifically to a placement of fewer than 24 months not secured by a permanence order.


Sometimes children will not be able to go back to live with their own families for a number of years, if at all. Long-term fostering allows children and young people to stay in a family where they can feel secure, often while maintaining contact with their birth family.

In Scotland, long-term fostering specifically refers to a placement of longer than 24 months not secured by a permanence order.


This term is used specifically in Scotland and refers to a placement of any length secured by a permanence order. A permanence order removes the child from the children’s hearing system and can last until the child reaches the age of 18. It transfers the parental right to have the child living with the parent and to control where the child lives to the local authority.

Short break

Also known as 'shared care', this covers a variety of different types of part-time care. Short break carers might have a child to stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month, giving their own family or full-time foster carers a break.

Support care

There are a growing number of schemes which help to prevent children or young people coming into the care system by offering their families support before difficulties escalate to a point where the family can no longer manage. Foster carers offer part-time care to provide both the children and their families with a break. Arrangements are made to suit the needs of the family.


Within these categories, foster carers will often focus on a particular age of child – babies and pre-school, or teenagers, for example – gender and ethnicity, and some may have a specialism such as looking after disabled children, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children or young parents and their babies. Foster carers can look after up to three children at once, unless exceptions are made or where there is a bigger group of brothers and sisters.

You should consider what skills and experience you have, as well as what would suit you and your family best. Your fostering service will also advise you on this and will be able to give you more information about the types of foster care they offer and the people they need.

 It’s really rewarding when you see a day-by-day improvement in a child. You see them build up self-esteem and come out of their shell. Then you know you are really making a difference.

Stewart, foster carer for more than 15 years

If, after considering becoming a foster carer, you don't think fostering is for you, but would still like to help transform fostered children's lives, please make a donation to The Fostering Network.