Support networks for foster carers

Many foster carers have access to their own support networks made up from family, friends and through their local community connections.  These personal networks can be really important to foster carers and children fostered when accessing emotional and practical support. 

This brief guidance outlines some key issues for fostering services and foster carers to consider when accessing support networks.

Key points to consider

  • Foster carers should have access to a variety of support provided by their fostering service, such as formal supervision, peer support, out-of-hours support, respite care services and access to independent support.  
  •  A foster carer’s own personal support network is really crucial and will usually be considered by the assessing social worker with the family during their foster care assessment. 
  • Across the UK regulations and statutory guidance outlines the requirements for fostering services to understand the assessment and approval of foster carers who undertake the primary care for children fostered.  
  • Effective placement planning and good practice should involve clear discussion by all parties around the involvement of any informal care and support, including the nature, frequency and length of time such support is required.  Agreements should be written into the placement plan and considered as part of the decision making process.
  • Decisions about the delegation of authority/who can make decisions must be made within the context of the child’s care plan and the legal framework for parental responsibility. The placement plan should record who has the authority to make particular decisions about a child and foster carers should be actively involved in this process.  The governments of the UK are clear that foster carers should be able to make everyday decisions about their foster children, wherever possible unless there is a valid reason not to do so.  Foster carers should be able to do this competently and confidently.

Who might be involved? 

Individuals such as friends, or family members who are nominated by the approved foster carer to undertake any informal caring of children fostered.  All agreements should be recorded within the placement plan.

  • For example babysitting activity while a foster carer has other social, personal commitments, school drop off or pick up, or care that may include overnight stays with friends or family members known to the child.
  • It is important that a foster carer is contactable and available immediately to resume the care of the child, unless alternative arrangements have been agreed with the fostering service or within the placement plan.
  • Undertaking the care of the child within the foster carer’s home may offer consistency and stability to a child’s routine and provide familiar surroundings.

Respite and care planning 

Foster carers may need regular breaks to support them in their role, and often it is these breaks which help maintain placements when they are particularly demanding.  Respite breaks can prove helpful in supporting fostering families that care for children with a range of needs.  It affords them the opportunity both to recharge their batteries and to spend quality time with their birth family.

In circumstances where the agreed care plan for the child recognises the need for regular respite care provision this responsibility is held by the public authority.  

It is essential that informal and formal arrangements are discussed as part of the planning process so that everyone is clear about their role and responsibilities to ensure that a child’s needs are appropriately met as well as the support needs of the foster carer.

About support networks 

  • Fostering services need to clearly outline what support they provide to their foster carers.
  • There must be clarity of the nature, role and duration of anyone involved in the unsupervised care of any children that are fostered.
  •  Clear expectations of how informal caring by others should be used by foster carers should be agreed as part of the decision making process.