Fostering - Focus on assessment

Fostering is a major decision with lifelong implications for you, the child, and your family. Because of this, there are a number of things we must consider before approving you to foster and your fostering assessment or home study needs to be really thorough. During the assessment, you will be asked lots of personal questions which may feel at times intrusive. Remember that this is about the children and the aim is to find them right family, so it is important to be as open and honest as possible.

Some people raise the point that birth parents do not need any assessment before having a child. The reason the fostering assessment process is so thorough is because fostered children have particular needs, often relating to experiences of loss and difficulties in their early lives that must be met within their new family in order for them to grow and thrive successfully.

As part of your assessment, you will be allocated a social worker whose task is to consider whether you are suitable to foster, and what type of child or children you would best be able to care for. They will take into your account your circumstances and your ability to meet a child's needs in terms of the child's age, gender, health, emotional, physical, and educational development, culture, language, religion and ethnicity. They will ask if you would consider fostering a disabled child or a child with a health condition. They will look at whether you would be suitable to foster more than one child, or a child who has experienced major loss or trauma in their life or been abused, including sexual abuse. You will need to consider the possible issues that may arise when caring for a child like this, both now and in the future.

We will ask you about your feelings towards a future foster child, and the experiences they may have had. They will also explore with you your feelings about working with your future foster child's birth family, and other professionals involved with the child's care, the reasons the child needs a new family, and how you would feel about maintaining some level of contact between the child and his or her birth family, as well as your ability to accept support.

We will be interested in your reasons for wanting to foster. We will want to know about any experience you have with children and childcare (for example you may have nieces and nephews or you may volunteer at your local school or nursery) and will ask if you are planning to make any changes to your work arrangements, for example, reduce your working hours to care for your child.

Home visits

As part of your assessment, your social worker will make a number of visits to your home - approximately 6-8 visits over a period of several months. They will meet with everyone in your immediate family, talk to you in detail, and look at your living arrangements. They will also need to know about your family structure and support network (such as relatives, friends and neighbours). It is important that your family structure is stable and secure and there are no major changes or upheavals expected. They will explore aspects of your childhood, employment, and relationships past and present, including any past break-up or divorce. They will look at your strengths and limitations, and identify any possible areas needing development.

Your social worker will also ask about any children you already have, and how they feel about you fostering a child.

During your assessment, do not be afraid of saying if there are areas you need support with. We will work with you to identify where you need training and support and will determine the kind of child or children you would be most suitable to care for.

Checks and personal references

We carry out a series of checks on all prospective foster carers. This includes checks with your local authority, employer, and Disclosure and Barring Service. You will also need to see your GP for a medical examination, as we have to make sure foster carers are healthy enough to care for a child. For permanent fostering, this would be until adulthood.

We will also ask for the details of three personal referees who must be happy to meet with the social worker and speak honestly about you. Only one referee may be related to you, and each should have known you well for at least two years.