Guardianship vs Foster Care: What’s the Difference?

child in classroom

In an ideal world, every child would have love, unconditional support and plenty of opportunities to thrive. However, heartbreakingly, that’s not always the case. When there’s abuse, neglect or debilitating mental illness, some children need temporary or more permanent solutions to their unsafe home lives.

Fostering and guardianship exist side by side to help the most vulnerable children in the UK. While they sound similar at first glance, both offering shelter and stability to promote physical, psychological and educational wellbeing, there are a few key differences to note. These mainly concern the length of placement, legal rights and pay.

In this blog, we’ll answer all your questions about guardianship vs foster care, including:

  • What is fostering?
  • What is guardianship?
  • Do foster carers have legal guardianship?
  • Do legal guardians get paid?
  • Guardianship vs foster care – what’s right for you?

What is fostering?

Above all else, foster care is a temporary arrangement. While there are many different types of fostering that affect the length of stay (placements can last anywhere between a few days to several years), the ultimate goal, where possible, is reunification with the birth family.

Most importantly, and one of the main differences between fostering and guardianship, is that carers don’t have legal rights over the children they care for. Instead, you’re a loving but impermanent steward for the child, acting on behalf of the local authority, fostering agency and/or birth parents. You can’t make decisions regarding medical care, education or religion without consent from all supervising parties.

Fostering can also be a career, and you’ll receive a generous weekly allowance to cover food, clothes, travel and other expenses. As highlighted on the UK government website, the minimum amount is usually between £134 and £235 a week – but we start from £321 a week, rising yearly based on experience.

In a nutshell:

  • Fostering is temporary
  • Foster placements last anywhere from a few days to several years
  • Foster carers have no legal rights
  • Fostering can be a career
  • Foster carers receive a generous weekly allowance

What is guardianship?

Guardians are responsible for a child’s accommodation, day-to-day care and development, but the similarities to fostering end there! Guardianship is more permanent and grants full legal rights to the individual caring for the child. However, courts can reverse the decision if it’s in the best interests of the child.

As mentioned above, legal rights include decisions about medical care, educational needs, spiritual development and more. Guardians can also move with a child (with court permission) and sign off important applications and documents like driver’s licenses.

A key distinction to make is between legal and parental rights. Guardians have legal rights, but they don’t become the child’s legal parent as would occur in adoption. Consequently, and if appropriate, the child may resume a relationship with their biological parent(s) while under guardianship. Guardians also cannot change a child’s surname or take the child abroad for more than three months without consent from the birth parents.

As for allowances, guardianship works differently. According to the government website, the guardian allowance rate is £18 a week per child, paid every four weeks. This deduction is partly because many guardians are relatives or close friends rather than someone with no familial ties. Nevertheless, financial support varies, especially if a foster carer applies for guardianship (more on this coming up).

In a nutshell:

  • Guardianship is more permanent
  • Guardians assume full legal rights
  • Guardians don’t become legal parents (unlike adoption)
  • Guardianship isn’t considered a career
  • Guardians receive a basic allowance paid every four weeks
  • Additional support may be available for carers who become guardians

Do foster carers have legal guardianship?

Foster carers don’t have legal guardianship over foster children, but they can apply for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) in some cases. An SGO grants an individual legal responsibility for a child until they’re 18 years old.

Do legal guardians get paid?

The standard guardian allowance rate is £18 a week per child, paid every four weeks. However, there may be additional support available for foster carers applying for an SGO.

If you’ve previously fostered the child, you could receive an allowance from the local authority. However, they aren’t obligated to provide a financial package, and it can be withdrawn at any time. Whether you’re entitled to support depends on the severity of the child’s needs and personal circumstances, including eligibility for benefits and tax credits.

Guardianship vs foster care – what’s right for you?

In tragic cases involving illness, incarceration and sudden death, the decision to become a guardian is taken out of people’s hands. Family members and close friends step in to care for a child who has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go.

Less commonly, foster carers may choose to pursue guardianship if a child cannot be reunited with their birth parents. If this is the case, carers should ask themselves the following questions before starting the application:

  • Is guardianship suitable for the child?
  • Is guardianship suitable for myself and my family?
  • Am I prepared to care for the child into teenagerhood and beyond?
  • Am I happy to maintain contact with the child’s birth family?
  • Am I confident with increased responsibility?
  • Can I afford to commit to guardianship?
  • What support can my local authority offer?

Are you ready to change a child’s life for the better?

Fostering is the first step towards changing a child’s life for the better, and there are many different types to accommodate unique circumstances.

If you can’t become a guardian or commit to long-term care, you could explore short-term, emergency or respite fostering, where you’ll provide a loving home between placements. There are so many possibilities, and they’re equally vital.

Choosing Olive Branch Fostering means you’re never alone. We offer a wealth of support, including 24/7 telephone lines, support groups and ongoing training to help you and your family with the transition.

If you’re ready to start your fostering journey or simply want to find out more, we’re here for you. Call us on 01706 558910 for an informal chat or drop us an email (there’s no obligation to go any further). One of our team members will get back to you as soon as possible.