Before people embark on their caring journey, they often don’t realise that fostering is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of specialities, from short-term and long-term care to emergency and respite placements.
To make the best decision for you and your family, you need to consider what each route involves alongside your unique situation, skills and attributes.
Five key types of foster care
Overall, you can separate fostering into five primary categories (bear in mind care providers may use slightly different terminology for each).
At a glance, they include:
- Short break, respite or shared
- Parent & child
Carers often have specialities within these categories, focusing on specific age groups, ethnicities, religions and abilities. For example, families may choose to provide long-term care for children with disabilities, short-term care for pre-schoolers or emergency care for teenagers.
Flexibility, patience and adaptability are the hallmarks of emergency carers. You must be available at short notice, often a few hours or less, and be prepared to take a child into your home at any time of the day or night.
This type of foster care is unplanned and lasts for a few days at most. Tragically, it’s often needed when a situation becomes life or death, meaning it’s unsafe for a child to stay at home for a minute longer. Additionally, emergency placements support children from single-parent households in extreme cases of hospitalisation due to physical or mental health problems.
Without a doubt, emergency carers are a vital part of the fostering network, picking up the pieces and providing a safe environment in drastic times of need. However, it’s a more challenging role because, as mentioned above, carers must act at a moment’s notice. Additionally, the children coming to stay are typically distressed, so you’ll need bucket loads of kindness and compassion.
Practically, emergency carers must always have a spare bedroom available as well as toys, toiletries and food for last-minute placements.
Short-term or temporary fostering provides care in the interim before children can return to their family home or find a more permanent solution such as long-term care or adoption. It lasts anywhere from an overnight stay (in the case of emergency fostering) to several months.
Social workers recommend that new foster families start with short-term caring to get a feel for the process. This temporary initiation is one of the many benefits, helping families to adjust gradually with breaks in-between placements.
One of the aims of short-term fostering is to prepare children for their next big step. Where reunification is possible, there’s often a higher level of contact with a child’s birth family to support their transition home.
Bridging is a special type of short-term care where babies or young children need a home before moving somewhere more permanent. While this is always a temporary arrangement, it can last several months or years.
Caring for babies is exceptionally fulfilling and deeply affectionate relationships often arise in these formative years. Children absorb everything at this age, so carers must be able to facilitate development through near-constant socialisation, language and play. Alongside this high level of attention, some children require additional care because of developmental or attachment issues. Sadly, some babies also have serious medical problems like addiction withdrawal.
Understanding the temporary nature of bridging is essential. It’s upsetting when it’s time for a child to leave, especially when you’ve looked after them since birth. However, there’s plenty of support available to make the transition as easy as possible.
Many young people in the criminal justice system need a safe space while waiting for their court date, which is where remand fostering comes in. It’s an alternative to custody and it cuts the chances of reoffending dramatically.
By giving these vulnerable children and teenagers support, encouragement and practical comforts like a bed and hot meal, you have the potential to change the course of their lives.
Remand carers undergo special training to make sure they’re ready to deal with potentially challenging behaviour. Plus, they must work closely with social workers, youth offending teams, teachers, health workers and, in some cases, solicitors.
In dire situations, children can’t return to their birth families for many years, if ever (although nearly all maintain some form of contact). In these cases, it’s crucial to provide them with as much stability as possible. Ultimately, they need a place to call home.
When this happens, long-term placements are the best solution. While some children stay with families for a few years, most remain until they’re legally allowed to take care of themselves.
Thanks to the permanency, children in long-term care often become a part of your family, with loving relationships extending far beyond the length of stay.
Short break, respite or shared
Short break carers are the guardian angels of fostering. They provide a break for birth families and full-time carers by looking after children from anywhere between a few hours each week to a couple of weekends per month.
While it doesn’t sound like a lot, their work is essential because everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.
Parent & child
In an ideal world, children wouldn’t have to leave their birth families, which is why there are a growing number of schemes which focus on prevention. The aim is to offer families practical and emotional support before their situation spirals out of control.
Parent & child fostering plays a considerable role in making sure families have the tools they need to cope. It’s a specialist type of placement where a parent and their child, often a young mother and baby, stay in your home (for up to 12 weeks) for extra support and guidance.
Are you ready to become a foster carer?
Whatever route you choose, you’re bound to change the lives of vulnerable children for the better. And remember, you’re not alone – we’re here to help you every step of the way and beyond.