What is foster care?
Under the Children Act 1989 section 22C, if a LA is ‘looking after’ a child – i.e. that child is either subject to a care order or the parents have agreed the LA should find the child a home under section 20 of the Children Act – the LA must arrange for the child to live with either:
- a parent;
- someone who has parental responsibility
- or someone who has a child arrangements order that states the child should live with him or her.
BUT if that isn’t possible, either because it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ OR would not be consistent with the child’s welfare then the LA must put the child in ‘the most appropriate placement available’ (see section 22C(5). These ‘appropriate placements’ are listed as:
- placement with a person who is a relative or friend or otherwise connected with the child and who is also a LA foster parent
- placement with a LA foster parent
- placement in a children’s home
- any other placement which complies with regulations.
LA Foster Placements
Under the Children Act 1989 Section 22C(6), one option for a ‘looked after’ child is to go to a LA foster parent. A LA foster parent is defined as a person who is approved under regulations made by virtue of paragraph 12F of Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989.
These regulations in England governing such placements are the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 20112 as supplemented by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.
Therefore, the LA may only place a child with a foster carer if the foster carer has been approved in accordance with the regulations, and the foster carer has entered into a foster care agreement either with the LA or with another fostering service provider.
The LA must continue to monitor the child’s welfare and visit the child at the foster home.
Emergency and temporary placements with LA foster parents may only be made in accordance with and for the time specified in the regulations.
Ending a foster placement
A LA which has arranged the placement of a child must not end the placement without carrying out a review, unless there is an immediate risk of significant harm to the child or the placement must end to protect the child or others from serious injury.
Duty of LA to promote contact with child in foster care
If the child is subject to a care order then the LA must provide ‘reasonable contact’ under section 34 of the Children Act 1989. If the parents have agreed to the foster placement, the LA has a duty to promote contact between the child, parents and other connected people unless this would not ‘reasonably practicable’ or not in the child’s best interests. Parents also have a duty to keep the LA informed about where they are living. See further Schedule 2 para 15 of the Children Act 1989.
A ‘privately fostered child’ for the purposes of the Children Act 1989 section 66 is a child who is under the age of 16 years and who is cared for, and provided with accommodation in their own home, by someone other than:
- a parent
- a person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility
- a relative.
A child is not a privately fostered child while he is being looked after by the local authority or if the person caring for and accommodating him has done so for less than 28 days and does not intend to do so for any longer.
There is also a detailed list of exemptions to the definition at the Children Act 1989 Sch 8 paras 1-5. In the case of a child who is disabled, the definition extends to a child who is under the age of 18 years.
Private fostering is regulated by Part IX of the Children Act 1989. The LA are under a duty under section 67 of the Children Act to make sure that children in their area who are privately fostered are being properly looked after. Some people are disqualified from being private fosterers, for e.g. those people convicted of certain criminal offences. You will need to get written permission from the LA to be a private foster carer in these circumstances.
If you want to foster a child privately must give written notice to the LA of the proposal at least six weeks before the private fostering arrangement is to begin. Where the private fostering arrangement is to begin within six weeks, the LA must be informed immediately.
See our post on the differences between adoption and fostering.
For the duties of a LA towards a child in foster care, and children who have been in foster care see section 22 – 24D of the Children Act. Generally, the LA should provide accommodation, pay for the child’s upkeep, visit the child in placement and provide ‘personal advisers’ and ‘pathway plans’ for children to ease the transition from foster care to independent living.