In the run-up to National Adoption Week 2011 (31st October to 6th November), specialist Louise Laing discusses the role of fostering in cases where adoption may not be a viable or appropriate solution.

You may have seen advertisements around the city seeking to recruit more more foster carers.  While this is an incredibly worthwhile role, it is also undeniably challenging, meaning that there is a shortage of carers for vulnerable children in Edinburgh.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to securing the care of children who cannot remain with their parents.  The permanence of adoption is not appropriate for all children who are in local authority care.  Whilst adoption changes who is legally a child’s parent, children in foster care remain the responsibility of the local authority, while their parents may also retain their parental responsibilities and rights.   It is unusual for children over the age of five to be placed for adoption.  Many children in care remain in contact with their parents or members of their extended family and it may not be in those children’s interests to cut all ties with their birth families.

When a child is identified as being in need of alternative care, the local authority has an obligation to investigate whether he or she has any other family members who are able and willing to look after the child in the first instance.  There may be significant benefits to a child in being placed with someone already known to them.  These carers are known as “kinship carers”.

Fostering takes several different forms.  Some foster carers provide homes for vulnerable children on an emergency basis, perhaps only for a couple of nights, while others offer long term care, potentially until the child reaches adulthood.  Carers undergo continued training and assessment by the social work department, and some become particularly experienced in looking after children with specific needs, such as behavioural difficulties.

Foster care is a temporary arrangement for some children, who ultimately are able to return to their parents’ care.  For others, the local authority may apply to the court seeking an order transferring parental responsibilities and rights in respect of that child to the local authority.  It is also possible, where appropriate and in the child’s best interests, for certain parental responsibilities and rights to be transferred to the child’s foster carer.  This may be considered by the local authority where the child is placed with a family on a long-term basis and they intend to care for the child for the remainder of his or her childhood.  Some young people have a desire themselves for such orders to be granted, to enhance their sense of belonging with their foster family.

Expert comment

Fostering is an essential service, providing society’s most vulnerable children with safe and stable care from committed and capable individuals.  You do not need to be married or in a relationship to be a foster carer — indeed it is important for a wide variety of people to be available to children who have a range of cultural and linguistic needs.  The number of children in care in Scotland is increasing every year and one can only hope that, for every child in need of a safe home, there will be a foster carer waiting for them.