Foster care refers to a situation in which children and young people live in other people’s families. The majority of foster carers are ordinary families in the community who are recruited, assessed, trained and supported in caring for looked-after children on behalf of the local authority. Most of them have children of their own, either living with them or grown up. A foster placement can be for a single weekend to relieve a family crisis, or may provide a permanent home for a child who cannot be cared for by her/his birth family. It may be undertaken by relatives of the child under an arrangement with the local authority (Waterhouse, 1997, suggests 12 per cent of foster carers are relatives or family friends). The majority of the children fostered have experienced difficult and potentially damaging situations in their own families; many although not all wish nonetheless to return to them or remain at least in contact with them. In their foster families they often lack the sense of ‘entitlement to be there’ which usually characterises members of a family. Foster families therefore both resemble and differ from the families described in most other chapters in this book. This chapter describes the legal, statutory and policy basis for foster care, considers factors which the research suggests may make for successful fostering, and the role of social workers in contributing to this. It concludes with an illustrative case study.
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