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How does foster care work?

3-minute read

Foster carers provide a stable environment for vulnerable children and young people. Here is what to expect if you decide to become a foster carer.

Out-of-home carer commitment

A foster parent can provide out-of-home care to a child from just a few nights to several years. There are different types of care that a carer may provide to best suit their lifestyle:

  • short-term care; day-to-day care
  • long-term care until the young person turns 18 years old
  • short breaks to relieve other foster and kinship carers
  • emergency care at short notice for children who urgently need it
  • intensive foster care for children with special needs

Challenges foster parents may face

Although there are many rewards that come from being an out-of-home carer, there may also be difficulties.

Emotional challenges

Foster carers may:

  • find it stressful to deal with the child’s complex needs and feel like there is no one to talk to when a crisis happens
  • feel inadequately trained and supported for dealing with their foster child’s specific needs
  • feel frustrated if they can’t access enough information about their foster child’s problem behaviours or health
  • find it hard to cope with costs related to children with special needs
  • be unsure how to deal with their foster child’s emotional reactions after seeing their biological parents
  • have mixed feelings towards the biological parents of the child
  • have difficulty with their own feelings of emotional attachment to the child
  • feel confused or frustrated when dealing with social and government agencies

Issues from the child’s background

Foster parents may find it hard to manage a child's behaviour if it is the result of difficult circumstances. The child may show violent, overly sexualised or antisocial behaviour and still be traumatised by incidents in their past, which the foster parents may not feel adequately prepared for.

The child may also be unsettled and feel unwanted, particularly if they have had a number of previous foster homes.

Contact with biological parents

It may be beneficial for children to have contact with their biological parents to maintain their family and cultural identity and continuity of relationships. This can help to build stability and security for the child. However, the carer may have mixed feelings about the parents, and the child's experience could be worse if contact visits are poorly planned, unsupervised and of poor quality.

Financial considerations

State governments or their representatives make regular payments to out-of-home carers to cover a number of the foster child’s day-to-day expenses. However, many carers believe they do not cover all of the actual costs, especially if they are caring for a child with special needs.

Foster carers may have access to additional subsidy payments for items such as medical costs, disability aids, school camps, tutoring, dental work and sporting activities. The names of these subsidies depend on the jurisdiction and are called contingencies, child-related costs, additional costs or special circumstances costs. State government agencies can provide information on whether the foster carer is eligible for these payments.

Foster carers of a child or young person are not eligible for Parental Leave Pay unless the carer intends to adopt the child when their placement in foster care is made. If the carer has a baby in their care, they may be eligible for a Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement.

More information

To find out more about how out-of-home care works in your state, contact your state government agency from the list below:

Visit the following pages on this site to find out more about adoption: What is adoption? and How does adoption work?

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020


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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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