What is foster care?
Foster carers provide a more stable environment for vulnerable children and young people and take on the responsibility of being their parents for a period of time.
Children may be placed in foster care following a court order, or a voluntary arrangement between the child’s guardian/s and a service provider.
Why are children fostered?
Reasons that children may need to be fostered include:
- The home life of the parent(s) or carer(s) is unhealthy or not suitable for the child.
- The child has been exposed to domestic violence or a history of sexual assault or physical abuse.
- Parents or carers might have drug or alcohol abuse issues, or be in jail or otherwise unavailable.
- Parents might have mental health issues or an intellectual disability and be unable to adequately care for their child.
What are the different types of foster care?
A foster parent may provide out-of-home care to a child for any length of time from a few nights to several years. There are different types of care that you can choose to provide, to best suit your lifestyle:
- emergency care — at short notice for children who urgently need it
- respite care — short breaks to relieve other foster and kinship carers
- short-term care — lasting from a few months up to 2 years
- long-term or permanent care — lasting longer than 2 years (usually when the child is not expected to be reunited with their birth parents)
- kinship care — where a child is fostered by a relative or someone they already know
Why might I consider fostering a child?
Currently, there are not enough foster parents available in Australia for the children who need out-of-home care.
Children are more likely to do well when they live in a nurturing environment. If you are interested in making a difference to a vulnerable child by providing a loving and stable home, then fostering a child may be of interest to you.
Can a foster carer be a single person or part of a same-sex couple?
Yes. You also don’t have to have lots of money or own your own house.
Foster carers can be:
- single people
- couples, including same-sex couples
- people who don’t have children
- people who already have children
You need to:
- be an adult (the minimum age will depend on the state or territory you live in)
- be an Australian citizen or permanent resident
- have no criminal record
- be healthy
- be willing to be trained and follow a plan
- relate well to children or young people
- have room in your house for an extra person
- be prepared to provide a caring environment
What is kinship care?
Unlike fostering, kinship is a type of out-of-home care where the caregiver already has a relationship with the child or young person. The caregiver could be a relative or family friend, a member of their community or someone who speaks the same language.
A kinship arrangement is often preferable to fostering because it can be more stable for the child and allows them to keep a sense of their culture and family. It can also reduce the anxiety children can feel when separated from their parents.
There are different kinds of kinship arrangement:
- formal, when the child has been placed by a child protection agency, often in an emergency situation — the kinship caregiver is recognised and receives payments and services in the jurisdiction in which they live
- formal, through the court system — the kinship caregiver is legally recognised and may receive payments and services
- informal — when the caregiver is providing home care as a private arrangement with the family, unrecognised by both the court and jurisdiction
What challenges might I face as a foster parent?
Although there are many rewards that come from being an out-of-home carer, there may also be difficulties.
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
- 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
- worry about the impact of fostering on any other children in the family
Issues from the child’s background
The child may have experienced trauma in their past. This may result in challenging or destructive behaviours including violence and self-harm. Foster parents may not feel adequately prepared to manage these behaviours.
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. The child's experience could be distressing if contact visits are poorly planned, unsupervised and of poor quality.
State governments or their representatives make regular payments to out-of-home carers to cover 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.
Visit Services Australia for information about payments you may be entitled to as a foster carer.
Are there different out-of-home care arrangements in different states and territories?
Authorities across Australia have different legal requirements for fostering and kinship care. They may also have different ways in which they administer these services and pay caregivers.
The state government provides this service in some states and territories while in others, it is run by non-profit organisations. This, added to the different types of out-of-home care, can confuse carers about what funding or services they are entitled to, or who they should talk to.
Contact the relevant authority directly to check how fostering works in your own state or territory. There's a link to the relevant authority in the resources section at the bottom of this page.
Where can I find 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:
- New South Wales — Communities & Justice
- Victoria — Department of Health and Human Services
- Queensland — Queensland Government Community support
- Western Australia — Department of Communities
- South Australia — Department for Child Protection
- Tasmania — Department of Communities
- Australian Capital Territory — Child and Youth Protection Services
- Northern Territory — Community support and care
Visit How does adoption work? to find out more about adoption.
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Last reviewed: July 2022