What is the difference between fostering with an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) or with a Local Authority?

Local Authorities are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of all children in public care. They need to find the best way of looking after these children to make sure that they receive the best possible standard of care.

IFAs such as Sunbeam provide a fostering service to Local Authorities and we work in partnership with them. We have our own foster carers, social workers, therapists and education staff who work hard to ensure that the needs of the carers and children are met to high standards and without delay.

I'm not married– does this matter?

We are not looking for a specific family set up. Much more important is your commitment to fostering, and your ability to offer a child or young person a safe and secure environment at a difficult time in their lives.

Can I still go out to work and be a foster carer?

Although some Local Authorities and IFAs will allow this, at Sunbeam we think that the high quality care, which we consider every one of our children and young people need, can only be achieved by having one carer at home full time. Our carers are part of a professional and dedicated team and we offer them a remuneration and respite package that reflects their commitment.

Do I have to own my home?

No, it doesn’t matter if you own or rent your home, or if you live in a council or housing association accommodation, as long as your rent or mortgage payments are up to date, and it is of a clean standard. The important thing is that you are settled and not likely to leave at short notice and that you can offer a foster child or young person his or her own room.

Who can foster?

Most people can foster, but when we consider applications we look closely at the following areas:


  • Your ability to work in partnership with the agency
  • Your ability to work as part of a professional team
  • Your family lifestyle
  • Space in your home, including sleeping arrangements
  • Your health and background
  • Your parenting skills, attitude and personality, including any experience of caring for children
  • Your ability to provide a caring and nurturing environment.
  • Things that are less important to us are your income, age, marital status and employment status.
  • Third party references.

How long does it take to become a foster carer?

We do our best to process all applications as quickly as possible, usually in six months but more often between three to four months.

What sort of behaviours do foster children have?

Foster children, like all other children, have their own behaviours relating to their age, experiences, and development. Children who need to be looked after by foster carers have the added difficulty of separation from their families, friends, homes, and pets. They may also be learning to deal with painful experiences.

Some children cannot express their complex feelings, and may present behaviours which are destructive, such as lying, stealing or self-harm. A foster child may have difficulties in sleeping, eating disorders or being withdrawn. Whatever the behaviour, with the right carer and the support of a professional team, great improvements can be made with many children.

Do I have to have a spare bedroom?

Yes, and this must be available at the time of application. Part of the assessment takes into consideration your accommodation and if a spare bedroom is not available the assessment can not go ahead. If your child has gone off to University and you plan to use their bedroom, will there be enough room when they come home for holidays?

What happens after I'm approved?

Once approved as a Foster Carer with the Sunbeam Fostering Agency, the Placement team will begin their search for a placement for you. Where a potential match with a child is being considered, brief details of your suitability will be provided to the Local Authority by the placement team. You will also be allocated a Supervising Social Worker who will offer you all the support and supervision required.


If I have a criminal conviction, does this mean I won't be able to foster?

It depends on the nature of the criminal offence. You must discuss the offence with the social worker and declare the offence on your application form.

My partner doesn't live with me should I include them on the application form?

Yes please, include any individuals who is a significant person in your life and will frequently visit the house.

If I am going to be the main foster carer, do you need to carry out checks on my partner?

We regard all couples living together as foster carers applicants in the fostering process so we would require that you both have the necessary checks and training and that both take part in the assessment process. Even if you are the main carer, anyone sharing your home will have some involvement in and influence on the fostering task.


We will also need to carry out checks on all adult members of the household.

What will I know about the child or young person before they are placed with me?

We discuss every placement with our carers and it’s their decision to accept a child into their home. We share as much information about the child or young person and their background as possible. However, sometimes children come into foster care with very little information, especially in an emergency situation. In these circumstances the professional team will work as quickly as possible to piece together information.

We have highly skilled staff who match children with the right foster family, but the decision to take a child in and look after them always rests with our carers.

Do I have a choice in the type of child I care for?

Children who require care must have foster carers who can meet their needs. Throughout the fostering assessment process, we work with you to identify your strengths and skills to assist you in identifying the children and young people you could care for. We will also identify specific training with Sunbeam to assist you in expanding your skills as a foster carer.

Before you are approved by the Agency Decision Maker, we will have agreed on the type of child who will fit in with your family. This includes the age, gender, ethnicity and religion of potential foster children.

What sort of help would I get with a child who has special needs or a disability?

If a child has on-going medical needs, this will be explained to you before the placement is made and you will receive all the assistance necessary. Our role is to support you and this may include providing specialist equipment or training.

Who is responsible for taking the children to school and to the doctor etc?

We would normally expect carers to undertake these tasks. Occasionally, if you have a particular problem, your Supervising social worker would endeavour to make alternative arrangements.

Can a child I foster share a bedroom with one of my own children?

Some Local Authorities will allow this, especially for younger children.

At Sunbeam, however, we will only place a child in a home where he or she will have their own bedroom (unless they are a young sibling group and able to share).


What does the weekly allowance cover?

The weekly allowance is intended to cover all the needs of each foster child, including food, clothing, travel, activities, savings and so on. We provide guidance on how money should be spent on each child, to ensure that the child has a healthy and balanced life.

How much is the Fostering Allowance?

At the Sunbeam Fostering Agency we believe that our carers and foster children should have a good standard of living and a quality of life. This allowance is paid when children are in care and is not paid when carers do not have placements.

Please ask for a copy of our Foster Carer Payment Guide which is updated and reviewed annually.

Tax Benefits

Will I be taxed on the allowance?

In April 2003, the Government introduced an income tax exemption for foster carers with an income below a set level. Allowances for looking after foster children placed with the Sunbeam are not generally taxable. However, foster carers who have multiple placements and who also work may be liable to pay some tax if their income is above the set level.

For the purposes of calculating tax, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) treat foster carers as self-employed. HMRC produce helpful guidance for Foster Carers which you can request direct from HMRC (ask for guidance IR 236).

Do I qualify to claim any benefits?

Eligibility to benefits is assessed on an individual basis by the relevant central or local government department, and the Sunbeam Fostering Agency cannot offer advice specific to benefit eligibility.

The government department responsible for benefit entitlement is called the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Any queries about fostering allowances and benefit eligibility needs to be assessed by the DWP. Find information by calling 0800 882200 or visit www.dwp.gov.uk


Jobcentre Plus delivers benefits to many people of working age, so contact your local office for advice.


Housing Benefit, Council Tax benefits and tax credits are calculated and administered by your own Local Authority.


Alternatively, seek specialist advice from an advisory agency such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) or a welfare rights service.

Do I qualify for tax credits?

Fostering counts as self-employment, so you may be entitled to Working Tax Credit (and also Child Tax Credit if you have children of your own). You need to get advice about Tax Credits, which takes into consideration your own individual circumstances. Eligibility and assessments for tax credits can be made by contacting 0845 300 3900.

Will I have to pay National Insurance?

All foster carers must register as self-employed, so must register to pay National Insurance contributions. You can obtain get information by calling the Newly Self-Employed Helpline on 0845 915 4515.