Some children can't live with their legal guardians because they lack in attention and/or care, for example as a result of an addiction or mental illness. The social services can make the decision to place the child in a foster home that will provide the day-to day-care for the child. Apart from being a foster home, you can offer support by being the legal guardian, contact person or the contact family of a child, who, for different reasons needs support or needs to be in a different environment for a period of time.
In all placements of children in foster homes, the foster parents must be approved by the social services in order to assure that the child will receive the security and support they need.
Being a foster parent/foster home means to officially take a child into your home for an extended period of time. You will tend to the child’s daily needs and offer safety, stability and time. You are the one making sure the child gets to school, the one who takes the child to see the doctor, who helps them with their homework or drives them to their after school activities. Apart from the more practical aspects of everyday life, it is often important to also have the ability to handle crisis reactions, listen, understand that there might be conflicting feelings, and talk about what has happened in the child’s life.
You need to be in regular contact with social services. It’s common for the child to be in contact with their legal guardian/s while living in foster care, and you as a foster home may also be in contact with them. The goal is that the child should be able to live with their legal guardian/s in the future, but that is not always possible. Some children live in foster care for a few months, others for several years. Sometimes a child will live in a foster home for most of their childhood/adolescence. As a foster home, you receive a minor compensation to cover costs for things like food or clothing.
You can become a foster home as a one-person household; a foster home doesn’t have to have two adult members. Being LGBTQI, of course, is no obstacle either. Many social services strive to have a variety of foster homes with different constellations. You also don’t have to live in a detached house, an apartment works just as well. The important thing is that the child’s needs are met. The social services decide if you are suitable as a foster parent, and the placement of children is based on the child’s needs.
If a child has lived in a foster home for a long period of time (more than three years) you as a foster parent can apply for special guardianship. This will give you greater legal responsibility for the child. Birth parents can, however, apply to regain custody of the child sometime in the future. A court will then decide what is in the best interest of the child.
Emergency foster home
An emergency foster home is a shorter placement made on short notice when a child needs emergency shelter or support. Children often live in emergency foster homes while awaiting the outcome of an on-going investigation by the social services and a possible move to a foster home. As an emergency foster home, you support the child and care for the child during the wait time; you will play a shorter, but important, role in the child’s life. Just like a foster home, it’s important that you can provide a calm and safe environment during what is often a tumultuous and frightening time in the child’s life. Your ability to handle crisis reactions in children is important. It’s also important that you can cope with separation as an emergency foster home, as it’s easy to get attached to a child.
Placement in an emergency foster home can last anywhere from a few days up to six months. As an emergency foster home, you receive a small compensation to cover costs of, for example, food and clothing.
Becoming a foster home or an emergency foster home
If you want to become a foster/emergency foster home, the first step is to contact the social services where you live and let them know that you are interested in becoming a foster/emergency foster home. Before you can foster, you must pass an assessment to check that you’re able to care for a child. You will not be assessed on your age, ethnicity, gender, marital status, religion, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. The assessment includes interviews, home visits and a criminal record check. If you are approved, you will be offered training in becoming a foster/emergency foster home. The social services also offer support while you are fostering.
You can find information about fostering at the municipality’s/social service centre’s website.
Legal guardian, contact person and contact family
There are many ways to get involved in the lives of children and youth through social services. One way of offering support is to become the legal guardian of an unaccompanied child refugee. Being the legal guardian, you will have regular contact with the child, but the child will not live with you. You will be responsible for the child’s finances and manage the child’s contacts with authorities. Another way to get engaged in children’s lives is by becoming a contact person or a contact family. As a contact person, you will regularly spend time with a child who, for different reasons, needs support in their everyday life. You might participate in activities together, but what you do and how often you meet varies depending on the needs of the child. You might meet every week or a couple of times a month, as extra support. Your commitment as a contact person may sometimes span over a number of years.
If you want to become a legal guardian, contact person or contact family, contact the social services where you live and they will perform an assessment to determine your suitability. You can usually find a lot of information on fostering at the municipality’s/social service centre’s website.