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History of Foster Care

August 29, 2018 | matt

Have you ever stopped to think about the origins of foster care?

Family Care Group have been supporting young people in care to fulfil their potential throughout the North West and the Midlands since 1988, but fostering goes back much further than this.  Here we give a brief overview of - the history of Foster Care.

Some of the earliest references to foster care can be found in the Talmud and the Old Testament.  Within these references it is established that there is a duty to care for dependent children under law.  Earlier Christian church records mention children living with ‘worthy widows’, with funding provided by collections from the congregation.  

Foster care in the modern sense was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1853 when Reverend John Armistead removed children from a workhouse in Cheshire and placed them with foster families.  The local council (called unions at the time) was legally responsible for the children and paid the foster parents a sum equal to the cost of maintaining the child in the workhouse.

These custodial decisions were determined by the Chancery court under a process known as ‘wardship’, but without any legal basis. 

Fostering (and adoption) started to be regulated from the middle of the 19th century onwards following a series of “baby farming” scandals.  The practice of baby farming was born in the late Victorian era when there was no effective contraception and a great social stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock.

Adoption agencies and social services didn’t legitimately exist at the time, leading to a number of untrained women offering their services to unmarried mothers who would hand over their baby along with between £5 - £15 (a substantial sum of money then) in the hope that the child could be re-homed, which most were.

By the end of the 19th century, some poor law authorities and voluntary organisations were referring to fostering as ‘boarding out’ and using it as an official alternative to placing neglected children in a workhouse or orphanage.

The first world war led to an increase in organised adoption through legitimate adoption societies and child rescue organisations, and pressure grew for adoption to be given legal status.

The first legal precedent for adoption (..and fostering) was established in 1926 with the Adoption of Children Act.  Since then, almost every decade has bear witness to new laws for increased regulation in the UK, with some geographical differences between its respective nations.

Fostering currently takes several forms and its use has grown significantly since the use of children's homes has reduced.  The DfE refers to eight forms of foster care: emergency, short term, short breaks, remand, fostering for adoption, family and friends, specialist therapeutic, and long term.

About 75% of all children in care are fostered, and local authorities spent £1.7 billion during 2016-17 on fostering.  On 31 March 2017, there were 53,420 children in foster care from a total care population of 72,670.  There were about 78,000 placements as some children changed foster home, sometimes more than once.  Most of the children in care in England, and most of those fostered, are there because they have suffered ‘abuse or neglect’ (65%) and a further 15% are in care because of ‘family dysfunction’.

The fostering network estimate a shortage of over 7,000 foster families needed to support young people in the next 12 months.


If you think you can #GiveSomethingBack and would like to discuss a career in fostering, please get in touch today.  You can also check out our FAQ's page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Matt Holmes – Referrals and Recruitment Coordinator at Family Care Group
0800 5 677 677



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