Throughout the coronavirus crisis we have been liaising with officials and other organisations and charities within the sector to advise and influence decision making. We are aware that there is a wide range of issues that foster carers are experiencing due to the outbreak, this page highlights the issues that we are actively campaigning to change at this present time. If you want to highlight any further fostering related issues to us, please email email@example.com.
Key worker status
During the covid-19 outbreak, foster carers across the UK are fulfilling a vital role looking after the children and young people in their care. Many children and young people in foster care have additional health, dietary and emotional needs and foster carers need to be able to meet these and other practical needs. Foster carers also have children coming to live with them on an emergency basis, requiring them to be able to purchase food, clothing and other equipment at short notice. However, there are reports of foster carers struggling to access the products that are needed to enable them to provide for the children in their care.
The Government's definition of social care workers says that it 'includes but is not limited to:... social workers, care workers, and other frontline social care staff including volunteers; and, the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s social care sector.'
In recognition of the fact that foster carers are caring for some of our most vulnerable children during this time of crisis - maintaining relationships, providing stable family homes and keeping children safe - we think this important role should be recognised as being on the frontline of social care along with social workers, caring for children on behalf of the state. As such, we believe foster carers fall within this Government definition and should be classed as social care workers.
Recognising foster carers as social care workers would enable foster carers to have access to supermarkets outside general public times as well as the ability to make online orders for essential items. Fostering services should facilitate this by providing their foster carers with the appropriate letter and/or identification to confirm their social care worker status so that they can access supermarkets during key worker hours and qualify to order essential items online.
In Wales, foster carers are entitled to a social care worker card which grants them key worker status. Fostering service managers should have received an email from Social Care Wales about how to get the card to unregistered social care workers. Social Care Wales’ website details further information about the social care worker cards.
We are campaigning for all foster carers in the rest of the UK to be considered key workers during the crisis so they can access essential items, be eligible for testing and have approriate PPE.
Foster carer finances
The Fostering Network has had an increasing number of queries from foster carers concerned about their fostering finances during the covid-19 crisis. These fall into three groups:
- Those foster carers with coronavirus who, temporarily can no longer care for their fostered child(ren);
- Those who have to self-isolate for 12 weeks because they are in the very vulnerable category;
- Respite foster carers who are unable to offer respite placements as a result of the social distancing requirements.
The Fostering Network believe that foster carers who fall under these categories should be paid a retainer at this time by their fostering service to ensure consistency of financial support. We believe fostering services should be able to draw down from a central government fund to pay for these retainers. We are currently talking to governments across the UK about our proposal and will keep our members updated.
We believe this should happen because:
- The employment status of foster carers is ambiguous. Foster carers are only classified as self-employed for tax and national insurances purposes and therefore fall through the gaps in all the Government’s financial support packages announced to date. The recent announcement for self-employed persons is not helpful for many foster carers because they use Qualifying Care Relief and the majority of foster carers are below the threshold and have no taxable profit from their self-employment.
- To ensure continued capacity within the foster care workforce and continuity of care for children the fostering service is best placed to administer the retainers for their foster carers, but it should be funded centrally. We do not feel the responsibility should be held by foster carers, who are looking after children on behalf of the state.
We would urge the Governments of the UK to explore the provision of an increase in the level of financial support given to foster carers to take into account these additional duties.
We received feedback from fostering services about these issues and have summarised the responses from fostering services in England in this briefing.
Statutory instrument amendments in England
On 23 April 2020, The Department for Education in England made temporary changes to The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/445) with the intention of allowing greater flexibility during the outbreak. Read our initial response here.
On 4 May 2020, we sent a letter to Children's Minister, Vicky Ford MP on behalf of The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers to express concern about SI 445, which makes unprecedented changes to regulations relating to the care and protection of vulnerable children and young people.
On 27 and 28 July 2020 there was a court case into the changes to the amendments about whether they were made unlawfully or not.
The High Court has granted permission for judicial review on three separate grounds:
- That the Department for Education failed to consult before making the changes to children’s legal protections;
- That the Regulations are contrary to the objects and purpose of primary legislation, particularly the Children Act 1989;
- That the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, breached his general duty to promote the well-being of children in England.
On the 7 August the High Court found that the Department of Education acted lawfully. The court found that the changes were rushed through but that this was justified by the exceptional circumstances. The judge said that in any other circumstances she would have been 'minded to find that the consultation was not lawful if the Commissioner was not consulted.'
The majority of these amendments expired on 25 September 2020. For the changes that have remained in place, we have created a briefing paper for fostering services, the savings provisions and notes on the relevant guidance.