Throughout the coronavirus crisis we have been liaising with officials and other organisations and charities within the sector to advise and influence decision making. While 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have also provided evidence to the following consultations:
- The Education Select Committee in England's inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. We also gave oral evidence.
- The Department for Education in England's consultation of changes to the adoption and children regulations: coronavirus (COVID-19).
- The Health Committee for Northern Ireland asked us to submit a stakeholder briefing on covid-19 and children. We also gave oral evidence.
- The Education and Skills Committee in Scotland's inquiry into vulnerable childen during the coronavirus outbreak.
- The Children, Young People and Education commiteee in Wales' inquiry into the scrutiny of covid-19 and its impact on children and young people.
- Our Future Wales' consultation into post-covid recovery and reconstruction in Wales, calling for children to be at the heart of recovery.
- We also responded to the Welsh Government's consultation of the Adoption and Fostering (Wales) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.
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.
- It is also the case that foster carers are taking on extra responsibilities, such as home schooling at this time.
- Fostering services, could consider alternative ways to use the skills and expertise of respite carers, for instance:
- redeployed, with appropriate virtual training and support, to be short-term foster carers and also emergency placements
- used to buddy up with a foster family to offer peer support in a range of ways, e.g. doing shopping
- planning 'lessons' for foster carers home schooling
- playing games online, reading a book to children in foster families
- providing a listening ear and peer support to foster families
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.
We have called for UK officials to #fundfostercarers. Alongside TACT, the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP), CoramBAAF (and AFA in Scotland), we wrote to an open letter to government ministers calling for foster carers, who are not covered by existing funding schemes, to be financially supported. Specific country updates from this campaign can be found below.
- The Minister for Children and Families has confirmed that funding for foster carers will be from the £3.2 billion allocated to local authorities. We are continuing to monitor the situation and work with other organisations to ensure that foster carers are receiving support.
- We have spoken with ADCS and the LGA who are both adamant that while they welcome the additional money, it is not sufficient. We have therefore written to the Minister for Children and Families again to highlight the need for funding for retainers and an additional allowance. Read the letter.
- Now we are calling on everyone involved in fostering to take action. Please join the campaign by emailing your MP and asking them to write to the Children's Minister to call for the Government to #FundFosterCarers during this crisis. If you've been affected, your MP will be particularly interested in hearing about your experience.
- Foster carers have been given a one-off payment of £100 to help with the costs of caring for a child during the coronavirus crisis.
- The Department of Health has approved additional funding to support foster carers during the current Covid 19 pandemic. This financial support will be made available to all foster carers across Northern Ireland for a period of up to 12 weeks commencing in June 2020 and will be kept under review as circumstances change. It represents a 20% increase to the food and household costs elements of the allowance. Read more.
- The Scottish Government has established a £350 million community support fund. This money has been given directly to local authorities to assist those most affected by covid-19, and it is the fostering service’s responsibility to ensure no foster families are disadvantaged during this time. The Scottish Government officials are liaising regularly with The Fostering Network to better understand the impact the covid-19 restrictions are having on foster carers.
- The Welsh Government has reassured us that they are in regular communication with fostering services, that they are monitoring the financial situation of foster carers and if a fostering agency is considering offering additional monetary support to their foster carers they should consult the AFA Cymru guidance document. If you are a foster carer concerned about your finances during this time please get in touch.
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.
We are campaigning for all foster carers in the UK to be considered key workers during the crisis so they can access essential items, be eligible for testing and have approriate PPE.
- The Department for Education does not classify foster carers as key workers. However, they have made concessions which mean foster carers are eligible for personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing. The Government's digital portal enables individuals, including foster carers, to book a test themselves.
- Foster carers are entitled to a social care worker card which grants them key worker status. Fostering services 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. Foster carers with covid-19 symptoms are eligible for testing and should visit the website of the local authority in which they live for details of how to book a test.
- The status of foster carers as key workers in Northern Ireland is still unclear. We are seeking clarification from officials.
- Foster carers in Scotland are not considered key workers. We are liaising with officials about this as a priority.
- It is The Fostering Network's view that foster carers are now eligible for testing in Scotland. We believe they fall into priority group 1A or 1B, as explained of the Scottish Government's website. However, we are seeking clarification about this and are calling for foster carers to be listed explicity.
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.'