We all know that postcodes can be pivotal when it comes to the provision of public services. The area you live in can affect your access to healthcare, leisure opportunities, your insurance prices, and more. In Scotland it also affects how much money is spent on children in care. Sara Lurie, director of The Fostering Network in Scotland, explains the situation and what can be done to change it.
In the UK, all foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance which is intended to cover the cost of caring for a child. In Scotland, however, there is a huge disparity in the allowances that are given. Scotland has not yet introduced a national minimum fostering allowance, the only country in the UK that hasn’t. This is despite a long-term commitment from the Scottish Government to do so and many years of campaigning by The Fostering Network and others.
Our latest report on allowances in Scotland reinforces the importance of ensuring more parity across the country for children and young people. We found that foster carers caring for a three year old child in one local authority receive less than half that a foster carer in a neighbouring local authority would get for caring for a child of the same age. In some parts of Scotland, this could mean a difference of £6,000 per year. Some local authorities do offer supplements to the weekly allowance, such as money for baby items, driving lessons, school trips and more, but there is a lack of transparency about these extras and there is no guaranteed minimum amount that foster carers will receive to cover the costs of caring for the children who have come to live with them.
For more than a decade the Scottish Government has been promising to bring this geographical discrepancy to an end. In April 2016, the SNP manifesto pledged to provide practical and financial support for kinship and foster care families and that they would introduce a national allowance for both, ‘so everyone receives the same amount to care for their children, no matter where they live in Scotland.’ This hasn’t happened yet and that’s having an impact on children and young people and the families caring for them.
In a survey we conducted last year of 500 foster carers from across Scotland, 60 per cent told us that the allowance is not enough to cover the day to day costs; and a recent survey of Scottish local authorities showed us that 66 per cent have frozen their allowance for at least two years.
Improving the situation for children in care
The Scottish Government is the corporate parent of children and young people in Scotland – even Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, referred to herself as 'chief Mammy' and among her many important responsibilities, she noted none more important than her responsibility as chief corporate parent. Most parents would strive to do whatever it takes to ensure their children have what they need to flourish. Now is the time for the Scottish Government to do the same for children and young people in foster care.