As the campaigns manager at The Fostering Network, I am increasingly being asked where The Fostering Network stands on the idea of foster carers being employed, with full workers’ rights, by a fostering service. This is a complex question with a complex answer, some of which I thought I’d set out in this blog:
For four decades now The Fostering Network has been campaigning to improve the terms and conditions for foster carers – all with the ultimate goal of providing increased stability for fostered children and young people. Without our campaigning there wouldn’t be minimum fostering allowances (we’re still working hard to get these introduced in Scotland), preferable tax allowances for foster carers, pay for foster carers (although there’s still some way to go before all foster carers get paid, and a long way before foster carers get a payment which recognises the vital role that they play), staying put arrangements, an increased view of foster carers as professionals in the team around the child, and so on.
What is increasingly becoming clear however, is that the support, training and remuneration (fee and allowances) of foster carers are being eroded as a result of the austerity climate that we have found ourselves in for the last few years. Something must be done about this. And some foster carers and unions argue that the best solution to tackle this crisis is for foster carers to be employed by a single fostering service with the associated employees’ rights. Foster care is not one single entity, therefore finding a one-size-fits all solution is very difficult. We hear regularly from many foster carers, and while we know a good number do think employment by a fostering service might be a way to deal with the problems they are encountering, many others – including long-term foster carers and family and friends carers - are less sure. They are concerned about the potential impact this could have on tax arrangements, combining fostering with other employment outside of the home and being able to say no to a placement if it doesn’t suit their family situation, for example. This is an area we’re continuing to explore with our members and others in the sector, such as the unions, to try to understand the long-term impact of any change in employment status and the best solution for foster carers.
This is a complex area, but we do know that the current status quo isn’t good enough and something has to change. All foster carers must be treated well, trained well, supported well and paid well. We are participating fully in the inquiry and stocktake in England to help the Government address these issues. One thing we are convinced will make a big difference is a register (a centrally held list in each of the four nations of approved foster carer) which would enable increased safeguarding and make it much easier for foster carers to move fostering services. That way fostering services would have to up their game when it comes to support, training, status, finances and so on, otherwise they would be risking losing their foster carers to another fostering service that does much better at those things. Of course, this comes with questions around funding and what happens if a carer want to move services while they have a young person in placement with them - but, we think these are questions which need addressing, through the fostering inquiry and stocktake which are currently underway in England.
Children are at the heart of everything that The Fostering Network does, and we believe that having the best possible pool of foster carers who feel fully trained and equipped, sufficiently well respected and supported, and adequately financed is an essential part of being able to give children the best possible experience of foster care. If this is an area that you are particularly interested in, my team would like to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki Swain, Campaigns Manager