Together with our members and supporters we are a powerful catalyst for change, and we've been leading the fostering agenda for more than 40 years, influencing and shaping policy and practice at every level.
In 2017 thousands of foster carers responded to our surveys, helping us to develop a strong evidence base for our campaigns work. We facilitated 350 letters to MPs, 456 letters to MSPs, and 364 letters to the stocktake team in England. We have prepared and submitted detailed responses to eight consultations related to foster care, all supported with evidence from our foster carer members.
Below are just a few of our recent campaigning successes.
Access to free childcare
In the autumn of 2017 we led a campaign to reverse the decision to exclude fostered children from the additional 15 hours of free childcare that was made available to parents from September 2018. After engaging many supporters and partner organisations and working with several MPs to build a groundswell of support at Westminster, the Government announced a u-turn on the policy during a debate in Westminster Hall on 19 December 2017.
This exclusion was discriminatory and inexplicable. It was unfair that the Government’s flagship childcare policy discriminated against fostered children in such a blatant manner.
We know that many fostered children will thrive when surrounded by their peers, not least because they may well have had a difficult start in life, with little socialising with others before coming into care. These early years before school are crucial to their development. Of course not all foster carers will want take up the extra 15 hours, but it should be left to their judgment and that of the social worker as to whether it is appropriate or not.
We are delighted that we were able to persuade decision makers to reconsider this unfair exclusion, the reversal of which will benefit many fostered children for years to come.
Keeping the spotlight on foster care
Following calls from The Fostering Network, the Education Committee carried out an inquiry into fostering in England. This inquiry lasted most of 2017 and managed to survive the general election. Many foster carers submitted evidence, and our own surveys of foster carers fed into the written and oral evidence we provided to the inquiry.
The committee’s report on fostering was published just before Christmas 2017, and included many of The Fostering Network’s recommendations, including the need for all foster carers to be given an allowance that fully covers costs, a push for more funding to make staying put work, access to whistleblowing legislation and a recognition of foster carers as child care experts who must be treated as equal members of the team.
Don’t Move Me
The first stage of Fostering Network's Don’t Move Me Campaign saw the law change to allow young people to stay with their fostering families until they are 21 if they wish to. This has given much-needed stability to some of the most vulnerable teenagers who otherwise may find themselves isolated and drifting away from sources of support. This came into law in England in 2014, Scotland in 2015 and Wales followed in 2016. This was already happening in Northern Ireland for young people in education, employment and training through the Going the Extra Mile scheme.
One of the biggest changes to benefit fostered young people in many years, this happened because of the enormous support we received from foster carers, young people, fostering services and organisations who worked tirelessly to make this happen.
National Minimum Fostering Allowances
After 30 years of campaigning for foster carers to be fairly reimbursed for the extra costs involved in raising a fostered child, in 2007 the Government finally agreed to pay minimum allowances in England. Minimum rates followed shortly in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Every year we conduct a survey of all allowances in the UK to alert those fostering services who appear to be paying below the national minimum rates where applicable. In 2017-18 we were successful in persuading eight fostering services to bring their allowances in line with the national minimum in England.
We are currently campaigning for minimum allowances in Scotland to bring them into line with the rest of the UK. Currently 25 per cent of local authorities of local authorities in Scotland are not paying their foster carers allowances equal to the minimum allowances in neighbouring nations.
After a campaign led by The Fostering Network, the Scottish Government introduced placement limits on the number of unrelated fostered children who can live with each foster family.
Since 29 December 2014, through an amendment to The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations, it is unlawful for children to be accommodated in a foster care placement with more than two other unrelated looked after children.
The law doesn’t apply to placements that were already set up and functioning well. This brings Scotland in line with the rest of the UK.
As part of the Welfare Reform Act, the Government proposed that rooms used by fostered children would be deemed underoccupied and foster carers claiming housing benefit would get it reduced as a result. Following a campaign by The Fostering Network, the Government reconsidered, and foster carers are now allowed one spare room. This is still an issue for some foster carers with more than one spare room, but our member helpline can offer advice.
The Fostering Network lobbied HMRC about the taxation of foster carers. Local tax agreements meant that foster carers were being taxed differently according to where they lived. Many foster carers were taxed on the money they spent on their fostered children. The Fostering Network negotiated a simplified and fairer tax system whereby foster carers had a taxation threshold of £10,000 per year plus £200 or £250 per week per fostered child, depending on the child’s age.
To help us with future campaigns and to stay up to date with our campaigning activity, contact our campaigns team.