A Freedom of Information request by The Fostering Network in Scotland has revealed that some foster carers in Scotland miss out on the essential financial support needed to care for fostered children, suggesting that they may be paying out of their own pocket. This is because the Scottish Government haven’t introduced a national minimum allowance for foster carers.
In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, fostering services are obliged to give foster carers a minimum allowance to ensure that the children that they care for have the financial support that they need. The freedom of information request, submitted to all 32 local authorities in Scotland, showed that 25 per cent of local authorities were not paying their foster carers allowances equal to the minimum allowances in England and Northern Ireland.
Despite the Scottish Government’s desire to make Scotland the best place for a child to grow up, Scotland is the only nation in the UK to not have a minimum allowance for foster carers. In England and Northern Ireland there is a minimum of £119 per week. Allowances cover the cost of looking after a fostered child, and do not include any form of fee for the foster carer.
In Scotland some foster carers receive as little as £77.69 per week which means that foster carers in Scotland are having to dig deep into their own pockets to care for children on behalf of the local authority. If the Scottish Government does not introduce a minimum allowance for foster carers, then, with the recent announcement that kinship carers in Scotland would receive the same allowances as foster carers, and as such they are condemning kinship carers to potentially having to dig into their own pockets also.
If a foster carer lives in the authority that pays the lowest allowance in Scotland, then compared to a foster carer in England on the Westminster Government’s minimum allowance (on the basis of fostering one baby for a full year) a Scottish foster carer will be £2,148.12 worse off than their English counterparts. Over the nine years since the Scottish Government first proposed to look into developing a national minimum allowance, nearly 5,000 children per year have been looked after by foster carers in Scotland without the security of a national minimum allowance.
Emily*, a foster carer, said: “I can’t believe how much the allowances vary across Scotland. It’s shocking! Foster carers give them the love they need, but without a fair allowance we have to pay ourselves to give them all that they deserve.
“Not receiving a fair allowance could impact massively on foster care in Scotland because the hundreds of would-be new foster carers which are needed in Scotland might be put off by the lack of financial assurance. No one fosters for the money, ask any foster carer that, but people shouldn’t be out of pocket when taking children into their homes.
“I know many carers, including myself, who pay things ourselves from time to time as we don’t want the children we are looking after to miss out. I have found this tends to happen more during holidays when we have days out or go away and the allowance never covers the whole amount. The trouble is not every carer can afford to subsidise the local authority and why should they?
“Foster children should receive the same standard of care not matter what their postcode is.”
Sara Lurie, director of The Fostering Network in Scotland, said: “Our research shows that many foster carers are missing out, and this can inhibit their ability to provide children with the homes that they deserve. Good intentions can’t meet the needs of children if the hands are tied by financial constraints. We have repeatedly expressed concerns about foster carers potentially having to subsidise their fostering to the Scottish Government, and we will continue to do so.
“The Scottish Government is abdicating its responsibility as corporate parent. We do understand that the Government has said that they will at some point pull together a working group to discuss national minimum foster carer allowances - however this has been promised for a number of years and not been delivered, as such we are concerned that their lack of haste will continue to mean that foster carers have to dig into their own pockets to ensure that children are properly supported.
“The Government most recently made the promise of the working group in their report, Getting It Right For Looked After Children And Young People Strategy. Making the same promises for years does not help foster carers – action does. We sincerely hope, for the benefit of the children who are living with dedicated and loving foster carers right across Scotland, that this time the Government do decide to take action.
“Our children’s services should not be run on the good will of those involved. The headline of bringing kinship care allowances into line with foster care is misleading. Without the introduction of minimum allowances to foster care, and then equalling it for kinship carers, the Scottish Government will perpetuate a postcode lottery of care, and that is not fair on those who dedicate their lives to caring for children who cannot live with their birth parents.
“Only a few weeks ago we called for 800 families across Scotland to come forward to foster. We know this will happen because of the generosity of spirit of the people who live in Scotland – and we hope the Government will choose to ensure proper financial support those 800 families when they come forward to dedicate their lives to caring for Scotland’s children.
“The Fostering Network in Scotland will continue to call for a commitment from the Scottish Government to introduce minimum fostering allowances, following on from their promise to bring kinship care allowances to the same level as fostering allowances.”
* Name changed to protect her identity