Foster carers still unpaid or underpaid, survey finds

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The vast majority of foster carers in England are unpaid or underpaid, according to a survey carried out by The Fostering Network.

Nearly 1,500 foster carers in England took part in the survey which revealed that, although the number of foster carers who receive a fee payment is increasing, only one in 10 receives the equivalent of the national living wage for a 40-hour week.
 
Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Just over half (58 per cent) of foster carers receive a fee which is separate from the allowance. 
  • 15 per cent of foster carers do not receive any fees at all, and a quarter of foster carers receive a lump sum payment which includes the allowance and a fee.
  • Based on a notional 40-hour week, a quarter of foster carers received the equivalent of less than £1.70 an hour.
  • 98 per cent believe that foster carers should be paid.

Three-quarters of children in care are looked after by foster carers. All UK foster carers are given an allowance to cover the costs of looking after a fostered child; this money is for spending on the care of the child and does not include any payment for the foster carer themselves. In contrast, there is no requirement for a fee to be paid, resulting in widely varying practice.

The Fostering Network is urging the UK's governments to invest and ensure that all foster carers are paid adequately. The charity believes that in the immediate term this should the equivalent of the national living wage for a notional 40-hour week, paid 52 weeks a year. In the longer term, the charity is calling for foster carer pay in line with residential care workers, starting at around £20,000 a year.

One foster carer who responded to the survey said: ‘This is a job, one which I do with a passion and that I love. Ultimately I need to earn a living…I wouldn't foster without a skills fee as it would be a further insult to the challenges we already face. We offer love, care, guidance, support, encouragement advice to children who face and present with real challenges in order to make some positive changes and help change their future.’

Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: ‘The fact that over 1,000 foster carers responded to our pay survey within 24 hours shows that pay is a significant issue for foster carers. The Fostering Network believes that it is a matter of social justice that foster carers should be paid. But it’s also a matter of economics - money spent supporting fostering and foster carers now will save society significantly more money in the future.

‘Foster carers rarely shout about their pay because their primary motivation is to make a difference to the life of a child. Nonetheless, this does not mean that foster carers should have to work for free or for a pittance. We do not expect other childcare professionals to do this, so why do we expect it of foster carers who are at the centre of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work on behalf of children and young people in public care?
 
‘Foster carers provide homes for three quarters of the UK’s children in care. Ensuring that there are enough carers with the skills and experience to provide homes for these children is therefore crucial, and we believe that pay is a key factor in both recruitment and retention. Not only is it an issue for current carers, but – looking to the future – without adequate pay for all, the demographic pool of foster carers will remain limited to those who feel they can afford to foster without fee payments or with minimal fee payments.’

‘We are calling on the governments of the UK to invest in local authorities and trusts to ensure that fostering services can afford to pay fees to all their foster carers. The fostering stocktake in England and the care review in Scotland provide the perfect opportunities to make this a reality.’ 

There are 64,000 children living with 55,000 foster families on any one day in the UK. The Fostering Network estimates that a further 7,000 foster families need to be recruited this year alone, particularly to offer homes to teenagers, children with disabilities and groups of brothers and sisters.