The Fostering Network has campaigned for foster care allowances over the course of its more than 40-year history. The entitlement to allowances is now universal across the UK and it is likely that nationally recommended minimum allowances will be in place in all four countries in the near future. It is important that allowance levels, set locally, cover the entire costs incurred as a result of fostering.
All foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance which is designed to cover the cost of caring for a fostered child. This includes food, clothes, toiletries, travel and all other expenses incurred in looking after a fostered child.
Fee payments may be made on top of allowances to recognise a foster carer's time, skills and experience. While all foster carers receive an allowance, there is no requirement for fee payments to be made. The Fostering Network, however, believes that foster carers should be paid a fee for the vital job that they do. For more information, see our policy on pay for foster carers.
Payments and allowances should be separate and clearly identified so that foster carers know which portion of their fostering income should be spent on caring for the child in their care, and which is for the job that they do. However, some fostering services will make a lump sum ‘financial package’ which does not make the split clear.
Allowances are set at local level and vary widely across the UK, and according to the age and needs of a child, but in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, foster carers should receive at least the national recommended rates.
Every year The Fostering Network checks the allowances paid by all local authorities in England and Wales and health and social services trusts in Northern Ireland to ensure they meet national minimum levels, and campaigns for them to be brought up to these levels where they are falling short.
Scotland does not currently have recommended minimum allowances for foster carers, although the Scottish Government has committed to making national recommendations in the near future. The first stage of this is their national review of care allowances, and we are a member of the review group for this. We continue to push for a national minimum allowance through our Scottish allowances campaign.
Minimum allowances, by definition, will not cover additional needs which are atypical. We know from foster carers that their allowances do not always cover their costs. Fostering services across the UK should, therefore, consult with foster carers and agree on appropriate levels of allowances, which may well be above the minimum.
As allowances are currently constituted, they should cover direct expenditure on the child and additional household costs (such as furniture and furnishings, utilities and insurance). The Fostering Network also recognises a third area of expenditure: additional housing costs (that is to say rent or mortgage costs). These are not clearly recognised by the allowances system, although some loans or additional allowances may be paid to a small minority of individual foster carers. Although we do not expect this to change in the near future because of the current economic climate, we believe that the issue should be acknowledged and debated with a view to addressing accommodation costs in the future and responding more flexibly to accommodation needs in the present. Read more about the accommodation costs of foster carers in a research report by the University of York, funded by The Fostering Network.
The Fostering Network’s view
No foster carer should be out of pocket as a result of fostering. Fostering services should consult locally with foster carers to agree on an allowance that covers all costs, and these rates must keep pace with inflation.
We believe that:
- Allowances should be sufficient enough to provide high quality care for children and to cover foster carers’ expenses. Fostered children should enjoy a decent standard of living sufficient to promote their wellbeing and development, be treated as favourably as other members of the fostering household, be able to participate fully in their community, and maintain appropriate contact with their family.
- Most expenditure should be covered by core allowances. There will be a need for additional payments to meet individual needs, but these should be kept to a minimum. Because the core allowances must reflect the needs of the wide range of fostering families, they should be relevant to expenditure patterns of people on middle incomes. They should not be set at the most basic level, reflecting expenditure in the least affluent households, nor should they reflect the expenditure of the most affluent.
- The administration of allowances should be transparent. Fostering services should distinguish clearly between allowances and fee payments. Every foster carer should understand clearly what allowances they are entitled to. Payment slips and payment records should be understandable, and payments should be made promptly.
- Foster carers should spend all their allowances on the care of the child and other costs involved in the fostering task. Foster carers should have the discretion to manage their allowances; giving foster carers discretion over these budgets is consistent with delegated responsibility.
- Foster carers should receive payment to cover ongoing expenses between placements.
- Allowances should be reviewed annually and adjusted to keep up with costs; at least the annual rate of inflation should be applied. Adjustments should follow a process of consultation and negotiation between services and foster carers. Allowances should not be shaved as a result of the financial pressures affecting the majority of services.
Foster carers should not have to meet the costs involved in a young person they previously fostered continuing to live with them beyond the age of 18.