Foster carers are often required to reduce their hours or stop working when they become foster carers, but are not often financially compensated for this. The Fostering Network believes that a change in approach to, and support for, foster carers doing other work in addition to fostering is essential for both recruitment and retention. Such a change must prioritise the needs of individual fostered children.
The children and young people needing foster care today have many different needs but all require their foster carers to be skilled, knowledgeable, committed to them and recognised as a key professional in the team that supports them.
Despite this, many foster carers are not paid for the skills, time and expertise they bring to fostering. Of those who are paid, only a minority receive anything resembling a living wage, although a very small number do get significant fee payments.
Combining fostering with other work to supplement fostering income is not without complications. Long hours and the demands of the fostering task can make it impossible for foster carers to undertake outside work.
Some children, because of their age or needs, will require their foster carer to be at home and available for them. This is likely to be the case, for example, for those fostering babies or pre-school children, or children with extremely complex needs or challenging behaviour. Some foster carers specialise in short-term placements, and it may be necessary for them to be available while they settle in children who are recently removed from their families and have to adjust to foster care.
However other children – for example those who are older and settled in the foster family – may be able to manage if their foster carers are at work on a part-time or even full-time basis, and we know some foster carers manage this successfully. Some foster carers in England and Wales may be able to make use of government-funded free childcare for three and four year olds. See here for more information.
The number of children who are fostered in one household will also have important implications for the capacity of a foster carer to take on outside work.
Every case is different, and the most important factor is that the needs of the children in foster care are met on an individual basis.
The Fostering Network’s view
The Fostering Network believes that a change in approach to foster carers doing other work in addition to fostering is essential for both recruitment and retention. Such a change must prioritise the needs of individual fostered children. We recognise that it will not be appropriate or desirable for many foster carers to combine fostering with other work, but in other cases it will be.
We believe that:
- Foster carers should be properly paid for the fostering work that they do, including a retainer between placements, regardless of employment outside of fostering.
- In cases where the needs of fostered children dictate that the foster carer must be available at all times, the level of fee payments should reflect the commitment demanded of the foster carer.
- No foster carer should need to take on other paid work as a financial necessity if the demands of the fostering task require it to be a full-time commitment.
- Having another job should not detract from a foster carer’s ability to carry out the fostering role; the child’s needs must always come first.
- Equally, no fostering service should have a blanket ban on foster carers doing other work. Each case should be taken on an individual basis, looking at the type of foster care being offered and the needs of the children likely to be placed with the foster carer, as well as the numbers of children in the home, the overall commitments of the foster carer and the flexibility of the other work.
- Local authorities should make every effort to support family and friends foster carers to remain in employment where this is compatible with the needs of the children in their care. When remaining in employment is not in the child’s best interest the local authority should not reduce payments to the family and friends foster carers in the longer term.
- Fostering services must offer training and supervision outside of core working hours in order to ensure that foster carers in other paid employment can attend.
- Fostering services should not have a blanket ban on the use of child care nor an expectation that only the foster carer can pick a child up from school. Instead they should judge each case on an individual basis, where possible allowing foster carers a wider support network together with more flexibility about school pick ups and the use of child care for both regular and emergency situations.
Employers need to be helped to understand the fostering task and to implement foster family friendly HR policies, which offer flexibility to foster carers in their employment, allowing them to adjust their hours when needed and recognising that there may be a higher incidence of emergency situations in looking after children with particular needs.
The Fostering Network has introduced a Fostering Friendly employers scheme which will enable participating employers to understand and respond to the needs of their foster carer employees.
Read our report on combining fostering and other work, funded by the Department for Education and based on a survey of foster carers’ experiences.