All foster carers get an allowance to cover the costs of fostering. But currently, there is no requirement for fee payments to be made to foster carers to recognise their time, skills and experience. As a result, a number of foster carers receive no payment and for those who do receive a payment the levels are very low.
The fostering allowance is designed to cover the cost of caring for a fostered child. Fee payments can be made on top of allowances, but there is no requirement for this. As a result, the amounts being paid vary hugely across the country, with only a small minority of foster carers even receiving the equivalent of the national living wage for a 40-hour week.
We surveyed all local authorities in England, Wales, and Scotland about fees and allowances in 2017-18. The results of these surveys demonstrated the huge disparity between what different fostering services pay their foster carers. For example in Scotland one scenario we considered showed an annual difference of £20,800 for exactly the same type of fostering role.
- Read our report about fees and allowances in England.
- Read our report about fees and allowances in Wales.
- Read our report about fees and allowances in Scotland.
We also surveyed foster carers in the summer of 2017. This survey, which had almost 2,000 respondents, found that:
- 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.
- Only one in 10 foster carers receives the equivalent of the national living wage for a 40-hour week.
- 98 per cent believe that foster carers should be paid.
At worst, low or no pay means that some foster carers will be forced to maintain their households on very low income levels, and this can be unsatisfactory for foster carers, their children and fostered children alike. Being part of a low paid workforce can also compound the low status foster carers frequently have in relation to other professionals.
The importance of pay
Among the motivations for fostering as reported by foster carers, fee payments are consistently ranked low on the list. Making a difference to the life of a child in care is the primary motivation. We believe that this is how it should be. Nonetheless, pay must be seen as a key factor in recruitment and retention because the demographic pool of foster carers will inevitably be limited to those who can afford to foster without fee payments or with minimal fee payments.
The Fostering Network believes that it is a matter of social justice that foster carers should be paid; they are the only professional group working with children which is unpaid or underpaid, not even receiving a level equivalent to the national living wage for a 40-hour working week.
No foster carer should be expected to live in poverty as a result of their foster care responsibilities. If fostering services are to be able to recruit the number of foster carers they need with the skills that are required to be able to transform children’s lives, levels of pay must be set that are comparable with others in the children’s workforce.
The Fostering Network’s view
We believe that:
- In the short term fostering fees must be paid at a level equivalent to the national living wage based on a 40-hour week for 52 weeks of the year, including holiday and sick pay. This is regardless of whether the foster carer has a placement or not, but only on the proviso that they have made themselves available to take a child.
- In the longer term fostering fees should be paid on a par with residential workers in children’s homes.
- Governments should invest in local authorities and trusts to ensure the necessary finance is available.
- Foster carers should continue to receive fee payments while allegations of malpractice are investigated.
- Tiered payment schemes are preferable. These are likely to take into account factors such as length of service, qualifications, training undertaken, capacity for learning demonstrated by reflection on practice, and needs of children fostered, as well as time invested. When well-managed, tiered schemes can be an important mechanism for the development and recognition of the skills of foster carers, as well as a motivational tool for improving performance.
- Decisions about foster carers undertaking work in addition to fostering must reflect individual circumstances and must give priority to the needs of the fostered child. See our policy on combining fostering and other work for more detail.
- Any changes made to fee payment schemes at local level should not result in individual foster carers being worse off.
- The administration of fees should be transparent. Fostering services should distinguish clearly between fee payments and allowances. Every foster carer should understand what fees they are entitled to; fostering services should publish clear information about fee schemes and their criteria. Payment slips and payment records should be understandable, and payments should be made promptly.
Find out more about foster carer pay here.