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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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HomeNewsFair pay for foster parents

Fair pay for foster parents

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WHILE the media conscientiously reports hourly on the strikes by key workers in pursuit of better pay and conditions, let us spare a thought for a class of key worker not in the public eye – foster carers. These are people who open up their hearts and homes to children who basically have nowhere else to go. Whereas other key workers are demanding double-digit pay rises, blaming the cost of lockdown living crisis, foster carers are lucky to get 3 per cent, and in some counties nothing at all.

The Fostering Network warned in the January issue of their Foster Care magazine: ‘We know that foster families are currently receiving much less than they need to support children in their care. Many dip into their own pockets to cover the costs of caring, which is unacceptable.’ And that ‘foster carers are telling us that to cope with the increase, some are using up their savings, are downsizing, go without themselves, or taking on additional work to get by’.

They are right: it is absolutely ‘unacceptable’ that carers should be out of pocket looking after other people’s children! As the Fostering Network note: ‘This is incredibly concerning, combined with a recruitment and retention crisis the fostering sector faces prior to surges in inflation.’

The graph below, from the same article, highlights the stark continued disparity in each nation between foster carer income and the cost of caring. However, given the recent rises in energy and food prices, the actual disparity is likely to be far greater.

There are many reasons why children end up in long- or short-term care: from neglect, broken relationships or families simply unable to cope with challenging behaviour. Between January 2021 and June 2022 I worked as an emergency foster carer and took in several children, usually around 2am directly from a police station and taxied in a police car, their families giving Children’s Services the financial responsibility for their future care. Foster carers who provide a more permanent home for these children commit to meeting their complex needs 24/7, 52 weeks a year. Some are not in full-time education, and some in no education provision at all, so getting another job to make ends meet is not always a viable option, especially for single carers.  

Local authorities/agencies pay different rates but let’s look at a typical example:

Cumbria County Council

Note: Cumbria County Council increased their rates by 3.6 per cent for 2022/23, but this rise is not reflected on their website page.

Nearly all new foster carers start at level 1 so if you decide to foster a ten-year-old, you can expect in your first year a weekly amount of approximately £230. While this increases over three years of continuous service, it is doubtful that this initial income will encourage an influx of applicants to alleviate the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis.

It is worth noting that if no family foster care places are available and children are placed in a private business or council-owned residential home, the cost rises substantially to anywhere between £1,000 and £2,000 a week. The number of ‘children looked after’ is rising year on year. According to UK government statistics, reporting year 2021, in England alone, 400,000 (3 per cent) are known to the social care system at any one time, and over 80,000 of these children are children in care. So, the latter option of placing children in residential homes is not sustainable.

Why does all this matter? It is not only the cost of care over a child’s lifetime that needs to be considered. Very often the education outcomes for these young people are poor; as educators say they are ‘unlikely to reach a positive destination’ with many trapped in a cycle of homelessness, benefits, or incarcerated at His Majesty’s pleasure. To put these young people on a more equal footing with their peers, the foster care provision has to be improved.

To that end the Fostering Network are proposing a ‘new fairer funding framework for children and young people in foster care’. This would not only provide a more consistent, positive experience for each child, it would save money in the long term by reducing the need for and cost of expensive residential places. It is essential that both central and local government recognise the valuable role of a foster carer. Paying lip service is no longer enough: reward them with at least the equivalent of an average wage from the onset instead of relying on the kind generosity of those who put themselves forward.

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Julie Sandilands
Julie Sandilands
Julie Sandilands is an English/business teacher who worked in several secondary schools in Fife until 2017. Now based in Cumbria, she works as a private tutor teaching children both in and out of mainstream provision.

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