There are about 37,000 families offering foster care placements to
45,000 children. According to the Fostering Network, there is an
urgent need to recruit a further 8,000 families who are prepared to
open their homes to some of the most vulnerable children and young
people. One cannot help but wonder why it is that there appears to
be a particular reluctance to undertake this rewarding work.

One reason may be a misconception that the role of a foster carer
is more a vocation than a professional career and that the skills
needed do not match those of other professions in the social care
field. Many might also assume, wrongly, that there are no financial
rewards for fostering.

As a professional foster carer I understand the historical
background attached to these misconceptions. But times are changing
and the role of a foster carer today can be a professionally
stimulating career that can be financially rewarding.

To be approved, carers must undertake a rigorous training and
assessment programme, perhaps over several months.

The training is assessed against the UK national standards which
have been established by the Fostering Network and are recognised
throughout the foster care field as intellectually demanding. After
completing this programme, the suitability of candidates is
considered by an independent panel of lay and professional people
with a particular understanding of the requirements that a
potentially successful and professional foster carer must meet.

It is only after completing this training programme and approval by
the independent panel that a foster carer can operate.

Traditionally, foster carers have received a non-taxable
maintenance allowance to cover the basic costs of caring for a
child. This too is also changing. Attracting an additional 8,000
foster carers will require more than the basic maintenance
allowance. Yet only 3 per cent of foster carers receive an
additional “reward element” that recognises their

Such an element would be taxable, but it would ensure that a foster
carer received a professional payment. No foster carer should be
expected to undertake this highly demanding role for anything less
than £310 a week for each child. This would also allow the
carer to pay national insurance and be entitled to the state
pension scheme.

The role of foster carer in Britain today should be seen as a
professional career which offers all the emotional and intellectual
challenges of a modern society, while at the same time providing
the financial security one would expect from a professional career.
Many of those children in need of foster homes would be offered one
if this were the case.

Brian Henderson is a professional foster carer and director
of Happen Foster Care.

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