Half of Britain’s foster carers are unpaid while about 10 per cent
receive only the minimum wage, according to a survey conducted by
charity The Fostering Network.
Robert Tapsfield, the network’s executive director, is quoted as
saying: “We wouldn’t dream ofÉ asking unpaid teachers to work
in our schools yet society still accepts that carers should give up
their time, experience and skills for free. No wonder there is such
a massive and damaging shortage.”
The word “carer” is now part of the political lexicon. Last month,
for instance, the government agreed to provide carers’ leave,
(patronisingly termed “granny leave” by some of the media) for
employees. The problem, however, is that increasing recognition
hasn’t also been followed by a realistic assessment of the value of
caring and the training it should demand in the professional
In Scandinavia, pedagogues – graduates – work in child care, and
are paid accordingly. So why not here? In Norway, a prison officer
receives what amounts to two years’ training, since the job is seen
as a vital part in the care and rehabilitation of offenders.
In Britain, a prison officer is given nine weeks’ training, of
which only three or four days will be allocated to dealing with
young offenders. Furthermore, the prison service has been told to
make efficiency cuts of 1 per cent. The first to go is the officer
on the landing, since forging relationships which can make a
difference to an inmate isn’t quantifiable – so, managerially
speaking, how can it be worth saving?
Now is a ripe time for raising a public debate on the impact of
this damaging disregard for caring, in all its manifestations.
Every aspect of social care is undergoing overhaul, change and
reorganisation. Yet, it is happening against a backdrop of low
status; insufficient resources and timidity in formulating bold and
Kids Clubs’ Network, now called 4Children, has had a go – asking
for £10bn a year to be spent on child care.
This is when the need for a strong organisation and a high profile,
passionate spokesperson for social work – or to widen it out, all
social care – becomes ever more pressing.
If the Children Bill is to deliver even a modicum of success, then
attention must be paid not just to overhauling infrastructures, but
also to addressing a crucial political issue: how do you increase
the pressure to make government truly count the cost of caring?