Sixty Second Interview with Bryan Ritchie
A major review carried out by charity the Fostering Network published last week found that foster carers in Scotland are overburdened and struggling financially. Amy Taylor talks to Bryan Ritchie, director of the Fostering Network Scotland, about the findings. Report from: www.fostering.net.
Your study found that a quarter of foster carers in Scotland look after four or more children despite there being a limit of three fostered children per family in the rest of the UK. Is it right that Scotland does not have the same limit as the UK?
We do not believe so. Our view is that recent research and professional opinion all comment on the increased behavioural difficulties associated with children coming into the care system as compared to 10 or 15 years ago. In addition the demands on carers in terms of working with parents, social workers, children’s panels, psychologists etc mean that they are having to stretch themselves to provide good quality care.
As we have accepted limiting class sizes to ensure quality why not limit the number of children in any one foster household. We would wish to see a transitional period perhaps in line with the recent funding by the Scottish executive over the next two years for local authorities to recruit new carers, at the end of which no new placements could be made with more than three children. We would wish the exemptions operating in the rest of the UK to be in place in Scotland eg Sibling Groups.
It also found that three out of five carers received no fee for fostering. What effect does this have?
The research shows that existing carers are having to supplement their income by way of additional employment. In addition it acts as a disincentive to would be carers. Carers work 24/7, don’t go home at night, don’t have weekends off and rarely get regular respite, on top of which they have no employment rights, nor superannuation. To get no financial reward on top of all that seems fundamentally flawed.
Other findings showed that half of carers felt that the level of allowances did not cover the cost of looking after a fostered child. What can be done to increase fees?
We are not talking about “fees” here rather allowances ie the money given to carers to spend on the child. The Fostering Network has for many years campaigned for adequate allowances to be paid to carers in order that carers are not made to supplement the children’s care from their own pocket on a regular basis. As you can see, half the carers we spoke to thought their allowances were too low. Interestingly in Scotland 78% of local authorities pay allowances below our recommended rates as compared to only 30% in England.
Does the Scottish Executive need to set a minimum allowance for foster carers as is going to happen in England?
The Scottish Executive has responded to our call for uniform allowances set at a realistic level via a consultation document. The report “Secure and Safe Homes for our Most Vulnerable Children” posits three methods of taking this forward. We have consulted with carers and social workers across Scotland and the overwhelming response has been that the government should set mandatory allowances.
The study also found that the educational profile of foster carers was low and that there was limited access to training. Why would those adults caring for our most damaged, most vulnerable, most needy children not receive some training?
It is noteworthy that the government’s Social Services Workforce Strategy covering thousands of social services staff in Scotland does not include foster carers. In part three of our report we describe a national training strategy which would bring us into line with developments elsewhere in the UK.
Report from www.fostering.net
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