Foster carers face ‘drastic’ fee cuts under council plans

Unions and carers fear Bradford council plans to reduce payments to national minimum will drive carers away and place children at risk

Picture: WestEnd61/REX/Shutterstock

A council’s plans for “drastic” cuts to foster carer allowances risk negatively affecting children, according to fostering experts.

The Fostering Network issued the warning as Bradford council’s cabinet unanimously backed proposals to reduce fostering rates to the government’s recommended minimum allowances. Foster carers stand to lose up to £35 a week under the plans. The council wants to phase in the changes from next April, saving £227,000 in each of the first two years rising to £454,000 annually.

The council defended the cuts as necessary, saying the reduced rates would bring fostering in line with adoption, special guardianship and residence allowances. It said failing to align the payments would leave the council exposed to a judicial review, a claim questioned by a lawyer who told Community Care there was no “sudden legal emergency” demanding action (see box below).

Fostering campaigners, unions and individual carers, dozens of whom attended this week’s cabinet meeting, all recognised the pressure on council budgets but voiced concerns over the impact Bradford’s decision will have on children and carers.

Kevin Williams, the Fostering Network’s chief executive, said many authorities had frozen their rates in response to tightening funding from central government but cutting them was highly unusual.

He said: “The cost of looking after children is not reducing, therefore cutting allowances is a drastic step with knock-on effects for foster carers and the children in their care. Foster carers across the UK are increasingly being forced to subsidise the care of the children they are looking after – or the children will go without – and this is truly shocking.”

He added. “We are in danger of foster carer finances becoming a race to the bottom, with the wellbeing of thousands of children under threat.”

The charity reported last year that councils were cutting back on additional payments made to foster carers; for example to cover school uniforms or mileage. Two-thirds of carers said they had been hit in some way by reduced allowances.

Bradford council saved £415,000 last year by ending add-on payments such as retainers and a holiday scheme.
Local representatives from the GMB union, which counts foster carers among its members, said the council’s decision to cut back base fostering fees was “grossly naïve”.

Pete Davies, the GMB’s senior organiser for West Yorkshire, said: “We get that the local authority faces massive cuts and difficult decisions, but the priority is supposed to be the most vulnerable people.

“If 50 foster carers leave, the problem doesn’t leave with them and the cost [of residential care] is enormous.”

The report presented to Bradford council’s executive acknowledges that the cuts risk carers leaving its service. But it argues that top-up fees paid to carers based on their skills and experience mean that its offer is still competitive.

But one local foster carer who said they stand to lose thousands of pounds under the changes, told Community Care they had looked in detail into fees in other authorities. When long-service bonuses, complex health fees and second-placement payments had been factored in, the advantages of Bradford’s offer were far less clear cut, they said.

“People actually started giving notice [of their intent to stop fostering] after the decision,” the carer said. “Everyone knows inflation is rising; you already spend your own money to meet expenses. This is taking money and opportunities away from kids.”

Bradford council said the decision to phase in the changes will help minimise the impact. Val Slater, the council’s executive member for health and wellbeing, said: “At Bradford we have 450 foster carers who are extremely dedicated to providing safe, supportive and loving homes to children and young people who have had a difficult start to their lives.

“We want to continue to support these much-needed individuals and families, but at the same time have to balance our books. We hope that these proposals manage to achieve both these things.”

The threat of judicial review?

Bradford council officers based their decision to suggest cuts to fostering rates on a legal imperative to align them with adoption, special guardianship and residence allowances. Not doing so, their report claims, would place Bradford at risk of judicial review.

In 2010, one such judicial review found Kirklees council had behaved unlawfully in paying a woman looking after her grandson under a special guardianship order two-thirds of the allowance she would have received as a foster carer.

Some councils have since been uplifting adoption, special guardianship and residence allowances to bring them into line with foster carers. This option was not recommended to Bradford councillors, on the grounds of it being too costly.

Nigel Priestley, the solicitor who brought the case against Kirklees in 2010, said that Bradford aligning its rates now “simply doesn’t make sense” and may still leave the council liable for action relating to the intervening six years. “This isn’t a sudden legal emergency but a calculated decision [based on cost-cutting],” he said.

John Simmonds, director of policy at CoramBAAF, described the challenge facing local authorities across the country as a “minefield of contradiction”.

“Cuts inevitably mean budgets are continually being explored for savings,” he said. “At the same time, it’s critical foster carers receive what they and children they care for need. Foster care must not be compromised by a financial struggle or financial uncertainty.”

17 Responses to Foster carers face ‘drastic’ fee cuts under council plans

  1. Terry Unicorn January 12, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

    Bradford Council made cuts last year, foster carers left or retired. Bradford were the only local authority to predict the amount of younger children coming into care would reduce, it increased. As a consequence there has been a shortage of foster carers, so much so that retired carers have been approached to take children in an emergency and foster carers were asked to go over numbers and/or take children outside of their approved age range.

    Too many Bradford foster carers have gone over a year without a supervising social worker and over two years without an annual review. The Children’s Services management team rely heavily on a sense of duty and loyalty from their foster carers that they fail to realise has evaporated. I personally know of 10 foster carers who are in touch with independent agencies with a view to switching over and 5 who are going to take early retirement over the appalling way in which Bradford treat their foster carers.

  2. Peter Endersby January 12, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    This austerity paradigm we live in now ignores the bigger picture by focusing on local spending decisions whilst woefully ignoring national politics. Individual councils or Hospital trusts are pilloried for making financial decisions within a climate of no money. Of course poor decisions will be made, if not this them somewhere else. It is the paradim that needs to be criticalky challenged rather than sniping those dealing with it’s consequences.

    We have the money to spend if they really were our children se would beg and borrow but perhaps not steal to ensure they had the best and most sustainable support. If we follow the government’s logic the UK must have a very weak and fragile economy as we are unable to invest in such services yet this is never put to ministers. The dialogue around austerity needs to change from placid acceptance to radical challenge or the welfare state could dissappear in a generation.

    • Joyce Spiller January 12, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

      Well put

  3. John Mullin January 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

    There is a huge difference between the emotional investment made by adopters and carers taking children in “as their own” (e.g. Special Guardianship) and foster carers who primarily offer a service on behalf of the community. This is a bad move by Bradford and, if their carers have sense, they’ll leave in droves.

  4. Doris Dragon January 12, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

    It’s a sad time to be a foster carer in Bradford. Carers want to do the best for the children in their care, but alack of support, funding and basic respect is making that more difficult by the day.

    • Stephen Muhl January 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm #

      Well said. I agree with you.

  5. Sabine January 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm #

    I have the utmost respect for foster careers, the valuable and often endless commitment they show on a daily basis towards the children and young people they open their homes and hearts to. They deserve better than being used to provide a service. Nobody can live on fresh air. Respect for them as professional workers is shown by giving them support they need and paying them more than the minimum. Who could fault anyone for leaving for pastures green or retiring early.

    • Terry Unicorn January 12, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

      Thank you, Sabine.

    • Pauline Pringle January 12, 2017 at 7:33 pm #

      Unfortunately this happened in Tameside. Our councilors and top management seem to have little or no respect for foster carers. This was however reflected in the Ofsted report. Sadly it will possibly be the children that will suffer and this would be totally unacceptable.

  6. Joyce Spiller January 12, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

    Well put

  7. MrMoonx January 12, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    The fault for all of this lies with national government cuts to local authorities, children’s social care is the last line of spending cuts, now its happening. To further impound this problem IFA’s are gouging LA’s left right and centre, cuts to in house carers will lead to more IFA placements

    • Terry Unicorn January 13, 2017 at 10:22 am #

      I don’t agree. £400,000 in terms of Bradford Council’s budget is small change. The Service Manager has had dogma with the foster carers since taking up the position as their terms were different to those in her previous setting. In these supposedly unavoidable savings to be made from the Fostering Service no cuts are being other than those directly disadvantaging the children. I don’t recall the government advocating that.

  8. Doris Dragon January 13, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    More IFA placements means higher costs therefore no savings. I agree with Terry Unicorn. This isn’t about saving money it’s a very shortsighted swipe ta Bradford’s foster carers.

  9. Ruth Cartwright January 13, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

    This seems to me to be a foolish, short term, kneejerk reaction to financial issues, which will backfire and lead to more expense as children may need residential care instead. Not to mention the consequence of the loss of goodwill of foster carers and the damage done to individual children and young people. At least many of our medical colleagues are speaking up against Government cuts and their results – Local Authority bosses seem frightened to rock the boat and explain to those in power the real outcomes of the cuts.

    • Stephen Muhl January 13, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

      Very good point

  10. dave January 14, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    In the circumstances, it’s good to report that not all local authorities take such a short-sighted approach to cost-cutting.

    Foster carers working with Cumbria County Council have recently received a 4% increase on both allowances and fees. It’s important to acknowledge that this comes after a protracted period during which payments were frozen, so we’re still experiencing a real-terms cut. But it’s good to recognise that the Council has understood the quality and value offered by it’s in-house carers, and the need to recognise them.

    Of course, there’s much more to recognition than money. And we continue to experience a number of demotivating problems. But fair’s fair – there has been a positive shift in thinking, and that’s to be welcomed.

  11. The unloved January 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    It’s great to hear that some foster carers are getting deserved recognition. In Bradford they have been 10 supervising social workers down and at one point, due to absence there was only one part time short term supervising social worker. Like you say, there’s more to it than just money, they need support and respect, the latter of which costs nothing.