Directors of children’s services fear moves to professionalise foster carers would drive up costs and hinder recruitment without benefiting children and young people.
In evidence to the government’s fostering stocktake, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said ministers should be wary of creating “potential perverse incentives” if they backed calls for foster carers to be professionalised and unionised.
“In the context of reduced resources and increasing demand for services, establishing foster care as a profession would significantly increase costs to local authorities,” the group said.
“Crucially for ADCS members, it remains unclear what the benefits of such a move would bring for those children and young people in care.”
The submission added: “Foster carers are not, nor do they need to be, social workers.”
Speaking to Community Care, ADCS president Alison Michalska said using terms like “professional” to refer to foster carers may put people off from applying for the role.
“The idea of it being a profession – like the idea of you having to be a qualified social worker for it – it’s just a nonsense, that’s not what we need from our foster carers,” Michalska said.
She said there was a difference between foster carers receiving extra training, and acting in a professional manner, and what the association saw as professionalising the role.
“What those children want is really good, loving, family homes. What was concerning me, and I think the association, was if we start to use labels like ‘professional’, are we disenfranchising people who would be excellent foster carers who think ‘I haven’t got a degree, I haven’t got a higher level of qualification, they are not going to want me’?”
Michalska said if carers felt unable to contribute to children’s reviews or felt they were not being taken seriously by social workers, that should be addressed. However, she questioned whether young people in foster care would welcome their carers becoming another professional in their lives.
“If you were brought up in your birth family, no-one considers your parents professionals, they might consider them the expert in you, but they wouldn’t have that label as a professional,” Michalska said.
In its evidence submission, fostering charity The Fostering Network backed the idea of moving towards a “professional foster carer workforce” and said carers must be treated as “co-professionals”.
“We have noted a rise in fostering being increasingly described as “parenting” or “parenting plus” in some parts of the sector. While foster care of course provides children with a home and family and therefore involves parenting, the needs of most fostered children and the system within which foster carers work require them to be child care experts at the heart of the team,” the group said.
In the network’s 2016 state of the nation’s foster care survey, many carers said being treated more like professionals would be a positive step that would help them improve the lives of children.
Adoption and fostering charity CoramBAAF’s submission to the stocktake drew a distinction between short-term or specialist foster carers – who see themselves as professionals – and many other foster carers who don’t.
“In particular long term foster carers or family and friends foster carers might fit least well into the category of ‘professional’ carers. It is important that the system allows sufficient flexibility to include both those who see themselves as professionals and those who see themselves as caring and skilled ‘substitute parents’”, the submission said.
Enhancing the status
CoramBAAF argued that part of the problem foster carers face is that within the current system they were not valued enough, and were often excluded or ignored from decision making.
The charity also opposed calls for changing foster carers’ employment status, which would give them employment rights. It said the move would be “unnecessary, unworkable, and most importantly would not contribute to a more child-centred system”.
“Instead of offering employment status, we need to explore the opportunities for enhancing the status of foster carers as either ‘professionals’ or ‘parent figures’, who are listened to, valued, and supported,” it said.
The Fostering Stocktake was announced earlier this year and will be led by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. The government is looking at the types of fostering currently offered by providers, the function of foster carers and how the experiences of young people can entering, transitioning and leaving care can be improved. The consultation ran from 21 April to 16 June.
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