Debate on foster carers’ salaries

    We asked:- “Would significantly increasing the salary of
    foster carers attract unsuitable applicants?”

    These are some of the comments we
    received:-

    “Having fostered teenagers for 10 years prior to training
    as a social worker, my educated and considered view is that the
    expectations and demands made by local authorities on foster carers
    is enormous. Carers’ roles should be regarded and paid for in line
    with other child care professionals and at least placed in the same
    category as residential social workers.

    These volunteers open their hearts and homes 24 hours a day,
    seven days a week, with little regard given to their holiday or
    pension rights.  When I fostered I had to earn a living as my
    mortgage application and repayments depended on that.  Had I been
    paid then I would probably still be fostering now. 

    Foster carers have been poorly appreciated over time and it is
    long overdue for this to be addressed.  Experienced carers are more
    likely to be able to assess and plan for looked after children than
    professionals who have only a small amount of time to give to
    anyone on their caseload.”

    Jan Bungay
    Social Worker (Fostering)

     

    “Yes, as long as suitability screening remains
    rigorous.”

     Alison White

     

    “Whilst paying foster carers more money may attract more
    applicants who are unsuitable, the fact that it may attract more
    applicants can only be positive.

    I currently work in a children and families team, but have
    worked in residential for many years. I can only say that
    residential often doesn’t work because it is tried too late to have
    any effect on children as it usually used as a last resort due to
    the higher cost.

    I am always suspicious of foster carers who say that they foster
    for entirely altruistic reasons, and would much prefer those who
    are professional in their approach and outlook.

    After all, we expect residential workers to be paid and work as
    professionals who care and provide a high standard of care. All too
    often fostering is the option of choice because it’s cheaper, and
    despite the fact the welfare of the child is paramount, in reality
    it’s the level of funding that is willing to be spent is
    paramount.”

    Ian Boyce

     

    “Having been a foster carer for many years, and being
    subject to many changes, I would like to point out that to live
    with some foster children 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no
    amount of money could keep you doing it unless you are dedicated,
    have commitment and a good sense of humour.

    The thought that large amounts of money would bring in ‘the
    wrong type’ of people is a joke. Applicants have to go through a
    formal process and surely the social workers would be able to tell
    if someone is suitable to foster. If this is not the case, then the
    process needs to be changed.

    Then there is the panel which should be able to weed out the
    wrong type of candidate. Lastly I defy anyone to do the job if they
    are the wrong sort for much longer than a couple of years at the
    most. The whole process should be designed to filter the wrong sort
    out. If it does not, then why have such a long and tedious process?
    The people who do persevere deserve meddles not poor working
    conditions, no pensions or a decent wage.

    I did not ask to be self-employed. I did not come into fostering
    for the money but now find myself years later having to prove to
    the taxman that the money goes on the children and that I earn
    enough to pay my own bills. Basically feel caught in the middle.
    Yes I need a wage as I am now self-employed.

    How much is a fair wage should be the question. On minimum wage
    for the hours I put in, which is 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
    52 weeks a year, local authorities would go bankrupt.

    I do 24-hour shifts and the EU would have a fit, Holidays and
    respite should reflect the hours we put in, but then it I would not
    be doing what a foster carer does e.g. provide a ‘normal family
    life’. You can’t just dump children when you want a break or
    feel really ill. I get no sick pay. I get no retainers when
    children are not living with me, for whatever reasons.

    This needs looking at, but please try to use common sense. I
    love my ‘job’ but do need to keep my body and soul
    together.”

    Jane

     
    “Do high salaries attract unsuitable solicitors and
    barristers, teachers, doctors, plumbers, judges, footballers,
    police and foster carers?  Potentially yes.  Let us not confuse the
    issue of payment for a service with that of thorough screening,
    assessment and most important of all, continuing supervision and
    support.

    The particular issue with government agencies purchasing human
    services that involve caring for children, of course, is the risk
    that sex offenders and paedophiles in particular will be
    potentially able to “care” for children. 

    The thorough assessment and screening of applicants for
    positions involving contact with, or care for, children, are two
    crucial steps in the process to ensure safe care for children. 
    They are the easy and preliminary steps, however, of an ongoing
    process.  A successful screening is really a temporal view of a
    foster carer’s suitability that is current only up to the time of
    the assessment.  High quality supervision and support that is a
    characteristic of substitute care is then most valuable aspect of
    ongoing assessment.  While the risk of sexual abuse against an
    already vulnerable child is of immeasurable concern, there are
    other behaviours that are potentially damaging; including of
    course, unnoticed drug and alcohol abuse, and equally unnoticed
    mental health or psychiatric concerns.  Which brings us back to why
    time consuming and comprehensive assessment is such an important
    aspect of foster care.  If assessment, screening and supervision is
    sound, all unwelcome applicants can be detected.

    Potential or practiced, but undetected, sex offenders are the
    major challenge.  Despite technological advances in database
    sharing, the best means to scare off or warn sex offenders
    (especially undetected offenders without any police record) is a
    strong unambiguous message that inappropriate and criminal
    behaviour towards children will not be tolerated. In other words,
    the foster care agency equivalent of those signs seen in shops
    large and small, that “All Shoplifters will be Prosecuted”. 

    Coupled with such language are transparent and consultative
    processes and language among foster care agencies, foster carers
    and government means that this important but one aspect of
    substitute care has an important role but not one that transcends
    the central role of providing family based care to children and
    young people in need.

    The aim of such a structure is for a potential sex offender to
    consider the level of risk too high. The secretive nature of
    successful sex offenders means that an agency is less likely to
    unmask an offender as to be completely unaware of having thwarted
    the potential offender. This is a difficult premise on which to
    base screening and assessment processes as it is unable to be
    verified except from isolated comments, such as made by a sex
    offender while undergoing therapy.  Data such as this type of
    admission are not unknown in the criminal justice system

    A particular challenge is to avoid the confusion between on one
    hand, the supervision and support of foster carers, with heavy
    handed and unfounded suspicion and potential harassment of the
    foster carer on the other hand. Notwithstanding any amount paid to
    a foster carer, their role is still priceless and reflects a huge
    sense of the volunteer and the philanthropist. If any potential
    carer is assumed to be a sex offender, foster care will disappear. 
    The best results will come from the training and people skills of
    the professionals who undertake the assessment and screening plus
    the complex and demanding role of supervision and support, carried
    out according to guidelines and best-practice approaches.

    Money was mentioned only in the first line of this letter. 
    Assessment, screening and supervision are the keys not the risk in
    paying higher amounts to provide high quality care for children who
    are in need of care.”

    Brian Dunn
    Brian lives in Seoul, South Korea where he is accompanying
    his partner who is Deputy Ambassador with the Australian Embassy in
    South Korea. He is a consultant to the Korean Foster Care
    Association and is on leave from his position as Manager,
    Rehabilitation Services, ACT Corrective Services, Canberra,
    Australia. Among the several programs for which he is responsible
    are programs for adult and child sex offenders.

     

    “Of course foster caring should be recognised as
    employment with all the safeguards this would warrant. The days of
    women staying at home with their children is long over. The cost of
    living does not allow for this luxury, yet local authorities and
    central government expect this of foster carers.

    No wonder there are no placements and local authorities have to
    send children out of county through costly private agencies, so
    much for children benefiting from being ‘placed within their
    communities’. The knock on effect of this is social

    workers then have to try and maintain the schooling of these
    children with time wasted in travelling for the worker, child or
    carer. Then we wonder why children of the ‘system’ persistently
    fail in their education.

    I would say until we value the care given to the children, this
    situation will not be resolved; Professional care requires
    professional pay.”

    Anonymous

     

    “I almost fell off my seat laughing at your questions.  I
    have only ever met one foster carer who gets a salary.  Most people
    don’t even get their expenses reimbursed in full.  So the
    idea of “significantly increasing” the salary is
    meaningless for most people.  Getting a salary or self-employed fee
    in the first place, along with all their expenses reimbursed, would
    be a nice start. 

    I wonder why I never hear the argument that a salary means the
    “wrong sort” apply to become social workers or
    teachers?  Maybe there are still people who don’t realise
    that foster care, if you are to get good outcomes, is highly
    skilled, demanding, professional child care work. 

    Maybe there are still some people who think all a foster carer
    needs to do is keep a child warm, clothed and fed.  Personally, I
    worry about the potential danger of not paying foster carers for
    their work.  Given someone must need exceedingly strong motivation
    to foster children and young people 24 hours a day, seven days a
    week for free (or even a personal cost), I would have thought that
    there was a real danger of attracting those with strong motivation
    of the wrong kind under the current system. 

    There is a recruitment crisis in foster care. I wonder why. 
    Most families with two adults now seem to need two salaries coming
    in to pay their bills and keep a reasonable standard of living. 
    Fostering is very difficult to do if the adults are out earning in
    the daytime – I should know, as an ex-foster carer we had one
    person come to us because he wasn’t in school so his current
    foster carer couldn’t continue to look after him. People
    can’t afford to lose one salary to have someone around in the
    daytime. 

    Giving a living wage to a foster carer means they can afford to
    foster.  They can afford to be available in the daytime.  They can
    afford to give up their job to take on the job of foster carer.

    So I would have to say, give foster carers a living wage.  That
    way you increase the pool of potential foster carers.  That way,
    foster carers aren’t trying to foster while working to try
    and make ends meet.  But first of all, the expenses need to be
    sorted out.”

    Anne Collis
    Social policy advisor and ex-foster carer

    “Every one needs to earn enough money to live on. I think
    salaries should be graded according to the needs of the
    child.”

    Mary

     

    “Professional carers willing to provide intensive support
    for only one child at a time should receive a professional rate of
    remuneration.

    A robust assessment process including observation and training
    should uncover prospective carers who are unsuitable for any
    reason.”

    Barbara Russell
    Project Manager
    Foster Care NCH: Wessex Community Projects

     

    “Would significantly increasing the salary of social
    workers attract unsuitable people? I would suggest not, and I see
    no reason that would suggest the increased payment of fees to
    foster carers would result in any adverse outcome – notwithstanding
    that those who assess the prospective carers undertake a thorough
    and professional assessment using the National Standards as the
    benchmark.

    I do not accept that there is a theoretical upper limit on the
    proportion of the community being available or willing to foster. I
    partly base this on my knowledge of a small number of Independent
    Foster Care agencies who ostensibly aim to attract totally new
    recruits to the ranks of foster care i.e. they do not set out to
    attract carers from other agencies or local authorities.

    Hence they are actually increasing ‘placement choice’ rather
    than as some others do by recycling resources (albeit a measure of
    that recycling prevents some carers leaving the profession
    entirely, sometimes due to poor support, training and
    remuneration). If those small number of agencies can do it, and I
    think a key factor is support services made available, with
    remuneration running a close second (arising out of necessity
    rather than any greed), then others can do it too.

    Yes there are the few who would aim to profit out of fostering
    for no other reason than making a good living for themselves,
    possibly with little interest in how it affects the children in
    their trust. But then that might be true for a small number in the
    social work profession, and indeed any other profession. The
    reality is, we all have a lifestyle that we aim to retain or wish
    to acquire, and I see no reason why foster carers should abandon
    that simply because they might be perceived as having lesser
    professionalism or honourable motives.”

    Anthony Williams

     

     “When you separate out the allowances received for the
    child, the pay to the foster carer is dismal. It can be as little
    as £70 per week and this is for being on call to a
    child/children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Foster carers can
    experience considerable upheaval when caring for difficult children
    in their own homes. There is no going off duty when you’ve had
    enough.

    Anji Kerr
    Team social worker

     

     “I do not think unsuitable applicants are more likely to
    get through the assessment process.”

     Anonymous

     

     “Firstly, foster carers perform an extremely challenging
    and demanding job – what could be more important than helping
    children whose life chances have been damaged by negative
    experiences have a better chance of positive outcomes?

    Secondly, the recruitment, training and assessment process for
    prospective foster carers must be rigorous for the sake of the
    children and the adults who want to care and their families, not to
    mention the social workers who will be offering supervision and
    support and who need to have confidence in the skills of the
    carers.

    For both of these reasons foster carers must receive an
    appropriate reward for the job; equally both these factors mitigate
    against individuals being approved to foster who are just “in it
    for the money” – this concern has been around for decades and has
    proved to be unjustified.

    Some people may be attracted by larger financial reward – but
    further information, training and the process of assessment will
    dissuade or weed out those for whom this is not the right job. Most
    foster carers find themselves out of pocket as they try to give the
    children they look after high quality experiences of family
    care.

    But foster carers are vulnerable to the effect and impact of
    allegations, and unless they are salaried members of staff they
    have limited or no financial buffer when a child is precipitately
    removed. Provided the systems for rigorously investigating
    allegations and acting on concerns appropriately is in place, an
    ongoing salary would go some way towards alleviating this
    vulnerability.”

    Alison King
    Worcestershire Council

     

     

     

     

     

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.