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

“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

 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

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


“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

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.”



“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

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



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

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

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

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

Anji Kerr
Team social worker


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



 “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

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

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

Alison King
Worcestershire Council






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