Special guardians and kinship foster carers in Barnet could see their fees slashed by up to 25%, under cost-savings proposals drawn up by the local authority.
Special guardians of children aged up to five years old would lose at least £40 per week per child and those caring for 13- to 15 year-olds would lose £60 per week per child, a document outlining the proposals said. The reductions would wipe a quarter off the current weekly allowances for both groups. Guardians for other age groups would see less severe cuts.
The fee cuts would apply to all new and existing special guardians as well as kinship foster carers. Approved foster carers would also be hit by a rates reduction but this would be cancelled out by an increase in the skill-based fee they receive.
Barnet said the move would save an average of £38.50 per week per child, delivering a total saving of almost £775,000 over three years based on current cases. It will consult on the fee changes this month with a view to introducing the new rates from October.
The local authority said the changes were needed as current fee levels were “significantly higher” than the minimum rates recommended by the government. Maintaining this was unsustainable given the financial climate facing councils and the “significant increase” in SGOs in recent years, it added.
The fee proposals would bring Barnet’s rates in line with the minimum recommended levels for inner-London.
But a leading fostering charity raised concerns over the fee cuts.
Jackie Sanders, communications and public affairs director at The Fostering Network, said: “Where allowances are cut carers will be forced to subsidise the care of these children from their own pockets or they will go without.
“We know that local authorities are in a difficult financial position, but we urge them to avoid budgetary considerations driving cuts in allowances for some of society’s most vulnerable children.”
Sanders said the charity expected children living under special guardianship to be given the same support as peers in long-term fostering.
Reuben Thompstone, chair of the council’s children’s, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, which decided to consult on the plans, said no final decision has been made.
“We value the important contributions that special guardians and kinship carers make in looking after children. At the same time we must consider very carefully how the money we have available is distributed,” Thompstone said.
The council said in its proposals that it offered a “comprehensive level of support” to special guardians alongside the allowances, including training, monthly support groups and a settling allowance assessed on a case-by-case basis.