These days, whenever I ask my social worker for something, she seems to say ‘no’

Caring is not incompatible with earning a living, and the motivation for foster carers to accept 'golden hellos' isn't greed, argues a local authority foster carer

by a foster carer

It’s hard to talk about money in the caring professions. There’s a sense that compassion and remuneration don’t mix. As a foster carer, I’ve often been told that my motivation should be wholly altruistic, my work driven by love, which it definitely is.

However, we need to talk about money, difficult and uncomfortable though it might be.

Recently, the mainstream news media have become aware of what some of us in fostering have known for a while: some independent agencies will offer substantial ‘golden hellos’ to foster carers who are willing to transfer to them. Of course there is outrage, and calls for this practice to be banned, but there are deeper issues at play here than one agency poaching from another.

Whether we like it or not, and whether it makes us uncomfortable or not, money matters in fostering. It matters to local authorities, to independent agencies, to foster carers and to the children.

Big decision

For me, as a single carer, making the decision to give up a decently-paid, secure career and become a full-time short-term foster carer for my local authority was a big one. As a carer for pre-school children I am not allowed to work outside the home, so fostering is my income.

The allowances represented a significant reduction in pay for me and if I have no placement, allowances stop. There is no sick pay, no holiday entitlement, no pension contributions, not much in the way of employment rights at all.

I had heard that conditions were better with some independent agencies, but I chose the local authority specifically because of the immense cost incurred by them when they have to use agencies.

I thought one more foster carer in the LA might mean they’d need to use independent agencies that little bit less. I was trying to do my part.

If you want something enough, you find a way to make it work. I have made life as a full-time foster carer work for over five years now, despite its precariousness. One year I had six months with only one two-week placement. Like many other self-employed people, I save, I borrow, I economise, I manage.


However, recent changes to my terms and conditions have thrown my fostering future into doubt. After several static years, allowances have been reduced. A halt has been called to respite care, meaning that I have had to pay for childcare in order to attend mandatory training courses. Essential equipment is no longer replaced when it is worn out or broken. Prams and car seats are expensive items.

These days, whenever I ask my Supervising Social Worker for something, she seems to say “no”. I don’t blame her. That’s just the way things are.

I don’t like talking about money any more than anybody else but, the fact is, I need to pay the bills and put food on the table.

The children I care for have lost so much. I want them to have days out and holidays, swimming and soft play, birthday parties and properly fitting shoes. I’d prefer it if their clothes, toys, furniture and equipment had not already had several owners. They deserve these things.

They don’t need to be spoiled, but children in local authority care should not be living in households on the edge of poverty.


Caring is not incompatible with earning a living. Doctors and nurses do it; teachers and childcare workers do it. Social workers do it.

When I am looking after a withdrawing infant, the allowances are not just covering the cost of clothing and milk for that baby, they are paying for a dedicated carer, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and for the premises in which that care is taking place – my home.

I don’t want to transfer to another agency. But if I can no longer afford to be a foster carer, what choices do I have? Foster carers aren’t being tempted by ‘golden hellos’ because they have pound signs in their eyes, but because life as a full-time foster carer is not viable if it doesn’t pay the bills, and the loss of income during the transfer and re-approval process needs to be covered somehow.

Any business knows that recruitment is costly and time-consuming. It is vital to ensure retention of the existing workers in whom so much has already been invested.

Next time I see the recruitment posters go up during Fostering Fortnight, I hope to also see some thought given to those who have already given over their homes and their hearts to care for our most vulnerable children.

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9 Responses to These days, whenever I ask my social worker for something, she seems to say ‘no’

  1. jane. August 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

    What a thoughtful arguement. I too gave up a well paid job and so fully understand this view.It feels like i have to resort to blackmail at times to get money .The damage to my home and family have at times been immense! My family are often disappointed as i have to put the child first. Its not an easy job and 24/7 is at times desperate.Respect and value and decent wages.IT’s that easy! thanks for raising this . Its a point that needs more work .Perhaps we need a carers union to negotiate terms and conditions. I would join?

    • Jo August 11, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

      What a great response to the ‘Golden Handshake’ stories. I personally feel intimidated and disgusted at the accusation that we Foster Carers are not capable of making our own decisions; we are not stupid or incompetent when it comes to making a decision about our future and we are not ‘poached.’ A great deal of consideration would have be given to a move and we have to look at what is best for our family like any other working person. The stories of us ‘being poached’ are insulting to our intelligence and if a foster carer does get a bonus for moving from LCC to a private agency I am sure this will go towards giving their family/ foster family a better life.

  2. pam August 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

    so sad to hear, i know how you are feeling. and no you are not mourning its out with the truth.
    i hope one day la wake and see what they doing.

  3. Dave August 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

    As a local authority foster carer, I have great sympathy with much of what is said in this thought-provoking contribution.

    As I understand it, the recent coverage of golden hellos arose from a briefing given by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. It’s important to acknowledge that they were not blaming foster carers for accepting golden hellos, but were questioning the morality of the poaching being done by IFAs.

    To be fair, I think they have a point. The commoditisation of children by profit-making bodies worries me greatly. And even the big, charitable IFAs behave like big businesses in this regard.

    For me, the central problem lies firmly at the doorstep of central government funding of local authorities. Yes, we need a complete re-think of the role of the foster carer, which can and should be as an integral and highly-valued member of the team around the child. And yes, the proper remuneration of foster carers is a priority. But it’s impossible to avoid getting into the politics of the issue. If we continue to elect governments whose policies centre on low taxation and privatisation, the ability of local authorities to compete will be limited.

    I do also worry that the relationship between foster carer and child might very easily be corrupted by too focused a view on payment. This is not a job; it’s a vocation. Now, that doesn’t mean it should be badly paid, but I offer a home to children; and that’s very different from a children’s home.

    • Andrea August 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

      well said!

  4. Del Toro August 11, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Very well said. If local authorities offered adequate support, training and remuneration foster carers would not be tempted by independent agencies. We have gone 6 months without a supervising social worker despite many previously unencountered challenges. Our local authority just don’t care about us.

  5. Brian August 12, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    I became a foster carer when I retired from the police. I currently care for two children working exclusively for a LA. I simply could not afford to do this if it wasn’t for my police pension. I received under half of what it cost to take the children on holiday. I’m supposed to clothe and supply pocket money to a 14 year old on £100 per month. I can fully understand why people transfer to agencies. As was pointed out above if we elect governments who endorse low taxation and turn a blind eye to tax evasion then things will never change. Public services are being returned to 1930s levels.

  6. Jane August 13, 2016 at 12:20 am #

    I too struggle as a single carer with fostering as my only income and I rely on benefits to make ends meet.
    We dont get the respect we deserve and considering the hours we work, every single day, yes, because we love our work, but we are also human and need money to live.
    A union of some sort could be good.
    We should get our entitlements like everybody else who works full time ( even though we actually work more than double the hours of a full time job) and what infuriates me even more is that we are now expected not to put our babies into respite.
    What if we don’t have a support network that is able to help us for the duration of a weeks holiday?
    Foster care is getting messed up even more by the so called progress of delegated authority.
    I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture.

    • Karaoke Dave August 16, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

      Hi Jane,

      Would be interested to hear why you think delegated authority is messing things up?