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.
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.