Children’s services directors wary of moves to ‘professionalise’ foster carers

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned efforts to professionalise foster carers could create “perverse incentives”

adult and child
Photo: Konstantin Yuganov/Fotolia

Directors of children’s services fear moves to professionalise foster carers would drive up costs and hinder recruitment without benefiting children and young people.

In evidence to the government’s fostering stocktake, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said ministers should be wary of creating “potential perverse incentives” if they backed calls for foster carers to be professionalised and unionised.

“In the context of reduced resources and increasing demand for services, establishing foster care as a profession would significantly increase costs to local authorities,” the group said.

“Crucially for ADCS members, it remains unclear what the benefits of such a move would bring for those children and young people in care.”

The submission added: “Foster carers are not, nor do they need to be, social workers.”


Speaking to Community Care, ADCS president Alison Michalska said using terms like “professional” to refer to foster carers may put people off from applying for the role.

“The idea of it being a profession – like the idea of you having to be a qualified social worker for it – it’s just a nonsense, that’s not what we need from our foster carers,” Michalska said.

She said there was a difference between foster carers receiving extra training, and acting in a professional manner, and what the association saw as professionalising the role.

“What those children want is really good, loving, family homes. What was concerning me, and I think the association, was if we start to use labels like ‘professional’, are we disenfranchising people who would be excellent foster carers who think ‘I haven’t got a degree, I haven’t got a higher level of qualification, they are not going to want me’?”

Michalska said if carers felt unable to contribute to children’s reviews or felt they were not being taken seriously by social workers, that should be addressed. However, she questioned whether young people in foster care would welcome their carers becoming another professional in their lives.

“If you were brought up in your birth family, no-one considers your parents professionals, they might consider them the expert in you, but they wouldn’t have that label as a professional,” Michalska said.

Professional workforce

In its evidence submission, fostering charity The Fostering Network backed the idea of moving towards a “professional foster carer workforce” and said carers must be treated as “co-professionals”.

“We have noted a rise in fostering being increasingly described as “parenting” or “parenting plus” in some parts of the sector. While foster care of course provides children with a home and family and therefore involves parenting, the needs of most fostered children and the system within which foster carers work require them to be child care experts at the heart of the team,” the group said.

In the network’s 2016 state of the nation’s foster care survey, many carers said being treated more like professionals would be a positive step that would help them improve the lives of children.

Adoption and fostering charity CoramBAAF’s submission to the stocktake drew a distinction between short-term or specialist foster carers – who see themselves as professionals – and many other foster carers who don’t.

“In particular long term foster carers or family and friends foster carers might fit least well into the category of ‘professional’ carers. It is important that the system allows sufficient flexibility to include both those who see themselves as professionals and those who see themselves as caring and skilled ‘substitute parents’”, the submission said.

Enhancing the status

CoramBAAF argued that part of the problem foster carers face is that within the current system they were not valued enough, and were often excluded or ignored from decision making.

The charity also opposed calls for changing foster carers’ employment status, which would give them employment rights. It said the move would be “unnecessary, unworkable, and most importantly would not contribute to a more child-centred system”.

“Instead of offering employment status, we need to explore the opportunities for enhancing the status of foster carers as either ‘professionals’ or ‘parent figures’, who are listened to, valued, and supported,” it said.

The Fostering Stocktake was announced earlier this year and will be led by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. The government is looking at the types of fostering currently offered by providers, the function of foster carers and how the experiences of young people can entering, transitioning and leaving care can be improved. The consultation ran from 21 April to 16 June.

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19 Responses to Children’s services directors wary of moves to ‘professionalise’ foster carers

  1. Tom J July 14, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    I think they should be unionised. Right now foster carers are barely consulted when things change i.e. changes to pay arrangements. They deserve a voice.

    However, I would argue that this is not the same as being professionalised.

    • Dave July 20th 2017 July 20, 2017 at 10:03 am #

      Let us take this issue a bit at a time. Directors of children services fear moves to professionalise foster carers would drive up costs and hinder recruitment.
      Yes it would certainly drive up costs. That is costs to whoever is paying the foster carer…and so it should. That is because foster carers are paid a derisory sum of money for the work and commitment they provide. Somewhere in the region of between £1.38 or £2.76 an hour depending on whether you look at foster caring as a 12 or 24 hour commitment. Clearly the concern is that if Foster Carers were professionalised then they would have a claim to be paid the minimum wage.
      You might say that foster carers expect to be paid a fixed sum because they chose to be such and treat what they do as a vocation rather than a career. There is a big argument here about whether it is a career a vocation or a profession. It doesn’t matter really because we do this because we have a desire. However, times have changed over the past 5 years and being a foster carer means a whole lot more now than it did in 2012, and before.
      I also find Alison Michalskas comment about being called a ‘professional ‘might put some people off is utter nonsense. They already are professional in many ways. Consider the training that is required- the logs that you have to provide of the utmost accuracy- dispensing of medication- behaving in a calm and reassuring manner at all meetings and in front of young people and managing some of the most difficult behaviours a child could ever display. So on this issue she is way of the mark.
      She goes on to say that’ what these children want is a really good, loving family home’. Is she saying that to professionalise foster carers would alter the love and care and create a less loving family home. I don’t think so. What it would mean is that foster carers would feel more valued. Would be paid what they are worth and would be given the respect and consideration that they deserve for giving their lives to caring for someone else’s child. Giving up their home for a child who may or may not want to see you as their family (most already have a family that have rejected them) but they still love them and we cannot and do not interfere with that.
      Not only do you look after the child in your home around the clock you also have to make you home available for a variety of professional coming and going. The child’s annual review, regular monthly meetings with your own social worker- unannounced visits, the local authority young person’s social worker- ( some of which treat you like something on the end of their shoe) all manner of different people at various time throughout the year. Don’t forget appointments such as eye tests, medicals, Personal Education Plan meetings-medication reviews, dentist and sometime CAAMS.

      The whole fostering system needs a major overhaul in my opinion. To some it might seem that my wife and I have not been fostering for very long. Unless you consider 14 years a long enough time. During that time we have fostered very complex and challenging teenagers from as young as 13 through to adulthood and independence. Never giving up on anyone no matter the difficulties. Since those early days we have never once had a cost of living pay rise. In fact we have had a pay cut! Incentives have been removed. You are now required to drive the young people to their school and collect them. You have to drive a minimum of 500 mile per month before you can claim any allowance for fuel. Your holiday has been eroded away from 28 days a year to just 14. Respite has become more difficult because the recruitment is not there. Training is compulsory and demanding and over time foster carers have become disillusioned.
      Can you work and foster to make up the money? The short answer to that is no. Not now, not anymore. I used to work full time and my wife used to work part time and we still fostered successfully. With the commitment to provided daily transport and attend all the training you would be hard pushed to manage any other job now.
      The reason it is difficult to recruit and keep carers is because the job has become so demanding and the young people have become so much more challenging that, for some, it is too stressful with little or no incentive coupled with a derisory allowance and an even greater expectation from you. It just isn’t worth it anymore.
      Do you still want to be a foster carer for £2.76 an hour?

  2. jayne July 14, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    I am a quailfied social worker. I am a foster carer. As a foster carer I still dont get invited to meetings .I am still exculded. I am still patronised .Nothing is done b about this.Its oh sorry??
    Recently a student social worker was repremanded after sending me a badlly worded email questioning my professional work with children( It was the IRO who was at fault in a review) .It was quite a nasty business. I felt attacked for what some one else had mistakingly put down in a review summary? So having a professional qualifaction is not the point.My commitment to the children was the point whilst this was sorted out.Many carers get worn down by this petty one upmanship.Its…’ im the professional you are the foster carer what do you know?’We as foster carer are the childrens advocates..Where in that situation is the voice of the child..
    I have 2 very difficult to place children. Its hard. I get exhausted at times.When i ask for my 14 days annual leave its frowned upon. Yet social worker take annual leave. And they should!
    I think its the image of fostering and the policies that need to be looked at.
    More quidence and work done with joint meeting and training about roles. Lets get together.I did some excellent joint training with my childs social worker and it seriously helped us with the child. It was bizzarre as i was there as a social worker not a foster carer? I constantly bang on about joint training for social workers and foster carers who work together.It gives time to get common goals for the child.
    I have had wonderful social workers who work alongside the child and myself.We have had great results for the children.Safe guarding at its best and most sensible.
    Why are meetings held and decisions made without the person who has to carry them out present? I have always suspected that social workers avoid the carers challenges?
    . I know excellent carers who are not qualified.They are the backbone of the service. .At present with our shortages there is room for everyone who wants to commit to children.Quailified or not. Its a simple lets work as a team?
    I am positive about being a social worker and foster carer but have to say i am ashamed at times at the way foster carers are treated.This does not benefit any child in care

    • Edward Opton July 15, 2017 at 6:37 pm #


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  3. Keith Gorman July 14, 2017 at 3:03 pm #

    I have been involved in fostering my entire life, and I have never heard such gibberish as put forth by Alison Michalska. To propose that ‘it’s a nonsense’ to consider ‘the idea of [fostering] being a profession’ is anachronistic and offensive. Has she met any foster parents recently? That the president of the ADCS can display such crass professional discrimination (akin to the casual racism accepted in times gone by) in an industry she is connected with must call into question her ability to remain in post.
    Almost a half a century ago, Nancy Hazel wrote that enhanced status of Foster Carers and payments of fees were fundamental in the creation of what we now recognise as key factors in the massive improvements in foster care in the intervening 42 years. It was revolutionary then — but since it has been proved to enormously benefit LAC’s lives then I thought that this concept had been dealt with. Sadly not.

  4. Heroes of the State July 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    Directors of Children’s Services. Call us what you like, pay us how you like but just make sure you pay us enough to be able to do our job to the best of our ability. Don’t patronise us, don’t lie to us and, for your own sakes, never underestimate us.

    • Maggie July 15, 2017 at 11:00 am #

      Well said!

    • Onlyright August 8, 2017 at 11:48 am #

      Absolutely! All workers, labelled “professional” or otherwise should have a right to legally enforceable rights and protections, including a right to fair pay, sick pay, holiday pay and a pension. The fact that the majority of Foster Care Workers are working 24/7 without a right to any of these things is nothing short of a scandal!

  5. Sylvia Mahal July 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    I also am a Social Worker and a Foster Carer.

    I think that this article misrepresents what we as Foster Carers need. It is not about having a professional title is is about the attitude of other professionals and not being considered credible and knowledgeable about the children we look after.

    As a long term Foster Carer there needs to be recognition that we know the children’s life history and have in depth experience of their family backgrounds and what has happened to the children. Often both the children and the Foster Carers have had a number of Social Workers over the years and information get diluted.

    We as Foster Carers just want to be treated as a member of the team around the child.

  6. londonboy July 14, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    Suggest you read this blog when thinking about the status of carers

  7. Jane Wright July 15, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    Yet again foster carers and their knowledge and skills are being disregarded. I was a health visitor before I became a foster carers and I could not understand why suddenly my opinions were no longer valued or even asked for at meetings.
    Of course I happily include the child in our care in all aspects of our family life but to suggest that it is anything like being a parent to my birth children is just ridiculous. Alison Michalska is once again making it apparent that she has no real understanding of exactly what being a foster carers actually involves.
    Why were no foster carers asked for their opinions in this article? That in itself illustrates why change is desperately needed

  8. Stacey July 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    I am appalled at Alison Michalska comments. I am a qualified Social Worker and a foster carer. To compare carers to parents and the idea that we should be raising these children in a normal family home is far from reality. I would love to be able to treat my foster children like my own but I am not allowed to (I have actually recently been told its not my place to advocate for them as they are not my children – they are the Local Authorities)
    Here are just some of the reasons we are more professionals and our home is a workplace (a lot like childminders) and why we should be treated as workers:
    – We are not allowed to work full time.
    – We have to attend mandatory training every year
    – We have to attend 6 support groups (regardless if we find them supportive or not)
    – We cannot wear PJ’s without a dressing gown in our own homes
    – We cannot send children to their rooms when their behaviour is unacceptable (including if violent)
    – We cannot stop pocket money (even if they break things)
    – We have to get extra home insurance as Local Authorities do not pay for damages caused by “their” children.
    – We cannot use babysitters unless given permission (respite is not given anymore)
    – Children cannot have friends over in their rooms unless all doors are left open
    – Choices regarding; internet usage, mobile phones, food child eats, time child must return at night, where they can go, what holidays they can go on.. etc etc.. ARE NOT DECIDED BY CARERS!
    – Visits to our homes can happen at anytime from social workers.
    – We have to supervise contacts with birth families (regardless of if we want to or not)
    – We have to complete paperwork every day (daily records, medical logs, clothing itinerary (that’s the latest one from my LA), child review paperwork, our own review paperwork and then anything else the Social Workers request.
    – And finally (though this list isn’t everything I thought of as I’d been here all day!) the children can be taken with no notice; no reason and without any consultation.

    Now try comparing me to normal parent?!

    • Gilly J July 17, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      Hi Stacey,
      Brilliant reply, so well summarised. Do you really get no respite though? That’s appalling. It’s the only thing which has made it possible for us to carry on. Of course, they still make me feel awful for asking for it!

  9. Juanita Browne July 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm #

    Alison Michalska is totally behind with the times! To professionalise foster carers does not mean that you need a degree. What foster carers want is respect and recognition for the work that they do.

    There is a huge national shortage of Foster Carers, and I am in no doubt that Ms. Michalska’s statements will do nothing to help with the recruitment drive to increase people to consider fostering.

    The very idea that Alison Michalska describes as professionalising foster carers is a “nonsense”, simply demonstrates what little respect she has for foster carers.

    Foster carers work with some of the most vulnerable children with complex needs, and are expected to work as a professional with these children. It is a huge contradiction to expect foster carers to carry out these complex tasks without involving them as professionals. We are the team around the child and we should be respected for the work that we do with children and young people.

  10. Gilly J July 17, 2017 at 9:46 am #

    My husband and I have been fostering for the last ten years. We have had our share of negative experiences, including being lied to by the local authority, having vital safeguarding information with held from us by the local authority, being put under pressure to take placements which were not suited to us, and constantly of not being listened to. We are now fostering siblings long term, so the local authority involvement has lessened, thank goodness. The social worker attached to our two children is sadly lacking in competence, turns up late (usually an hour or more) for every meeting and cannot make any decisions independently. There have been many occasions in the last decade when we have considered giving up, seriously. If we had had union backing and more valued status over those years, a lot of the stress of the job could have been alleviated. As it is, I find it hard to recommend fostering to anyone as a career. This article says foster carers don’t have to be social workers – in our experience we’ve had to be social workers, safeguarding experts, court witnesses, expert record keepers, police liason, advocates for the children in all areas of life – school, contact, emotional stability etc etc etc, we’ve had to campaign for mental health support, speech therapy, life story work. And professional complainers, because the local authorities don’t do their job. Of course we should be unionised and seen as professionals. Is there any other job where you are expected to develop and utilise such a vast array of skills while still being treated like a mindless drone….and at the end of it all, still expected to be brilliant, loving, nurturing parents too? If you professionalise the job, I am sure many more people would be interested. The ones who are attracted to fostering for the money – and yes, they do exist, are either filtered out during the assessment process or quickly fall by the wayside once the difficulty of the job becomes apparent. Fostering is hard, stressful, exhausting work and it is not for most people. But, it could be for more people if it was a valued profession.

  11. Lydia July 17, 2017 at 4:18 pm #

    I have been a foster carer for 5 years. While I think it’s vital that foster Carer’s are recognised for what they do, I feel that they would require a lot more training before being recognised professions like teachers or police and other professionals. I do not feel foster Carer’s are ready to be scrutinised by Ofsted and other such standards which would need to happen to get the recognition required for professional status. My profession is a primary school teacher, which I also do part time and feel the standards required for such a profession would be hard for some foster Carer’s to reach. We need more foster carers and I feel the standards would put some good foster Carer’s off.

    • Onlyright August 8, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

      The professional or not debate is a complete red herring. Fact is, all workers (regardless of whether the label “professional” is attached to them or not) should have legally enforceable rights and protections. In the case of Foster Care Workers (F.C.W.) they should have all of the rights and protections other workers do – the right to sick pay, holiday pay, and a pension etc. – and some, in addition, that relate to their particular situation and vulnerabilities. For example, the right to due process when facing allegations and the right to pay during their investigation. Those who are putting forward arguments against this are concerned about the cost of providing to F.C.W. rights and protections no one, in modern day Britain, should be having to work without. Don’t get taken in by rhetoric designed to distract you from the real issues in need of urgent address.

  12. Sandra July 17, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    I have recently retired as a foster carer after 28 years. Carers are, and have always been undervalued. Very often before reviews I have had Social workers phoning me for information, that they have previously been given, but they choose for me to go through everything again rather than look in the child file! Many times having social workers abusing your hospitality. Many times been “out of Pocket” by carrying out my roll. financially, physically and emotionally. I could put a load of negatives here, but have enjoyed fostering. On recently retiring after 28 years I wasn’t even thanked for my e mail. I was however told in no uncertain terms that “We have ended your subscription to foster care magazine”.
    More must be done to retain Foster carers and professionalising the roll is I feel the way forward. We are unable to work due to the fostering task, so therefore have to save for a pension of any sort.

  13. Onlyright August 7, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

    Deeply concerning that these directors, in such key and influential positions, are displaying such a disregard of social justice – social care and social justice should go hand in hand. Foster Care Workers carrying out the vital, often times very challenging, work that they do, on behalf of the state and the communities in which they live, should have all of the rights and protections of other workers. In addition, they should have rights and protections that relate to their particular situation and vulnerabilities, for example, the right to due process when subject to allegations and the right to pay during their investigation. How can anyone, with any regard for what is fair, right and proper, argue against this? Shame on all of you who are – you need replacing!