‘Why recognising foster carers as workers would provide more stability for children and reduce costs’

A 20-year legal precedent leaves foster carers without employment rights and disrupts children's care. It's time for this to change, says Jane Collins

Image of girl embracing foster mother (credit: fizkes / Adobe Stock)
(credit: fizkes / Adobe Stock)

By Jane Collins

The astronomical cost of children’s social care is back in the spotlight. 

It is a key area of focus for the children’s social care review, as set out in its ‘case for change’ report. Ahead of its publication in June, the man leading the review, Josh MacAlister, urged residential care providers to cut their “indefensible” fees and profit levels.

But it’s not only the firms running children’s homes who bear responsibility for the current situation. The Good Law Project is currently waiting for permission to commence legal action against five local authorities for not complying with their duty to ensure there is there is enough provision in their area to enable children to be placed locally if in their best interests. 

Data shows these councils to be among the worst offenders for placing children out of area in expensive private-provider arrangements. The eye-watering costs of these are often shared when the tenders appear on social media, with some showing that millions of pounds a year are being spent on two or three children.

Earlier this month, Article 39 was granted permission to bring a judicial review on the dreadful decision to ban children’s placements in unregulated accommodation only for those aged under 16, allowing them to continue for those above this age. 

All this sits against the backdrop of more and more children entering care – with demand for placements being exacerbated by an ongoing foster carer retention crisis. If the latter issue were properly addressed, it could substantially reduce costs and ensure more children were able to stay close to home, in households providing care.

Horror stories

So why is there no focus on improving desperately foster carer retention? Last year the children’s minister, Vicky Ford, acknowledged to me the issues around foster carer treatment and retention which she politely described as a “a gap between legislation and practice”.

I have attended all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), listened to horror stories shared with a cross-party group of MPs and shared my own experiences of supporting fostering families around the UK. 

These included a case where a child with learning difficulties was removed without warning from her loving foster home, in her pyjamas while she was off sick from school. I later helped the foster carer obtain an apology from the director of children’s services. 

My file review of the case uncovered that the child was removed at 4.30pm – after the foster carer had made a formal complaint about the social worker via email at noon the same day. The justifications for removing the child and suspending the carer were not allegations, and included “using professional language in a report” and other strange reasons. A lack of appropriate oversight and the lack of representation available to the foster carer meant that all this occurred without scrutiny.  

In my experience of supporting carers, these types of ‘retaliations’ are far too common in local authority settings. In private-provider settings, meanwhile, it is often when a foster carer announces their intention to transfer to another agency that retaliation occurs – to prevent the move. 

How can this be allowed to happen? Because foster carers are excluded from all basic rights and protection afforded to the rest of the social care workforce, including a legal duty of care, protection from discrimination and unfair dismissal and even whistleblowing. 

This makes foster carers – and, it goes without saying, any foster children in their household – extremely vulnerable. Employment legislation exists for good reason, and anyone who believes it is safe practice for the role of foster carers to sit outside of the law is either naive or has a vested interest in such unsafe and unfair arrangements. 

‘Puzzling’ precedent

This peculiar state of affairs was touched upon in a recent Court of Appeal ruling on unions for foster carers, which found that refusing a union listing for the National Union of Professional Foster Carers NUPFC, is a breach of Article 11 of the Human Rights Act. 

It is only a ruling on this very “limited and specific issue” and it does not confer “worker “ status on foster carers – but nonetheless the subject was raised. 

 “The Government may wish at least to consider whether it would make sense for it to consider seeking now to introduce bespoke legislative provision for the position of foster carers, which would either preserve the present exclusion or provide for rights appropriate to their very unusual role,” said Lord Justice Underhill.

The current employment status of foster carers remains in limbo due to a precedent set by 20-year-old case law, which holds that there is no contract between a local authority and foster carers – and therefore no worker status – because fostering arrangements are entered under statutory obligation.

“This is puzzling,” Lord Justice Bean commented. “There are other types of work, such as teaching and nursing, where pay and conditions are determined nationally pursuant to statutory powers and cannot be varied by the parties. But I respectfully suggest that it may require reconsideration, either by the Supreme Court or by Parliament.”

The Lord Justices reached the same conclusion, for the same reasons, that I had stated in blog posts months earlier – that the precedent is flawed. But they also gave weight to the strange argument that affording foster carers the same basic rights and protections enjoyed by everyone else would be harmful to children, because it would somehow turn the fostering home into a workplace.

‘The fostering household is already like a workplace’

There is one massive flaw in this seemingly reasonable and emotive argument, which the DfE and local government love to claim is in the best interests of children. 

The fostering household is already like a workplace, but not because ‘business minded’ foster carers – who successfully navigate this environment to provide excellent outcomes – make it so. Foster carers are governed by many rules and regulations which differentiate the fostering household from a normal home.

Basic rights and protection for foster carers would not be harmful for the children in their care. The exact opposite is true. 

Children suffer due to unnecessary moves, for unjust reasons, because the lack of rights and protection for foster carers mean that ‘challenging the system’, ‘whistleblowing’ and ‘advocating too well for children’ are some of many reasons they may be ‘removed’ from their role and blacklisted, never to foster again. The children moved (often kicking and screaming) as part of this process are collateral damage.

It is precisely this lack that feeds the costly retention crisis, and fuels the out-of-area placements that cost the taxpayer astronomical sums.

When a foster carer is forced from their role, they do not go elsewhere and foster again. In any other role, leaving an employer does not prevent you seeking a similar position elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why the system is so broken and costs are out of control. 

Surely addressing this should be a priority? 

It is time to face this head on and have serious, grown-up conversations about how we can retain foster carers, save money and protect children from unnecessary moves and out-of-area placements. Our door is open to discuss how this can best be achieved.

Jane Collins is the director of Foster Support, a not-for-profit social enterprise run by foster carers that offers support and guidance to fostering families with the aim of improving retention.


37 Responses to ‘Why recognising foster carers as workers would provide more stability for children and reduce costs’

  1. Vee August 31, 2021 at 11:41 am #

    I couldn’t disagree anymore with this article. As a care experienced adult, I didn’t want to be looked after by a paid professional, I wanted to be part of a loving family. There are too many foster carers who are not fostering for the right reasons, they want more money, a conversion and once you annoy them or reach a certain age – they want you out.

    • Foster Carer August 31, 2021 at 12:01 pm #

      Foster carers are already paid. They are already subjected to many rules and regulations which makes them “professional”. If you click on the links in the article you will see this. Children are left unprotected by the current status quo.

    • Katie Woods September 1, 2021 at 1:16 pm #

      I hear what you’re saying but in reality it would allow more stability for the children. As a foster carer I got into this because I wanted to welcome a youngster into my family. It’s nothing to do with the money and actually I think I’ve spent more on the kids than I’ve got. But I also know so many cases where children have been removed because foster carers don’t have this protection. Professionalising foster carers doesn’t change how much you are loved and cared for, but it does give you more security, and I’d argue make you more part of the family. If we forget the terminology of professionalising it, and just look at what that would mean, the only change is that foster carers would have more rights.

    • Hayley September 2, 2021 at 1:52 pm #

      You was being looked after by a paid foster carer even if it was just the allowance so what is the difference ?

  2. Sally Ludders September 1, 2021 at 8:41 am #

    Pretend empowerment barely disguising money driven self interest.

    • Foster Carer September 1, 2021 at 9:32 pm #

      We already get paid. There’s nothing in this article asking for more money???

      • Sean September 7, 2021 at 7:05 pm #


        • Foster Carer September 8, 2021 at 9:58 am #

          Exactly “below” in response to the comments from Sally Ludders who from her comments defending social workers and their needs on other articles in Community Care is clearly a social worker. Should foster carers really need to justify their £1.80 an hour to Sally? There is no mention whatsoever in the article about money but Sally felt the need to try and shift the narrative to money and try and imply that foster carers are selfish. Social workers like Sally are the reason why foster carers need employment status.

          • Sally Ludders September 13, 2021 at 10:11 am #

            I am indeed a social worker and proud to be one. You don’t need to justify anything to the likes of me and I am not obliged to mire myself in a pretence that altruism is embraced.

          • Foster Carer September 13, 2021 at 11:43 am #

            Are you altruistic Sally? I’ve read your comments defending the needs and rights of social workers in other articles. Is social justice selective in your interpretation of social work?

            In trying to twist this article away from the truth, that children are harmed by the current status quo, you’ve shown the worst bias and prejudice from social workers that the article quite rightly highlights and asks for vulnerable fostering families to be protected from. Thank you for helping our cause.

    • Hilary September 2, 2021 at 7:24 am #

      The UK is short thousands of Foster carers because not enough people can afford to love and care for a child and pay out of own pocket, especially when the children need a lot of support. Foster carers do get paid already, about 1.80 an hour and an allowance given for the kids that falls short of covering basic costs… They also get no holidays, weekends off, sick pay and it is exhausting…. If treated as professional you would get better carers with better results for the kids…

    • Nikki W September 6, 2021 at 6:23 pm #

      Good grief, my reaction was a little stronger but unprintable. As a carer I feel underwhelmed sometimes by the support we receive we are not payed a minimum wage the hourly rate works out around £2.20 so please do not call me mercenary This includes the child’s allowance. Each child that comes into our care receives the utmost love patience and we try to keep up contact after they have left. Carter’s need to be recognised for the work they do !!!

    • Foster carer September 13, 2021 at 12:16 pm #

      This is not about money Sally, it’s about being disregarded – often at the expense of the child. A Social Worker recently moved contact for one child to a location next door to her office. It was impossible for me to get the child there at the right time after school due to 2 kids at different schools and distance and also meant I would not be home after drop off in time to do video contact with my other child (who had additional needs). Having explained the problem, I was told to get a move on after school as this was expected – maybe get someone else to pick up the other child and follow me to contact to save time and then do video contact in the back of the car. Really??? 3 times a week? How is this reasonable? I appreciate that arrangements can be made without really understanding circumstances, and being a SW is tough, but aren’t we all trying to get to the same thing? Once a problem is pointed out, surely common sense should prevail? It took a number of rollickings from the SW directed at me followed by communications up the management chain to sort this, and this is just one of many examples where FC is not consulted, and disregarded despite playing a vital role. I dont want more money – I can afford to foster because my husband earns a good wage. As an ex-solicitor with a corporate and professional background I have to say that I have never worked in an environment where so little respect is shown.

    • Foster carer September 13, 2021 at 7:45 pm #

      Clearly Sally is a volunteer Social Worker who altruisticly provides her services for free and never takes her holiday entitlement or sick days and is available to the children and families on her caseload 24 hours a day 7 days a week

  3. Jackson September 1, 2021 at 8:19 pm #

    We only started being paid a skills payment from January of last year. This was supposed to be incremented by the relevant courses you had attended and some were almost impossible to get on. Having completed all the courses required to get onto the highest level i was told i was two levels lower because i had to accept the most difficult cases to qualify. This was not in the original explanation of the skills levels and pay increments. They have now removed this and are changing it. This has annoyed me so much that i considered giving uo over this, however i certainly didn’t go into fostering for the money so i am currently continuing. Currently i am on the highest level because i do parent and child placements but if i accept lone children into my home i will be paid two levels lower although my skills haven’t changed.

    • Hilary September 2, 2021 at 7:25 am #

      No other job would you be treated so badly.. Appalling system…

  4. Bob September 1, 2021 at 11:03 pm #

    Vee I apologise if you or anybody else has experienced this while in the foster care system.
    This is not the case with 99% of Foster Carers and you always get a bad apple or two. I know quite a few carers that are financially driven and they don’t often last long as carers. Foster carers obtaining more rights can only make a better experience for children. There are many carers and children out there who have to put up with awful treatment by social services just because they know they have all the power and if you or the child rock the boat then they make sure you fall in!! Allegations, false accusations and threats to either take the child out of your care or they lift the child and tell them they are moving. All because you advocate for the child exactly like you should, these children are vulnerable and are in a vulnerable state placed miles away from home or denied access to their parents and because one of you speaks up and dares to question a social workers authority!! Many times I or the child have been told I’m qualified to do this Job you’re not so what I say goes.

  5. David September 2, 2021 at 5:54 pm #

    In addition- no pension arrangements after many many years of fostering:(

  6. Katie September 7, 2021 at 7:09 pm #

    The self employed have to make their own pension arrangements?

  7. FosterDad September 13, 2021 at 12:20 pm #

    Unfortunately, people like Sally are intimidated by the level playing field that commensurate rights and protection would introduce. No longer will the Sally’s of social services be allowed to pressure and walk over those caters not able or sure enough to speak up

  8. Sally Ludders September 13, 2021 at 9:41 pm #

    I am all for workers rights, that’s why I am a union shop steward. I am all for people standing up for their rights, that’s why I am a social worker. What I am not for is a monologue that can’t tolerate different viewpoints. Foster carers are either State retained employees, a status most seem to reject, or self employed care providers in which case they have all the protection and the risks the self employed have. Pick and choose what suits isn’t part of the deal.

    • Foster Carer September 14, 2021 at 3:01 pm #

      Make your mind up Sally. You started off claiming that it was money grabbing barely disguised as empowerment. No you’re all for workers rights but foster carers don’t know what they want. Why do you have such an issue with this article? You say that you’re a union rep, if so surely you fully understand the need for rights and protection. Your responses are really highlighting why foster carers need this.

      • Sally Ludders September 14, 2021 at 8:38 pm #

        We could carry on having a monologue or you can actually hear what I am saying. I support workers rights because workers are paid to do a job and I want fair treatment and decent pay for workers. You say foster carers put themselves forward because of altruistic reasons but then complain that they are not remunerated or well looked after. And therein lies my original comment. If you want to be a waged worker and FCs accept the whole package of the bureaucracy and taxation that comes with it, that is fine by me. But if money is not a principle concern in this proposal, why the sarcasm about “volunteer social worker?” I am a wage employee because that’s the deal I agreed to. My altruism is in the unpaid overtime I do.

        • Foster Carer September 15, 2021 at 7:08 am #

          “Pretend empowerment barely disguising money driven self interest”. That’s your original inaccurate and highly offensive comment.

          Since being challenged you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to switch the narrative and imply that the silly foster carers are confused. We see this amusing superiority mixed with cognitive dissonance from social workers like you all the time Sally and we’ve had enough.


          You are the reason why we need protection and rights. Regardless of our motivation for doing the role, we need to be formally protected from the likes of you, no matter how we feel about the change, it’s the only way to have a modicum of safety.

          • Sally Ludders September 15, 2021 at 10:09 am #

            I stand by my original comment. I havent shifted my opinion. I’ve just addressed your comments in return. Arent the inconsistencies in the we are loving families just trying to be there for the children bit and pay us for doing a job bit a tad confused though? All of us need protection and rights. Feel free to refer me to SWE if you think people should be protected from my kind of social worker.

  9. Sue September 13, 2021 at 11:12 pm #

    The suggestion that one would foster for the money is insane. I left a well paid job to Foster. I came to it for various reasons and we can only manage to foster as my partner has a “professional” job. My day begins when the children wake and ends much later than when they go to bed. I spend my time caring for them and in discussions with professionals regarding them. To be clear I have 3 degrees, in Science and Law, and could find other work if money was my only motivation, but this is the role I feel I was destined for. Comments above by a Social Worker define what is wrong with the system. There is no understanding of what the majority of Foster Carers are actually like. As with any other role working conditions should be sustainable …. we need some form of employment rights which could secure respite care/holidays/sick leave etc etc these things will only make Foster carers be able to Foster better and for longer and .. god forbid .. recognise us as human too! with bills to pay and a need to have a break occasionally.

  10. Natalie September 14, 2021 at 10:57 am #

    Talking of bills to pay and so on implies money/ payment plays a part in the consideration to foster though doesn’t it? By all means look to have salaried staff status with all of that implies, but that defunct the moral high ground/altruism argument.

    • Foster Carer September 14, 2021 at 6:16 pm #

      Ok so how will foster carers support a child if they can’t pay those bills that they need to pay? Magic money tree? They cannot claim child benefit or child tax credit but need to heat the house, pay the rent, mortgage, buy food and clothes, pay for transport telephone, insurance, electric, TV, school trips, school uniform, school dinners ..the list goes on and on. It’s got nothing to do with greed. Fostering is a full time role so tell us where we are going to get all the money from to take over what is after all the Government’s responsibility for free?

      • Zoe September 15, 2021 at 9:31 am #

        That you regard looking after children as the “Government’s responsibility” undermines the providing a loving family narrative doesn’t it?

        • Foster Carer September 15, 2021 at 3:04 pm #

          When children are taken into care by the state they are the subject of a care order. This literally makes them the legal responsibility of the state, hence the term “corporate parents”.

          We’re sorry if this sits uncomfortably with you but we didn’t make the laws.

          • Zoe September 15, 2021 at 9:34 pm #

            Not buying that I’m afraid. There is a vast difference between saying “tell us where we are going to get all the money from to take over what is after all the Government’s responsibility for free” and the legal definition of “corporate parents.” What sits uncomfortably with me is the conflation of these. If remuneration is status and security than be transparent about that.

          • Richard September 15, 2021 at 9:54 pm #

            The ease with which the committed loving family turns into “corporate parents” indeed sits very uncomfortably with me at least.

      • Callum September 15, 2021 at 9:43 am #

        I was almost convinced by “It’s all about being a loving family” until “give us the money for doing the Government’s job” reality jolt.

  11. Nick September 15, 2021 at 9:20 am #

    What a conundrum. FCs say we are there to be a family but also say treat us as workers. FCs get treated like any other family by social services, ignored at best, rubbished at worst, but don’t like the parity. You are either in the full time family maze or you are after professional privileges. Can’t be out but also in. Like Vee I too want FCs to hear my voice. I experienced two foster placements. The first family treated me worse than my birth family and I carry that resentment to this day. The second family gave me the emotional comfort that enabled me to become a social worker. There is always nuance in human relationships that doesn’t shine in emotive posts. For me Sally is actually quite temperate in their comments about this article. Self restraint on my part cautions me not to add my thoughts to the dialogue. If the aim really is improving children and young peoples experiences in state care, than hear our voice of those experiences. Foster care doesn’t always trump institutional care. I know this because I had the follow “rules” in both.

    • Foster Carer September 15, 2021 at 3:09 pm #

      Hi Nick.

      If you read the original article, before Sally came along to twist it with her “barely disguised empowerment” foster carers are “money grabbers” vitriol, it was written about the fact that foster carers feel that their role in advocating for children and ensuring that their voices are heard is hindered because they have zero protection and rights. Foster carers have provided a substantial amount of written evidence to MPs to prove this point.

  12. Chelsi September 15, 2021 at 10:14 pm #

    One persons belief in their own selfless advocacy can be perceived by another person as self interest. Personally I don’t think Sally is being a contrarian when Foster Support itself mentions FCs “wondering how they will manage financially” when a child is removed from their care

  13. Jane Collins September 16, 2021 at 11:26 am #

    Hi I wrote the article.

    I stand by every word if it. My thoughts are based on years of experience of supporting fostering families around the UK and my work and communication with MPs, including the children’s minister, who recognised the reality and truth of the problems raised in my article as many organisations have raised the same points in correspondence APPGs and government reviews.

    I find Sally’s negativity and deliberate framing of myself and my peers offensive and defamatory. Let’s chat Sally and I’ll show you why you’re misguided.

    Fortunately I am able to network with intelligent individuals who want to understand the problems and be part of the solution rather than make click bate “money grabbing” soundbites like “barely disguised empowerment”.

    For example I was asked to deliver training to consultant psychiatrists from CAHMS last week. Check out my Twitter for proof if you feel the need.

    My advice to them was that the biggest help that you can be to a fostering family is to be the advocate for the children that the lack of rights and protection means that their foster carer can’t be.

    Interestingly enough they raised the question of remuneration during the q and a session.

    My answer “it’s inconsistent as is everything with fostering”.

    So one of the consultants Googled and discovered a fee of £50. They then asked I assume that you all have to work full-time elsewhere then? My response no because we have to be available for meetings training medical appointments family time etc which there are far more than in a birth/adoptive family and can take up most of your week.

    They were stunned. How on earth can people fund this?

    I then told them that foster carers are also the only group excluded from claiming child benefit or child elements to UC.

    They shook their heads in disbelief.

    You will all continue to believe whatever you want to believe. Meanwhile I will continue to fight to ensure that children growing up in care have the best possible support and that their voices are heard.