Working Foster Carers

March 17, 2013

On the 22nd May 2012 the former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton made a speech at the ‘Celebration of Fostering’ Event hosted by the Fostering Network.

Amongst the many points he made, one particular point about working foster carers brought about a little debate.

“…..I know that some services require all their fostering families to have at least one person at home full time. Of course, this may be necessary in some cases – where a family is caring for a baby or a child with very challenging needs, for example. But I do not believe a blanket ban on foster carers having paid work is necessary, and I intend to change the rules to make this clear. “

A few people turned their heads and raised their eyebrows, we were there, our eyebrows were raised!

In the first instance our experience had taught us that when local authorities were seeking foster carers they would generally react with surprise or incredulity when we suggested we had a foster family to offer but that they worked full time. How will they care for the child then? How will they be able to attend the meetings? Will they be there after school? Will they be able to give a damaged child the time to be able to work through their issues?

These are objective but fair questions. The support that a child in care will require and the multitude of different meetings can be extensive. Being a working parent to your own, happy and stable child may be perfectly appropriate, but can you really meet a damaged child’s needs as a foster carer (a profession in itself) and work full time?

We have seen some agencies try and achieve this with varying success. One agency we know created a fostering provision whereby support workers would do school and contact runs and sometimes support children during meetings during the day. Did it work? That’s open to debate! With different professionals being involved in your daily life it might feel to a child more like living in a care home  than living in a family home.

From a cost point of view developing such a provision is much more expensive as the support workers come at a price. Are local authorities particularly interested in paying a premium for support workers on top of the cost of foster care? The answer of course is no.

What next?

There is no doubt that there will be working families that can provide great foster homes and great role models of hard work and achievement for young people. They can still be warm, still family orientated and still able to spend family time together on the evenings and weekends. Should the system be more open to consider these families and less dismissive when matching children? Could there be a bigger drive to recruit such families to become supported lodgings carers instead? Or could we create a new model of care somewhat  in-between  foster care and supported lodgings whereby only those children more settled and independent can be placed with working families?

Tim Loughton will have thought carefully about his proposals. He is not ignorant of the foster care sector as his parents fostered when he was growing up. However, In September 2012, Tim Loughton was removed from his post and the quest for review has lost its impetus.

On a topic that divides many, WHAT DO YOU THINK?