Money, money, money...it's not funny...
It really isn't funny (rich man's world or not).
It might (or might not!) surprise you to know that one of the most controversial aspects of recruiting foster carers is talking about money… so never ones to shy from a hot topic here in Coventry we thought we’d take the bull by the horns and have an open conversation about the finances of fostering and respond to some of the types of comments we have on our social media about this…
1. ‘Foster carers shouldn’t be paid- they should do it for the children’
To be honest we think this is a bit of a sad reflection on some people’s understanding of the role of foster carers. No one ever (in our experience) suggests that teachers, social workers, youth workers or others who choose to dedicate themselves to working with children and young people shouldn’t be paid for their skills, time and commitment. And while we’re here- why do we seem to value working with children less than those choosing to work in another industry such as banking or catering? So why is foster caring seen differently to other roles in society? (well it is different, it’s 24/7 not 9-5 for a start!)
Fostering is about caring for children and young people in your home- it is working as a part of a wider team providing nurture, positive support and care for other people’s children for whom the courts have decided cannot, for whatever reason, live with their birth family at this time.
Our Coventry foster carers are doing much more than ‘normal’ parenting too (which can be tough enough with our own children at times- let’s be honest!) as they are caring for vulnerable children who are likely to be finding the changes in their life quite scary and need extra support. Foster carers are also working closely with social workers, schools and support services, attending training and meetings, arranging various appointments and of course being that chief chef, cleaner and ‘parent taxi’ back and forth to activities too.
Children and young people who need a fostering placement are very likely to have experienced neglect, abuse and trauma – our foster carers not only provide therapeutic everyday care but are constantly updating their knowledge and skills through our ongoing training programme
So please be assured, we know that our foster carers do it for the children and young people- but they do have bills to pay too!
2. “You shouldn’t talk about the money- you’ll get the wrong people”
We chair the West Midlands recruitment forum where all Local Authorities meet up and look at ways to help each other and we discuss this a lot! But… this is the thing… whilst people might not want to ask about money, not many people these days can make a decision about committing a lot of time (and we are always honest in that fostering generally does take up a lot of time) without knowing whether they can afford to do this. For instance, for our ‘Next Steps’ scheme which is recruiting people to care for teenagers with more complex needs, we need at least one person to become a full time, home based, foster carer with very minimal, or ideally no other work commitments. We also need people with experience of working with vulnerable young people- so we are appealing to people to potentially come out of other employment to work with young people in this way. To consider doing this, most (if not all!) people would need to know whether it is financially viable to do so.
Be under no illusion though, our assessment process to become a foster carer, which takes generally between 4 and 6 months, is rigorous and in depth and explores very carefully (but sensitively) the backgrounds, lifestyles and motivations of potential carers - all our foster carers are supervised by a dedicated social worker from our team providing close supervision and support throughout the fostering journey. A number of our foster carers have had experience of care, loss or trauma of some kind themselves so are very aware of the importance of good, quality, local foster carers and want to help for that reason too.
So we know that people need to know about the financial aspect of fostering but we also always emphasise that fostering is about you working with us as part of a team to make a real difference to children and young people in the Coventry community.
3. ‘I’ve heard private fostering agencies pay more’
Private fostering agencies which may be charities or profit making businesses (you can read more about some of the challenges of this in this Guardian article) may or may not pay foster carers the same as Local Authorities. Most often agencies place the ‘fee’ and ‘allowance’ together in their advertising. In Coventry we only use private fostering agencies when we cannot find a placement for a child or children within our own team of foster carers
Coventry revised pay structures for foster carers a few years ago and has substantially increased the support and training offer which has led to many fostering households moving over to foster with us from private agencies (an outline of our payments can be found here). From talking to these carers we have found that due to our additional payments such as those made at summer and school uniform buying time (we can talk about these if you are interested), that finances may be presented differently but are generally similar for carers. Often the local aspect of children placed as well as support and training combined with these payments means our overall package is attractive.
The biggest financial challenge for Local Authorities (and therefore for anyone paying tax) is the ‘agency fee’ that we are charged to use agency foster carers which goes to the agency and not the foster carer. Having our own dedicated team of foster carers means we keep costs within the public sector and invested into local services. Also research from The Fostering Network demonstrates that children and young people placed with a Local Authority foster carer are more likely to be placed close to their family, friends and school whilst in foster care (an average nationally of 9 miles as opposed to 17 miles with an agency- in Coventry our own carers are likely to be closer than this). Not many children would travel that distance each day to school and back, and we want children to be local to build and sustain friendships and attend activities too
We have been very successful in building our fostering community in Coventry over the last few years. This has meant we can provide good local support and we also work with our Coventry Foster Carers Association to create networks of support and social activities as well as provide good, regular local training. Importantly, we really get to know our carers as part of our dedicated fostering team (we found out recently that in our social work team we have over 200 years of fostering experience!) We have lots of special events such as a Christmas get together hosted by the Lord Mayor and an annual foster carer conference to explore latest research and learning
4. ‘OK I’ve got it – But how does fostering pay work?’
Foster carers are classed as self-employed and work to the Local Authority they are assessed and supported by. Local Authorities generally use The Fostering Network’s recommendation on highlighting the ‘fees’ which is the amount paid to the foster carer for their work as a foster carer, and the ‘allowance’ which is also paid to the foster carer but on the basis that it covers the costs related to caring for the child or children whilst in their care such as food, clothes and other expenditure.
Fostering payments are only made whilst a child or children are in placement. In Coventry we keep our foster carers very busy and it is rare that there are long (if any!) gaps without being offered a placement. It is up to the fostering family and social worker to decide whether the child and fostering family are a match and foster carers can always say no to a potential placement match. Therefore foster carers who are more flexible are more likely to have regular placements too. In Coventry we recognise that each child looked after by a foster carer requires additional commitment and therefore pay a ‘fee’ and ‘allowance’ for each child placed with a foster carer.
It’s also worth noting that foster carers receive a number of tax exemptions from the Government, so although some income tax may be paid depending on individual circumstances and income from fostering, a lot of foster carers pay little or no tax on their fostering earnings. Most benefits also disregard fostering payments, meaning they are unaffected by income into the household from fostering- this can be particularly helpful for single carers or households where benefits help support the family income. We can point you in the right direction for advice on this if you are interested.
We are very lucky to have a dedicated team of foster carers in and around Coventry who are committed to caring for local children and young people. We are looking for more people to join our team so we hope that this blog is helpful and has made things a little clearer. Find out about our fostering payments and our 'Next Steps' scheme.
You can call us during office hours on 024 7683 2828 or drop in your contact details and we’ll be in touch - we have free information packs with full details of the types of fostering, support and training and finances too. You can also come along to one of our drop ins or information sessions.