In this week’s news round-up: Foster carers called on for Ofsted input; Fostering employment tribunal “hangs” on salary offer; staying put risk of poverty; strengths-based assessments urged for children coming into care
Foster carers urged to help shape work of Ofsted
Matthew Brazier, Ofsted’s lead for children in care has called for foster carers to put themselves forward as members of its Parents Panel to help shape the work of the regulator.
The panel was set up two years ago and has around 600 members. Of these 38% have experience of Special Educational Needs and 42% of being a school governor with just 3% saying they have fostering experience. While the panel was not designed to be “statistically representative” of reflecting the make-up of the children it serves, the most recent annual report says it will run a targeted campaign to increase membership among groups that are currently under-represented.
Brazier took to Twitter this week to engage fostering organisations and charities saying, “It would be great to have more foster carers on the Ofsted parents panel.” Ofsted contacts members of the panel at least once every month by text or email. Panel members are asked for a range of responses, from answering short questions to more detailed surveys with some even helping with the redesign of the inspection reports website.
Salary promise could swing foster carers’ tribunal case
Glasgow’s Evening Times covered the two-day tribunal hearing into a case brought by foster carers James and Christine Johnstone against Glasgow City Council that could have implications for the pay and conditions of carers throughout the country, if successful (TWiF 1 June). The newspaper’s senior reporter Hannah Rodger reported on the second day that, “An ‘inappropriate’ council advert stating specialist foster carers would be paid a salary may be the key to victory in a landmark employment tribunal.”
The court case prompted Herald columnist Catriona Stewart to examine some of the issues thrown up by the case and suggested that the perspectives of young people are “glaringly absent” from the arguments. “A young woman who was care experienced once told me: ‘Everyone in my life was paid to be in my life.’” But Stewart notes that, “Fostering still labours under the image of the earth-mother ‘auntie’ with the burgeoning family of waifs, doing it out of an excess of love. Was that ever a reality?
“Fosters carers are often qualified, they require to be registered and they perform a difficult, vital task round the clock, seven days a week. And yet it grates, the notion of foster carers being employees. While we expect any other role of a similar nature to be paid, foster carers are expected to be motivated by selflessness,” she says.
A decision on the Johnstones’ case is expected towards the end of the month.
Staying Put ‘pointing’ carers towards poverty
The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers has issued a stark warning that the current policy around Staying Put risks is pointing some foster carers towards poverty, according to an article in Community Care. Staying Put was introduced in 2014 to provide continuing care for 18-21 year olds wishing to stay in their current foster home. However the government budget allocated to the scheme did not cover the costs associated with it, and local authorities are forced to top up funding through other means such as the young person claiming housing benefit – which immediately changes the relationship between the child and the foster carer to one of landlord and tenant, says the association’s chief executive Harvey Gallagher. Even then the amount paid to a foster carer is significantly reduced, causing potential financial problems. “Often this is their only source of income, so in order to pay the bills they need to be taking the amount they had before. Oddly it’s pointing them in the direction of poverty really. It’s putting an additional pressure on the household just when you want it to go smoothly,” Gallagher said in the article. Sarah Anderson, chair of the Foster Care Workers’ Union responded to the article saying that the staying put policy is not working and asked: “Why would you ask a foster care worker to continue the exact same job at the fraction of their pay?” The Fostering Network, TACT and the Local Government Association are among the other organisations urging a review of Staying Put arrangements.
‘Strengths-based assessments not negativity’ for children coming into care
And finally fostering and adoption charity TACT has called for “asset not deficit based” assessments of children being placed with foster carers in a ten point manifesto for children in care. “At Tact we have been consistently surprised at the way children and young people are described when they are referred to our service,” the charity says in its manifesto. “They haven’t got this, they won’t do that, they simply aren’t what they should be.” Local authority assessments should have input from the young people themselves and be required to focus on strengths as well as needs. The charity is also calling for greater investment in foster carers and for them to be “treated as the experts on the foster child”. Tact is also calling for “reform of the foster care market to end profit making from the care of vulnerable children” – which is also a Labour Party manifesto pledge.