Page last updated at 03:54 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Foster carers 'deserve professional pay'

By Chris Buckler
BBC News

children playing
Fostering Network says pay does not reflect "a living wage"

A charity is claiming that more than three-quarters of foster carers in the UK earn less than the equivalent of the minimum wage, with a third of carers having seriously considered giving up.

Any parent will tell you raising children has its rewards but they will also make clear the work involved.

Foster carers, like Michelle and Paul Sutcliffe, in Cheshire, know all those highs and the lows. They have been looking after children for 16 years - long before their own sons were born.

"You do get rewards out of it. You get to meet some lovely people, lovely children and it changes your life.

"Some of them stay with us for years and years," says Michelle.

The family looks after their own children Liam, seven, and three-year-old Connor, alongside those they foster.

A teenage girl is with them on a long-term basis and she returned home from school as I was talking to the Sutcliffes.

It was immediately clear that she was treated as one of the family - joining in the fun as the boys played in the living room.

The Sutcliffes also foster others on an ad hoc basis, providing respite care.

In a regular week it means they care for at least two teenagers as well as their two boys.

Earnings survey

The time has come where foster carers have to be recognised financially
Michelle Sutcliffe, foster carer

Paul quit his job a few years ago to concentrate on fostering and is paid about £150 a week.

While allowances are also paid to reflect the costs of looking after a child, the family say they believe that the amount earned should be considerably more.

"The time has come where foster carers have to be recognised financially," argues Michelle.

"Residential care workers, for instance, are paid £18,000 a year and I think the time has come where foster carers have to be recognised in a similar way."

The fees paid vary from area to area and depend on several factors, including the needs of the child, the experience of the carer and the type of fostering involved.

However the Fostering Network insists that the money paid does not reflect what it describes as "a living wage".

It surveyed more than 2,000 foster carers and discovered that 77% earned less than they would be paid for a 40-hour-week on the national minimum wage (around £230).

'Demanding work'

Child burying her face
The charity claims the UK needs 10,000 more foster carers

For many people money is not the main motivation for fostering, but 36% of the carers surveyed said they had seriously considered giving it up as a result of what they viewed as the poor pay.

The charity says that is a worry because there is already a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in the UK.

"Fostering has changed over the years," says Madeline Tearse, who wrote the report for the Fostering Network.

"Foster carers are now expected to carry out skilled and demanding work, which should be recognised with professional rates of pay."

Different fostering services offer different rates - the Fostering Network wants that to change.

It is calling for government ministers across the UK to work to ensure that a minimum rate of pay is established.

But that requires support at a time when many public services are facing cuts.

Michelle Sutcliffe accepts it will not be easy getting fees increased but she insists it is important that carers' voices are heard.

"You are always going to get a certain amount of foster carers who will continue to foster whatever," she says.

"But I do think, especially in the financial climate as it is, that people will start to leave.

"There are carers I know who have already left to go and work in supermarkets and DIY stores, because they need a regular income that is more than you get from fostering."

Read some of your comments on this story:

Having been through the fostering system, albeit in the 50s and 60s, I am totally against any payment to foster carers, other than the standard child allowances. I saw too many children taken on just for the money and was a victim of this many times - some 12 to 14 foster homes in all. The current payment system amounts to "children for sale" and in some cases, regardless of checks, children are being put in abusive homes. Most child services organisations are run by people who have never been in care but think they "understand" how a child feels. How can they? It's like saying to someone who has just lost an arm or a leg "I know how you feel" when you have no idea. If you want a child do it for love not for money!
John, Petersfield

In my view, the sole motivation for fostering must remain purely "philanthropic". As soon as there is a financial incentive the standards of care provided to vulnerable children will plummet. The fact fostering doesn't provide much of an income (working couples and single people can provide excellent foster care) should not be a problem, so long as the actual costs of the care (food, clothing, a proportion of housing costs) are supported. Yes, I've fostered, and I did it for love.
Ellen, Sheffield, UK

As a foster carer for seven years, I am now awaiting the new terms and conditions of the LA I work for to reduce my fees by 25%, to keep in line with the economy situation. I wonder if the top bosses will be taking such a big drop in their salary? Foster caring is highly demanding, challenging but rewarding. And at the moment I get paid well below the minimum wage. It is a very uncertain time for myself and partner as we are seriously considering giving up fostering which we love to do. But we can not survive on love alone.
Sandra, West Midlands

My wife and four children have fostered for over 35 years, but the demands put on foster carers by various social service departments forced us to cease. At times, it was costing us to service the needs and requirements of social workers' demands for specific children. Yes, we did look after the more testing children, who were subject to greater demands, but for what a pittance in comparison to some young social worker whose own home background often left much to be desired. An often joyously rewarding time but one with unrewarded demands and extreme frustrations. We miss the involvement with the children but not the bureaucracy and poor bank balance.

Malcolm, Wales

What a load of nonsense. Somebody I know fosters and has done for a few years now. They get paid £400 a week per child which is the standard rate across all agencies. This is technically "expenses" which means it is tax free, and you can also simultaneously claim Jobseeker's Allowance and have the interest on your mortgage paid off at the same time. She has two children currently which means she receives £3200 a month tax free, or equivalent to just under £55,000 a year taking tax into account. She is hoping to take on another two children soon which will put her "wage" way over £100,000 a year whilst still being classed as "unemployed". What's even worse is that fostering agencies who pass on £400 a week keep over £1600 a week in "administration fees". For this they do barely anything and then we wonder why the country has such a massive debt burden. Social services do pay less to carers, more along the lines of £150 a week but these are the children that are viewed as no work. Therefore, you shouldn't receive minimum wage for something that is no trouble or else you devalue the work of everyone that actually works. What next; minimum wage for mothers that choose to stay at home or perhaps extra financial help for those who adopt children?

We have been foster carers for 12 years and we foster long term placement teenagers. The cost of living has increased but the allowance for fostering has not. We take them abroad several times a year and get no help to pay for those breaks. We bought a caravan so the children could go away on a regular basis again we get no help. Our electricity, gas, petrol have all increased but not the allowances. We very much love our work.
P.Thompson, Staffordshire

I have a two friends, both couples, involved in foster care. One of them told me of their shock when they found out that, as they were on a list to foster at short notice, they would be paid a monthly allowance whether or not they had any children to support in that month. Later on they said that, although there were difficult times, there were also a few months in a row where they were paid for being on a list. Clearly we need to find some middle ground and some common sense here.
Paul, Birmingham

I have been a foster carer now for three years. I work for an agency and so the money is pretty good, although I have have my work cut out for me. It depends on who you work for. If it is the local authority then the money is much less than it is for agency work. Fostering a child can be very stressful and demanding and so the carers' wages should reflect this hard work that they are doing. It is a shame that people are having to give up being carers because the money is better in a supermarket. Fostering can be a very rewarding job, put people also need money to pay their bills.
Julie, Plymouth

Fostering is a highly skilled and highly dedicated role. As a nation, we pay our teachers to teach our children, we pay for medical professionals to care for our children's health, so I don't understand why we don't make foster carers into professionals. My wife and I care for two babies and are clear that we don't do it for the money. But if you were to treat it as a wage earner, then we would be earning well under £2 per hour for a child. And by the way, full time caring for babies is far more than a 40 hour week. Fortunately we love doing it, but that doesn't mean we should be taken for granted.
Richard, Surrey

At least foster carers get that extra help. I am a carer for and elderly relative with mental disabilities. We get no help with costs towards the housing. I get a carer's wage of about £80 a week and the person requires 24/7 care. We should get more help like foster carers. There are people who are carers and have lost their homes as they don't get enough help. If I was to put my relative in a specialist home they would get the help towards the rent. And that can be a cost of up to £600 a week. I get no help with my mortgage at all and cannot work as I have to care for this person 24/7.
Mrs Robins, Lincolnshire

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