The foster carer’s pay debacle

The foster carer’s pay debacle

The foster carers pay debacle – why are we literally paying for their mistakes?

Right now huge numbers of foster carers across the UK looking after the countries most vulnerable children are being left unpaid. Many have to rely on overdrafts or loans from family and friends.

Foster carer’s payments are in chaos across the country, many being paid late, many underpaid or overpaid, not paid, some pay is months even years late, many not paid for expenses, milage or for providing critical essential emergency care and respite services.

For the record there is also good practice that exists, however, this pervasive widespread issue has, its appears, been normalised and deemed acceptable and I can assure you not just by inadequate fostering providers but also by ‘outstanding’ ones (Ofsted don’t get to hear about these things as they don’t speak in any meaningful way to the workforce that underpins fostering services, but that’s a story for another day).

Just this week I heard of a council’s shocking accounting failings. They have been overpaying foster carers due to shambolic and disorganised admin. The overpayments were subsequently reclaimed out of ongoing fees and allowances to foster carers, actually to the point where the council ended up taking too much. Alarmingly, however, due to the ongoing debacle in the accounts/pay department, the foster carers then found themselves with debt collectors and bailiffs on their doorsteps demanding the original overpayment back, despite having paid it back and the council now owing them.

When asked for evidence to support their claims the council offered none, suggesting that the foster carers didn’t have the level of intelligence required to understand it and needed a meeting with them to explain (and then intimidated them into silence) and were affronted that foster carers had the temerity to question them. So here were the debt collectors, at the council’s behest, on the foster carer’s doorsteps scaring the living daylights out of them. Leaving them, as you can imagine, anxious and frightened. Some even paid the money they didn’t owe, much to their own financial detriment, as they felt so scared and intimidated.

Imagine this happening to a nurse, teacher or social worker, there would be an outcry. So why no outrage here? People need their pay to live on, that’s a given right? Except if you’re a foster carer apparently. For many foster carers in today’s modern landscape fostering is their full-time job, they have no other income. It comes back to the eternal problem, we have no rights and conveniently at times like this, they label us just the ‘foster parent’ and our pay, despite us and the children needing it to live on, is not their priority.

Any innocent onlooker would be right to think fostering services were in their infancy if they happened upon this mess and the excuses given, not think it was a service that has been in place for decades. They would not believe that in all this time, especially now given the modern sophisticated and time saving technological systems available to them, that they’ve not managed to get it right for the workforce that actually underpins fostering and allows it to exist in the first place.

It is hard to conceive that the people providing a loving family home and specialist, therapeutic trauma-informed care round the clock to our most vulnerable high needs children are being treated in this way.

So why don’t we foster carers make more of a fuss? Why don’t we put in a complaint? Why haven’t you heard of this before? Its because as foster carers we have learnt to stay silent, we find ourselves in a faux self-employed working relationship with our employers, have no rights and we daren’t shout too loud as we have no whistleblowing protection either and can easily find ourselves with a sudden allegation or complaint against us if we speak out, let alone call out bad practice.

Foster carers know they can lose their jobs altogether in a heartbeat, not to mention their children and live in a climate of fear despite the desperate need for foster carers. Sounds outrageous? Sadly more true than anyone would like to think or care to admit. Interesting isn’t it, we are the ones with no pay, and they are the ones that haven’t paid us, yet somehow we are the ones who are silenced and get to feel demoralised and worthless.

When are they going to realise that the crisis in fostering is self-inflicted? Time to see, time to listen, time to hear, time for a change.

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