Money. It's an awkward topic isn't it? Not many of us like talking about it. We especially feel uncomfortable talking about how much we get paid and, even worse, how much we THINK we should get paid. This awkwardness is compounded for foster carers, most of whom foster because they want to make a difference in the life of a child and are therefore reluctant to talk about the fee they receive for fostering.
Foster carers think they should get paid
But just because foster carers don't shout a lot about pay - indeed among the motivations for fostering as reported by foster carers, fee payments are consistently ranked low on the list - it doesn't mean foster carers shouldn't get paid or that pay is not important to them. Indeed, a recent survey we conducted with foster carers about pay received an unprecedented 1,000 responses in 24 hours (almost 2,000 responses in total), with 98 per cent of respondents saying that they think foster carers should get paid and, very importantly, a significant majority of foster carers who are already paid saying that they feel that they should get more.
Many foster carers are asked to cut down or give up their other work on becoming foster carers, so their fostering income is of the utmost importance. Yet foster carers also have very little financial security or stability, with all too often their fees being stopped between children and no holiday or sick pay.
Foster carers are playing a vital role on behalf of the state
Let's no longer be shy about this. We do not expect any other childcare professional or caring professional - teachers, nurses, childminders and so on - to work for a pittance, so why would we expect this of our foster carers who are increasingly looking after children with traumatised backgrounds and challenging behaviours? Let's remember that foster carers are looking after these children on behalf of the state who have made the difficult decision to remove the children from their birth parents. As the children's corporate parents the state needs to take responsibility for the cost of looking after them, and this should include paying foster carers.
And let's stop polarising being paid with genuinely caring - we don't do that for other childcare professionals. Proper pay would not mean that foster carers stop caring, and in fact would allow them to focus purely on the needs of the children rather than worrying about their household finances. To be clear, foster carers do tend to be extremely altruistic, but that does not mean they shouldn't be paid for what they do as trained, supervised, skilled and experienced professionals.
The recruitment and retention of foster carers
Pay must be seen as a key factor in recruitment as well as retention of the current workforce, because the demographic pool of foster carers will inevitably be limited to those who can afford to foster without fee payments or with minimal fee payments.
No foster carer should be expected to live in poverty as a result of their foster care responsibilities. If fostering services are to be able to recruit the number of foster carers they need with the skills that are required to be able to transform children's lives, levels of pay must be set that are comparable with others in the children's workforce.
Social justice and economics
The Fostering Network believes that it is a matter of social justice that foster carers should be properly remunerated. But it's also a matter of economics - money spent supporting fostering and foster carers now will save society significantly more money in the future.
A good immediate starting point would be to ensure that all fostering households receive the equivalent of the national living wage for a notional 40-hour week, paid 52 weeks a year, including holiday and sick pay. In the longer term we believe that foster carers should be paid in line with residential care workers, starting at around £20,000. A small price to pay for ensuring that there are enough properly supported and motivated foster carers for generations of children who need them in years to come.