It might (or might not!) surprise you to know that one of the most controversial aspects of fostering is talking about money… so never ones to shy from a hot topic here in Somerset we thought we’d have an open conversation about the finances of fostering.

Our Team Manager Trevor Goss respond to some of the common comments and FAQs we hear 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 Somerset 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!

 

  1. “You shouldn’t talk about the money- you’ll get the wrong people”

We meet at a forum of South West authorities, looking 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 on 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 specialist schemes, such as Treatment Foster care, FAST (Parent and child fostering) or the single placement scheme, which is recruiting people to care for older children (10+) with more complex needs, we need at least one person to become a full time, home based, foster carer with no other work commitments.

We 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 about 6 months from application, 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 Somerset.

  1. I’ve heard private fostering agencies pay more’

Private fostering agencies across the South West are almost exclusively profit making businesses (you can read more about some of the challenges of this in this Guardian article ( https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/30/private-foster-care-agencies-increasing-cost-of-finding-children-homes here). They 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 Somerset, we usually only use private fostering agencies when we cannot find a placement for a child or children within our own team of foster carers

Somerset 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.

Due to our progression scheme, which offers a payment structure based on fostering experience and other additional payments such as mileage, training payments and holiday and birthday allowances, (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.) 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 worked hard to build our fostering community in Somerset over the last few years. This has meant we can provide good local support and we also work with our Somerset 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.

 

  1. ‘OK I’ve got it – But how does fostering pay work?’

Foster carers are classed as self-employed and work with 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 usually only made whilst a child or children are in placement but there can be exceptions and we do pay retainers for all our specialist schemes. In Somerset we keep our foster carers very busy and it is rare that there are long (if any!) gaps without being offered a placement for most carers. 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 Somerset 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 across Somerset 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.

 

You can call us during office hours on 0800 587 9900 or fill in your contact details on our website we’ll be in touch 

You will also find details of all our fostering schemes, video clips of current carers and all sorts of other information on our website as well.

 

Why not come along to one of our information sessions which are held every month around the county in partnership with Costa Coffee? Details of forthcoming sessions are available here or on our facebook page- ‘FosteringinSomerset’.