‘Disrespected’ North Yorkshire foster carers urged to share concerns directly with bosses

North Yorkshire Council's County Hall headquarters in Northallerton. Picture: LDRS.

Council bosses overseeing the foster care service in North Yorkshire have urged carers to share their concerns after hearing claims a growing number of them were feeling disenchanted and disrespected.

A North Yorkshire Council children’s scrutiny meeting was that although many foster carers in the county had positive experiences, children with increasingly complex issues, limited support from the authority’s social workers and insufficient reimbursement for rising costs were driving foster carers away from the role.

Jakki Wilby, vice-chair of the Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Foster Carers Association, said although “a modest package of improvements” had been implemented by the council last year, “we did not think these would solve either carers or the council’s problems”.

Ms Wilby added: “As we continued to listen to carers it was clear this is not about money, it was also about a lack of respect. Carers drift away from caring and too few new ones are coming forward.”

A foster carer who introduced himself as Keith, who with his wife has fostered 29 children over the last 15 years, said many social workers had become more distanced from children and their carers and focused on “process, procedure, protocol and compliance as opposed to problem resolution”.

He told the meeting social workers got “told off for challenging the system, even when it’s in the interests of the child to do so” and that with mounting systemic pressures foster carers were being used by the authority as its “relief valve”.

Councillors heard while it was possible for foster carers to have another job  five years ago, demands had risen so sharply that made an extra wage “almost an impossibility”.

High Harrogate councillor Chris Aldred said: “There is a feeling among some foster carers that they are professional, but they are not being treated as professionals.”

Coppice Valley councillor Peter Lacey, who spent ten years as a foster carer, added the council’s figures such as one showing a lower age profile of children in care and fewer foster carers registering, signalled “a perfect storm” was brewing.

Council officers said they had underlined the importance of “relationships, respect and values” to the authority’s social workers and if foster carers had any concerns they should escalate them to social work managers.

The authority’s director of children’s services, Stuart Carlton, said it was “not acceptable” for foster carers to feel disrespected.

He said: “We would really urge any carer who feels they have been tret disrespectfully and that it has not been dealt with appropriately by the service to come and tell us.”

The meeting heard the council’s payments to foster carers were last year raised above the rate of inflation, alongside the introduction of bridging payments, an improvement in mileage payments, a staff benefits scheme and a £500 “golden hello” for newly recruited carers, totalling an additional £300,000.

A council officer said: “We continually listen to the views of foster carers and regularly review feedback received to the service.”

After the meeting, the authority’s children’s services executive member Councillor Janet Sanderson emphasised her “absolute respect and admiration” for foster carers and gave an open invitation to “anyone who feels they would like a private conversation”.

She said: “They share their, homes, their families and their hearts with our children that come into care and there can be no thanks great enough for what they do.

“The allowance paid to foster carers is regularly bench marked and regionally, only one other local authority pays a higher rate. We pay at the high end because we believe it is better to give a good allowance than to give other payments which would not be fair and equitable to all carers.”