North Yorkshire foster carers issue stark warning to council

Julie Brown, from Filey, one of the first newly approved foster carers to receive a £500 golden hello. Picture: NYC.

Foster carers have issued a stark warning to a council which spends among the least per foster child in the North – start paying fair allowances or face an exodus of people willing to take in youngsters.

Launching a campaign to press North Yorkshire Council to reimburse foster carers for the full cost of providing for children’s needs, council tax rebates and to be treated as professional carers, a meeting of dozens of carers heard a consensus that the system in the county was in “crisis”.

Tim Larner, chair of the Harrogate and District Foster Carers’ Association, told a public meeting at the Old Courthouse in Thirsk the foster carer occupancy rate in the county stood at about 99 per cent, meaning very little matching was going on between the needs of the children and skills of the carers and the area in which they live.

The meeting heard carers state how the job of a foster carer had become far more challenging and time-consuming than it used to be and allowances were not meeting the costs incurred, and when carers complained council officers forced them to quit their fostering roles.

Mr Larner, who has fostered children for 28 years, said: “We can see the council is failing to recruit people in their 30s and 40s. The volunteering model that we’re working on was formulated post Second World War when there was somebody at home who could take on another child.

“Over the last 15 years the council has done a lot of early intervention work to keep the children with their families, which is good, but often things break down when they get to teenage years and so we don’t get kids coming in pre-school, they come as really mixed up kids in later years.”

The meeting heard North Yorkshire Council was spending less per child than nearly all neighbouring councils, mainly because it has a policy of making placements through the council rather than agencies, which cost on average more than twice those made through the council.

Carers say it would be most cost-effective for the council to increase their allowances by about 15 per cent to bring them into line with those recommended by the charity The Fostering Network.

After hearing the testimonies of several carers, Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aldred told the meeting: “The system is broken and some people in positions of authority within the council do not want to admit that.”

However, the Conservative-run council’s executive member for children and families, Councillor Janet Sanderson, said the meeting had not been not inclusive or representative of the 340 foster carers across the county, and it undermined the county’s four foster carer associations set up to relay issues to the council.

She said the council hosted an annual event at which foster carers could raise concerns and had responded to the cost of living crisis by giving foster carers two rises, started paying carers for three weeks between children and extra travel expenses, which is what they asked for.

Coun Sanderson said the authority was examining the impact of a raft of funding upgrades it introduced last year and recent figures indicated the number of inquiries to become foster carers had doubled.

She said: “We need to look at evidence what is working, rather than just throw things at it. I want to listen to the voice of everybody.

“I would hope if anyone feels pushed out of their role they would either contact me or put in a formal complaint. I don’t know anyone who has been pushed out of their role.”

Coun Sanderson said foster caring was facing a national challenge and whichever government comes in after the forthcoming General Election had to recognise the independent McAllister review of children’s social care found the system needed to change fundamentally.

She said: “If those recommendations are followed through it would do a lot to alleviate the situation.

“They are in effect volunteers who are paid an allowance for taking on this role, but it’s not supposed to be a career change unless you get into specialist foster caring.

“It has always been a challenging job, the children and circumstances have always been difficult and for the most part carers cope very well. I have the greatest of respect for our foster carers, it is an enormous task.”

 

Foster carer testimony:

Throughout my lengthy fostering career I have fostered teenagers and when I began most teenagers went to school regularly. However, my experience and those of the carers I know is that most teenagers are now not in full-time education. Many of them have experienced extreme trauma, have disabilities or access needs or are neuro-divergent and need specialist education. This change has dramatically altered the role of foster carers as we are required to be available far more and interact with multiple agencies to support the young person accessing education. This means I cannot work another job. I spend my days on fostering duties, including a combination of training courses, childcare, meetings with social workers, meeting with educational professionals, psychologists and medical professionals as well as running a home.

The allowance and fee we receive as a foster carer has to pay for gas and electricity, water, council tax, mortgage, car, home insurance, wi-fi, television and food bills, clothing, and holidays. These costs have gone up dramatically over the past year. Foster carers are in a financially insecure position and the cost of living crisis has seen our outgoings rise to unprecedented levels. A recent survey of our foster carers found many have decided they cannot afford to foster any longer and will be leaving the service when their placements leave. My weekly income as an advanced foster carer is £520, which works out at £74 a day or £3 an hour for 24 hours or £9.25 for eight hours a day, which is below minimum wage, but of course we are on duty for 24 hours. Pre-accredited foster carers just receive allowances for the child, and those looking after a child under four years would get £182 a week, or £26 a day.

To subsidise the council I have had to take my private pension early to carry on fostering. No one enters fostering for the money, but many foster carers are being forced o supplement the shortfall of the council’s financial support. All carers deserve full reimbursement of the costs of being carers and which reflect their skills, time and essential role play in our community. When there is no child in placement there is no allowance or fee. Foster carers do not get holiday or sick pay, work pensions and many carers cannot afford to pay into private pensions. We are allowed 28 days’ respite, but then have our allowances deducted for the duration of that leave. So in effect we are paying for the respite carer to look after the children, rather than the corporate parent, North Yorkshire Council.

 

Foster carer testimony 2:

Throughout my lengthy fostering career I have fostered teenagers and when I began most teenagers went to school regularly. However, my experience and those of the carers I know is that most teenagers are now not in full-time education. Many of them have experienced extreme trauma, have disabilities or access needs or are neuro-divergent and need specialist education. This change has dramatically altered the role of foster carers as we are required to be available far more and interact with multiple agencies to support the young person accessing education. This means I cannot work another job. I spend my days on fostering duties, including a combination of training courses, childcare, meetings with social workers, meeting with educational professionals, psychologists and medical professionals as well as running a home.

The allowance and fee we receive as a foster carer has to pay for gas and electricity, water, council tax, mortgage, car, home insurance, wi-fi, television and food bills, clothing, and holidays. These costs have gone up dramatically over the past year. Foster carers are in a financially insecure position and the cost of living crisis has seen our outgoings rise to unprecedented levels. A recent survey of our foster carers found many have decided they cannot afford to foster any longer and will be leaving the service when their placements leave. My weekly income as an advanced foster carer is £520, which works out at £74 a day or £3 an hour for 24 hours or £9.25 for eight hours a day, which is below minimum wage, but of course we are on duty for 24 hours. Pre-accredited foster carers just receive allowances for the child, and those looking after a child under four years would get £182 a week, or £26 a day.

To subsidise the council I have had to take my private pension early to carry on fostering. No one enters fostering for the money, but many foster carers are being forced o supplement the shortfall of the council’s financial support. All carers deserve full reimbursement of the costs of being carers and which reflect their skills, time and essential role play in our community. When there is no child in placement there is no allowance or fee. Foster carers do not get holiday or sick pay, work pensions and many carers cannot afford to pay into private pensions. We are allowed 28 days’ respite, but then have our allowances deducted for the duration of that leave. So in effect we are paying for the respite carer to look after the children, rather than the corporate parent, North Yorkshire Council.