Fostering Contents

3Valuing foster carers

49.In caring for some of the most vulnerable young people in society, often with high levels of need and traumatic backgrounds, foster carers perform an invaluable service to the nation. It is an immensely challenging role, which is performed with dedication, love, and often great sacrifice, both to themselves and their families. We place on record our appreciation to the thousands of foster carers who open their hearts and homes to caring for our young people.

50.However, our inquiry has highlighted that many foster carers are struggling in the current system. Gemma Ronte, a foster carer from Wandsworth, pointed out that the fact that a group of foster carers voted to unionise in 2016 is indicative of the strength of feeling and desire for change;88 another carer told us that being a full-time foster carer is “barely tenable as things currently stand”;89 and Brian Roberts told us that some carers he works with are so “battered” and “abused” by the system, “so incredibly unsupported, neglected and are feeling totally overwhelmed”, that they stop fostering.90 While disillusionment to this extent is not the norm, it is clear that support for foster carers must be improved.

51.The foster carers we heard from suggested that the system in England needs fundamental reform. Brian Roberts said that “there now needs to be a root and branch look at a change in what we are doing. We have been trying one way for 20 years; it is now time for a change”,91 while Michael Fesemeyer believed that

It is a situation where at the moment we are trying to put sticking plasters on it [ … ] There are fundamental problems here, right throughout the whole system. What needs to happen is we basically need to tear the piece of paper up and start again.92

Working conditions

Financial support

52.Foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance, which is designed to cover the cost of caring for the fostered child. This is based on minimum allowances, set out by the Government, which vary according to the age of the child and where in the country they are cared for.93 Carers can also receive fees, which are additional payments made on top of the allowance to recognise or reward a foster carer’s time, skills or experience. These are not mandatory, with levels set by individual agencies.94

53.For many carers, current levels of financial reimbursement are insufficient. The Fostering Network’s 2017 ‘State of the Nation’s Foster Care’ report, based on survey responses from 2,530 foster carers, found that only 42% of carers felt that their allowances covered the costs of providing foster care, down from 80% in 2014. 56% of respondents said that their household income is reliant on the money they receive from fostering, with two-thirds of carers having no other paid work.95

54.The Fostering Network recently conducted a survey of all 150 local authorities in England, using freedom of information requests to get a picture of fostering income across the country. They found that 12% of local authority fostering services in England are currently paying below the Government’s minimum allowance for at least one age-bracket of child. The results also showed that while the Government increased its recommended allowances this year, 47% of authorities froze their allowances, while five appear to have reduced their rates when compared to 2016–17.96

55.The Fostering Network has also found that only 19% of local authority carers and 8% of independent foster care provider carers receive retainer fees between placements, and a sizeable proportion of carers receive a lump sum including the child’s allowance and their fee, breaching the national minimum standard which states that there must be clear distinctions between the two amounts.97 The taxation system is also unclear and complex for many carers, and as tax exemption thresholds for carers have been in place for more than a decade many carers are being taxed on money given to them as their child’s allowance—in essence, costing them to foster.98

56.The Minister responded to questions about whether the financial support foster carers receive is commensurate with what they do, saying that “being a foster carer is not like any job”, and that they should be considered as the family to these children. However, one young person in care offered an opposing view:

[The Minister’s answer] was that they do the job but it is not that special because everyone looks after kids. But I feel that they are important because they do the job of taking care of somebody else’s child. I feel that they should get paid a little bit more because sometimes they have to take money out of their own pockets for trips and activities for the child, when sometimes they can’t actually afford it. It is hard for them to balance their life and that child’s life together.99

57.The Government must:

Employment status

58.Foster carers are classified as self-employed. However, witnesses told this inquiry that they were “in this horrible greyness” where they “have the downside of it without the upside”100 in “bogus self-employment”101 which “breaks every Government standard for self-employment”.102 While they have the responsibilities of self-employed workers—such as completing tax returns—they do not control their registration (which is owned by the agency for whom they foster), can only work for one employer, and do not have control over their income and expenditure. They also have less portability than other self-employed workers, as if they wish to move location they require reassessment and training, which can take up to a year. They also have limited protection in the case of events such as allegations being made against them, and do not have the benefits that accompany employee status, such as sick pay, holiday allowances or pension rights.

59.We note with interest the call of our colleagues on the Work and Pensions and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees, who recommended in their recent report, A framework for modern employment, that the Government legislate to introduce greater clarity on definitions of employment status. The Committees also proposed a definition of ‘worker by default’, for those whose designation of self-employment is not an accurate reflection of their work, which may have relevance for foster carers.103

60.We consider it unsatisfactory that foster carers are subject to the responsibilities of self-employed status without the benefits. In light of the recommendations of the Work and Pensions and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees, the Government must state whether self-employment is the appropriate employment status for foster carers.

Respect and recognition

61.A recurrent issue which emerged throughout this inquiry was the amount of respect and recognition foster carers receive for they work they do. The charity Become told us that as those that know the individual child best, and who often have many years of training and experience behind them, “carers need to be automatically seen as experts with a place at the table alongside other professionals”;104 Christina Brandi from The Fostering Network said that “When you are talking about the person that could speak for the child with the loudest voice, knowing that child best, in most cases the most appropriate person is the foster carer”;105 and the British Association of Social Workers said that “they are an important member of the team around the child and need to be recognised as such”.106 However, we heard that this is often not the case.

62.Pamela Menzies, a foster carer and a social worker, told us that she sees carers “undermined, bypassed and treated as glorified babysitters”,107 Brian Roberts, a foster carer of more than 20 years’ experience, said that some authorities just see carers as “a resource to be utilised”,108 while Karen and Michael Fesemeyer claimed that “foster carers are at the bottom of the pecking order and their views, opinions, knowledge and experience are usually considered to be of very low value”.109 Susan Taylor summed it up by saying that “as long as fostering is treated as some sort of kind-person volunteering then it will not be successful”.110

63.We were told that a lack of respect for the role of foster carers causes tensions and difficulties in their relationships with social workers and other professionals involved in the care of those they foster. When their own knowledge or opinions are not taken into account, many carers resent being told what to do and having decisions made for them by those with less experience or knowledge of their child, or fostering generally, than themselves.111

64.The lack of respect and recognition for foster carers has consequences in practice. We heard that the use of delegated authority—carers’ authority to make decisions as would be reasonably granted by parents—is “patchy, too infrequent, too limited and incoherent”,112 and that carers can be excluded or marginalised from meetings, either by design or circumstance. Gemma Ronte described how meetings can be scheduled in ways that make it difficult for the carer to attend—in the middle of the working day, at short notice, or at great distance—saying that in this habit of ‘last-minutism’ “it is very easy for carers to feel isolated marginalised, under-respected”.113 Brian Roberts said that the system needs to start

viewing foster carers as professionals and taking seriously their role within the teams that surround the child, not seeing them as some bolt-on that are there sitting to do anything anyone asks at any point.114

65.Foster carers have the greatest knowledge and deepest understanding of the child’s situation and behaviour: they are the experts. Any discussion or decision that does not include the carer must be regarded as incomplete.


66.One proposed means of addressing the issues surrounding working conditions for foster carers has been greater professionalisation. To this end a group of foster carers met in Westminster in September 2016 and voted to unionise, under the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB). The Vice-President of the IWGB called it a “monumental step forward in the fight for respect, fair remuneration and proper working rights for foster carers”.115 In October 2017 Sarah Anderson, a foster carer for Hampshire County Council who chairs the IWGB’s foster care workers branch, issued an employment tribunal claim against the council, arguing for worker’s rights.116 Earlier in the year, an employment tribunal in Glasgow found that two foster carers were employees under Scottish law. However, the carers in question were specialist carers, and in his report the judge said that “in finding for the claimants in this case I am not in any way making a finding about the status of ordinary mainstream foster carers”.117

67.We found that there are mixed feelings towards the idea of professionalisation amongst those in the sector. One foster carer told us that “Foster carers are professionals. There is no doubt about it”,118 while another writing anonymously said that

there is absolutely no conflict between being caring, and being treated and remunerated as a professional. Teachers do it, social workers do it, nurses do it. It is not possible to buy ‘caring’ and ‘compassionate’, but it is possible to recognise, improve and reward it where it already exists.119

However, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services were more reserved in their view:

we would urge caution around over-professionalising foster care. Foster carers are not, nor do they need to be, social work professionals.120

68.Alison Michalska, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told our predecessor Committee that people can get “hung up on the word ‘professional’”, echoing other witnesses who argued that the real issue is improving standards and the support that foster carers should receive, rather than recognising them as a distinct employed profession or focusing on semantics.121 She said that in her view “the foster carer is the absolute expert for the children they are working with and should be treated as any other parent, any other professional”.122 BASW concurred, believing that foster carers should have “employment-like” conditions of service, and should expect the duty of care that all employers owe to those who work for them.123

69.Others pointed out that we should be cautious of dehumanising foster care, and losing the essence of what fostering is.124 A young man who lived in care until he was 18 told us that

I don’t think they should be asking for a minimum wage or campaigning for a union for foster carers. Unlike residential care, being a foster carer is not a job. Foster care is about offering your home and creating a family life for the young person who, for whatever reason, can’t live with their birth parents.125

70.The Minister also opposed professionalisation. While accepting that the Government needs to improve the status of foster carers, he argued that “any move to employees would be a bad move”.126

71.We do not believe that foster carers should be officially classified as ‘professionals’. However, it must be universally recognised and understood that they are the experts with regards to the life and care of their child, and they must be afforded the same respect and professional courtesies as would be extended to a birth parent or any other care professional involved in the care of looked-after children.


72.Concerns have also been raised over the standard, amount and content of training currently on offer to foster carers. Carers told us that they only received a few days’ worth of training, which did not cover many of the issues they would face in their time fostering: “What you are trained for is a very nice world, and it is not the same”.127 Dr John Simmonds from CoramBAAF said that the needs of carers exceed the “generic training” on offer depending on the kinds of children they are placed with, while Tay Jiva from Penny Appeal, an organisation which works with the Muslim community, stated that she is not aware of any training which sufficiently prepares carers for looking after Muslim children.128 Dr Ruth Allen, CEO of the British Association of Social Workers, added that “foster carers are often invisible in local inter-disciplinary training plans”.129

73.When questioned on training for foster carers, Katy Willison from the Department for Education explained that, beyond the training support and development standards which foster carers are obliged to undertake within their first 12 months caring, the Government has made the decision to leave it to local authorities to provide further training or development in their areas.130 However, it was pointed out to us that current funding and resource pressures on local authorities have meant that many councils are only putting on the training they can afford to run.131 A report by The Fostering Network found that over half of carers surveyed felt that training was being affected by cuts, with a noticeable reduction in the availability and quality of training on offer.132 Many foster carers are therefore having to source and fund training themselves.

74.As a result, many have suggested the creation of a nationally accredited and standardised training and development programme.133 Witnesses who appeared before the Committee were largely in favour—Dave Hill, then President of the ADCS, said that “it sounds like a jolly good idea”, while Councillor Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, agreed that “it has a lot going for it”, so long as it is done with a light-touch so that it does not become a “strangulating, over-bureaucratic thing that is driven from the top”.134 However, we were also told that as all children’s and carers’ needs are different a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be appropriate, that many carers do not want additional classroom time or lectures as it is difficult to find time and because many things are best learned through practice or experience, and that what is often of most benefit is the ability to meet and discuss with fellow carers with the same experiences.135

75.We appreciate that initial training cannot be comprehensive, and that many things can only be learned on the job. However, there is a great need for more ongoing training and development for foster carers. We recommend that the Government works with experts and organisations in the sector to develop high-quality training resources for foster carers, and make them available nationwide.


76.Another issue that is of great concern to foster carers is that of allegations made against them. Ofsted figures show that the number of allegations made against foster carers has been increasing in recent years, with the figure for 2016—2,450 allegations made, affecting 2,300 foster carers—showing an increase of 32% on 2013. However, although over half of all allegations were resolved with no further action, 20% resulted in continued monitoring, and another 20% were subject to investigations which lasted for more than ten weeks.136 This is a major issue for foster carers, who have limited protection and support during this time.

77.Foster carers told us that once an allegation is made, children have been removed from the foster home, often with little or no warning, with fee payments to carers ceasing and information withheld.137 FosterTalk said that carers “are often completely cut adrift from their service, provided with little information or explanation, and nothing by way of support, despite National Minimum Standards setting out what they are entitled to receive”;138 Michael Fesemeyer told of his experience when he was “hung out to dry”;139 while the Reverend Andrew Gale added that “the problem is that those who once supported you are part of the team investigating you, so can no longer have any contact except when involved in the investigation”.140

78.Many carers also reported feeling scared about raising concerns to their fostering agency, or ‘whistleblowing’, as they do not want to be deemed as being unable to cope, with future placements and income stopped, and there is a fear of ‘blacklisting’ or deregistration:141 “a real and ever-present threat when dealing with the authorities and agencies” according to one respondent.142 Due to their self-employed status, foster carers are not currently seen as whistleblowers by regulatory bodies and are not covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which protects whistleblowers from victimisation.143 Many organisations, including The Fostering Network, Public Concern at Work, and r Anthony Cooper’s Whistleblowing Commission, have recommended extending the Public Interest Disclosure Act to cover foster carers.144

79.The Government should bring forward legislative proposals to extend the scope of the Public Interest Disclosure Act to cover foster carers, so that they are protected during proceedings or when raising concerns of their own, and safeguarded from the consequences of malicious or unfounded accusations.

Other support

80.There were several other issues that were raised during this inquiry with regards to support for foster carers. We were told that many carers feel isolated and unsupported:

It is a shared wisdom in our society that new parents are best supported by peers, other families and their wider network. In foster care, that same support network is not provided.145

While some carers have access to forums or groups where they can discuss issues, availability and quality is variable, and we heard that they can be chaperoned or monitored by their agencies, making it difficult to speak honestly.146 Access to respite care is also variable, and in the absence of being able to take a break between placements many carers are having to choose between giving up completely or ploughing on regardless.147 We heard that, while growing numbers of organisations are becoming ‘foster friendly’ and offering greater flexibility to their workers, many employers are not supporting carers, meaning that they are unable to take time off to train or attend meetings.148 This makes finding and holding down employment even tougher for foster carers.

81.Anne Sayer explained to us that improved support is particularly needed for new carers. She said that while “Nothing ever prepares you for the reality of it because it is like being at a cliff edge”, there are steps that can be taken to make the transition to foster care easier:

What I would like to see is somehow an easier transition from that old life into the new life. Let’s not throw carers in at the deep end. Let’s help them learn a little bit more about what foster caring is all about. Get them to do respite for other foster carers as a pre-requisite for becoming short-term carers. Let’s not set them up to fail.149

A new national body

82.One suggestion for improving conditions for foster carers was the establishment of a national register or college for foster carers, along the lines of those that exist for other care professions. In the views of the numerous carers and organisations which proposed it, a central body and register, which could contain carers’ details along with levels of experience, training and qualification, would make it easier for carers to transfer between agencies, enable better safeguarding, drive up standards in training and support for carers, and stop the current waste of time and resources. It could also be responsible for the registration and deregistration of carers, and for handling complaints and allegations.150

83.Again, there were mixed feelings within the sector. Several witnesses supported a register, primarily for reasons of portability and addressing gaps or shortages, while believing that a college or other body that could represent foster carers to Government would be beneficial.151 Michael Fesemeyer told us that he thought

a college or an institute would help us enormously. It would give us status, it would give us professional standards, it would not be very expensive, it would give us a huge amount of camaraderie as well.152

84.Dave Hill, then President of the ADCS, was initially open to the idea of a national register of foster carers, believing that it would have “real merit”, but changed his mind upon further explanation from Rachel Harrison on behalf of the GMB Union on how such a register could enable better matching by finding suitable carers in other areas of the country:

I am so implacably opposed to that. That seems to me a world gone crazy [ … ] The idea that there might be a national register, which I am glad you clarified, against which anybody could place a child—I just cannot see in a million years how that would work.153

85.In a subsequent note to the Committee, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association voiced strong concerns over the possibility that such a register could be used to place children far away from their home areas, believing that children should be placed as near to their families as possible to allow the ‘corporate parents’ to work more effectively and maintain the meaningful connections and relationships which are important to children. They also feel that the bureaucracy and resources required would be better invested in services to support children directly.154 Speaking to us later in the year, the new President of the ADCS, Alison Michalska, was similarly opposed to a register, claiming it would be too unwieldy, permanently out of date, and would create wasted bureaucracy.155

86.When asked about a potential register the Minister was open-minded: “There are pros and cons … The jury is out, as far as I am concerned”.156 Chloë Cockett, from the charity Become, emphasised that the benefits to children in care should be foremost in any consideration of new structures: “we need to think about what the outcome is for the children [ … ] When we are looking at having a register, what is the motivation, what will it achieve?”.157

87.We believe that a national structure could bring great benefit to foster carers and, by extension, to the young people for whom they care. We fully take on board the concerns of the LGA and ADCS, and any new structure must not be used to negatively affect placement decisions. However, we feel that a central body, including a register of carers to support portability and understanding of the characteristics of current provision, that could centralise training and developmental resources, and effectively represent its members to Government, would be worth the bureaucratic effort. Such bodies are already instituted for other care professions, and if foster carers are to be treated with the measure of equality that they deserve, they must have their voice heard, their needs met, and their development supported.

88.We recommend that the Government develops and consults widely, including with foster carers, on proposals for a national college for foster carers. For a college to be truly national and accessible, it should be a virtual association, which works to represent foster carers, share knowledge and resources, and bring greater prestige to the role of foster carers.

88 Q5, HC (2016–17) 681

89 Anonymous (FOS0005), para 9

90 Q10, HC (2016–17) 681

91 Q4, HC (2016–17) 681

92 Q2, HC (2016–17) 681

94 According to surveys by the Fostering Network, the majority of carers receive additional fees. The Fostering Network, State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2016: What foster carers think and feel about fostering, January 2017; The Fostering Network, Payment Survey - the views of foster carers in England, October 2017

97 The Fostering Network, Payment Survey - the views of foster carers in England, October 2017, pp 4, 10

98 Q16 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681; Q19 [Brian Roberts], HC (2016–17) 681; Brian Roberts (FOS0059), para 30; Wandsworth Foster Carers’ Association (FOS0034), para 21; Karen and Michael Fesemeyer (FOS0044), para 36–7; FosterTalk (FOS0053), para 5

99 Q150

100 Q16 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681

101 GMB Union (FOS0056), para 72

102 Anne Sayer (FOS0068), para 4; Q12 [Anne Sayer], HC (2016–17) 681

103 Work and Pensions and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees, ‘A framework for modern employment’, Second Report of the Work and Pensions Committee and First Report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of Session 2017–19, HC 352, pp 9–11

104 Become (FOS0089), para 5.4

105 Q33

106 British Association of Social Workers (FOS0043), para 31

107 Pamela Menzies (FOS0029), para 3

108 Q11, HC (2016–17) 681

109 Karen and Michael Fesemeyer (FOS0044), para 3

110 Susan Taylor (FOS0020), para 5

111 Wandsworth Foster Carers’ Association (FOS0034), para 9.6; Francis Boyle (FOS0003), para 7; Q26 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681; Q30 [Brian Roberts], HC (2016–17) 681; Q120 [Andy Elvin], HC (2016–17) 681; Q61 [Andy Elvin]

112 Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (FOS0101), para 37; Q65, HC (2016–17) 681; Q91

113 Qq35–6, HC (2016–17) 681

114 Q15, HC (2016–17) 681

115 Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, ‘BREAKING NEWS: Foster Carers vote to Unionise!’, 20 September 2016

117 Johnstone v Glasgow City Council (ET (Scotland), 2 June 2017, unreported)

118 Q16 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681

119 Anonymous (FOS0005), para 9

120 Local Government Association (FOS0050), para 7.4; Association of Directors of Children’s Services (FOS0099), para 17

121 Q19; Qq131, 135 [Dave Hill], HC (2016–17) 681; Q134 [Jon Fayle], HC (2016–17) 681

122 Q19

123 British Association of Social Workers (FOS0043), para 32

124 Q122 [Andrew Ireland], HC (2016–17) 681; Q146 [Robert Goodwill]

125 Jack Smith (FOS0106), para 5

126 Qq146–7

127 Q22 [Michael Fesemeyer], HC (2016–17) 681; Q4 [Brian Roberts], HC (2016–17) 681; Q20–4 [Anne Sayer, Michael Fesemeyer], HC (2016–17) 681

128 Q20

129 Q144, HC (2016–17) 681

130 Q149

131 Q144 [Rachel Harrison], HC (2016–17) 681

132 The Fostering Network, CUTS: the view from foster carers, April 2016, p 8

133 Q55 [Kevin Williams]; Q24 [Michael Fesemeyer]; British Association of Social Workers (FOS0043); The Fostering Network (FOS0085)

134 Qq143–4, HC (2016–17) 681

135 Q24 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681; Q31 [Anne Sayer], HC (2016–17) 681; Q20 [Dr John Simmonds, Alison Michalska]

136 Ofsted, Fostering in England, 2015–16, 28 February 2017, p 25

137 Qq47–8 [Michael Fesemeyer], HC (2016–17) 681; Q48 [Brian Roberts], HC (2016–17) 681

138 FosterTalk (FOS0053), para 27

139 Qq9, 47, HC (2016–17) 681

140 Reverend Andrew Gale (FOS0006), para 7

141 Q13 [Anne Sayer], HC (2016–17) 681; GMB Union (FOS0056), paras 8, 84, 124

142 Karen Mardle (FOS0047), para 12

144 The Fostering Network (FOS0085), para 15–6; Public Concern at Work (FOS0090), para 18; The Whistleblowing Commission, Report on the effectiveness of existing arrangements for workplace whistleblowing in the UK, November 2013, p 19

145 Q189 [Melissa Green], HC (2016–17) 681

146 Qq17, 19, 30 [Michael Fesemeyer, Brian Roberts, Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681; Q31 [Gemma Ronte], HC (2016–17) 681; Q139 [Rachel Harrison], HC (2016–17) 681

147 Q168 [Dr Heather Ottaway], HC (2016–17) 681; Q191 [Melissa Green], HC (2016–17) 681

148 Q9 [Michael Fesemeyer], HC (2016–17) 681; Q26 [Brian Roberts], HC (2016–17) 681; Q36 [Christina Brandi]

149 Qq10, 20 [Anne Sayer], HC (2016–17) 681

150 Qq55, 60 [Kevin Williams], HC (2016–17) 681; Q60 [Jackie Edwards], HC (2016–17) 681; Penny Webb (FOS0064), para 12; Pamela Menzies (FOS0029), para 9; Reverend Andrew Gale (FOS0006), para 6; The Fostering Network (FOS0085), para 17–8; Francis Boyle (FOS0003), para 2; Karen Mardle (FOS0047), para 15

151 Q60 [Kevin Williams], HC (2016–17) 681; Qq124, 129 [Jon Fayle], HC (2016–17) 681; Qq127–8, 140 [Rachel Harrison], HC (2016–17) 681; Q177 [Professor Judy Sebba, Matthew Brazier], HC (2016–17) 681

152 Q17, HC (2016–17) 681

153 Q140, HC (2016–17) 681

154 Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association (FOS0113)

155 Q18

156 Q144

157 Q61, HC (2016–17) 681; Q125 [Dave Hill], HC (2016–17) 681

21 December 2017