The impact of cost-of-living crisis on foster carers 2022 survey results

THE 2022 IMPACT OF COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS ON FOSTER CARERS SURVEY RESULTS

Founder’s statement

When we launched the FosterWiki survey on the cost of living crisis I was not expecting such a stark and shocking picture to emerge. What struck me the most was a fostering community struggling for its very existence and children, many of who have been taken out of poverty and scarcity being plunged back into it.

The recent Children’s Minister, Will Quince said “The department is clear that no one should be ‘out of pocket’ because of their fostering role” not only is that a pretty low benchmark for a skilled qualified workforce caring for the UK’s most vulnerable traumatised children 24/7, but it is now not the case and has not been for a long time.

Many foster carers were already barely existing financially and now 54% find themselves considering resigning due to the current cost of living crisis.

We are going to be 25k carers short by 2026, we already don’t have enough now, and looking at these statistics this crisis has the potential to half the existing population of carers. Recruitment is at an all-time low, and the recent recommendations by the Independent review of children's social care for the government to spend millions on a national recruitment campaign will be wasted if nothing is done to address this serious problem.

Children are already bounced around the system with multiple placement's re-traumatising them and creating long-lasting mental health issues and affecting their future outcomes, which are already dire. There are so few places for them as-is and many end up in mismatched unsuitable settings leading to more moves and more trauma.

The government’s answer has been that there was an ‘increase’ in children’s allowances in April, it equated to about £10 per month when in reality the average family’s cost of living has risen by some £400-£500 per month. You only have to look at this report to see that these payments that they claim cover the cost of fostering a child do anything but.

I will be demanding a response from the government and ministers to this untenable situation, our children deserve more and we need to offer immediate financial support to those caring for them, before an already beleaguered fostering system falls into irreversible free fall.

Sarah Anderson, founder, FosterWiki

Executive Summary

In 2021 The Fostering Network conducted their State of the Nation’s Foster Care survey and found that 59% of foster carers said their fostering allowance and expenses did not meet the full costs of looking after their fostered child.

The government claim they raised children’s allowances this year but it equates to approximately £10 per month (many providers did not even pass this on) when you compare this to the claims of increases in the cost of living, fuel, food and energy bills of some £400-£500 it is evident that immediate action is needed.

Of the 1036 foster carers who took part in the FosterWiki cost of living crisis survey, 89% said they are having to cut back on money spent on the children, impacting on food, heating, travel and activities, and 2.5% had resorted to food banks and 54% of the foster carer questioned have said they are considering giving up fostering as they will be left with no alternative.

Recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of foster carers, with the skills, capacity, motivation, and resilience to provide children with what they need to thrive remains challenging and without adequate remuneration in an economy in crisis is not going to be possible.

The survey responses and comments demonstrate a sector in crisis, with 97% saying they are significantly impacted by the cost of living crisis, 87% reporting that they have had no financial help at all, 71% saying the travel allowances don’t cover transporting children, and another 23% saying they don’t even get paid fuel allowances.

The statistic of 54% reporting that they are considering or would have to give up fostering due to the cost of living crisis is critical at this time given that according to an analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) we will have a deficit of 25k foster care families by 2026.

The pressures within the system, and the lack of availability of foster families, result in poorer outcomes for children with some living a long way from family, friends and school or being separated from their siblings.

All but six services in the Fostering Network State of the Nation reported having a shortage of foster carers to meet the needs of the children in their local population.

Key Findings

Q1. We asked foster carers if they feel significantly affected by the current cost of living crisis?

97% of foster carers stated that they felt significantly affected by the current fuel, energy and food cost crisis, with just under 2% saying they were not affected or not sure

We asked foster carers if they feel significantly affected by the current cost of living

Q2. Have foster carers or foster children had any financial help or support from their local authority or agency?

Over 87% reported that they have had no financial support at all, with just 6% getting a one-off payment and 5% a permanent increase in the child’s allowance.

The survey revealed that 87% of foster carers state that they and their children have been offered no financial help in this crisis, and despite the government putting up the children’s allowances in April of this year (£10 pm) only 5% of providers have passed this on to the carers.

Have foster carers or foster children had any financial help or support from their local authority or agency

Q3. Do local authorities or agencies pay a sufficient mileage rate to foster carers to cover transporting foster children?

71% of carers said that rates did not cover mileage or running of the vehicles, 23% reported not getting any mileage at all and just 6% said they received sufficient remuneration.

Foster carers’ mileage costs have long been overlooked and most foster carers will tell you any expenses do not begin to cover the true cost of transporting children.

71% of respondents said they get some remuneration, but for instance, this may often only after the carer funds the first 25 miles of each day, with fuel costs as they are and many carers running bigger vehicles for multiple placements, this can now be taking £50-£60 out of the child’s allowance before anything else is paid for.

Do local authorities or agencies pay a sufficient mileage rate to foster carers to cover transporting foster children?

Q4. Are foster carers going to have to cut back on what they spend on your foster children?

89% of the foster carers surveyed said they will have to or will need to cut back on the money they spend on the children, including food, heating, activities and travel.

2.5% reported having to resort to food banks. 10% said they would not have to cut down.

This situation is unacceptable, children often come into care from poverty and scarcity, so to put any of them back in that situation is indefensible.

Are foster carers going to have to cut back on what they spend on your foster children

Q5. Do foster carers have part or full help with your council tax?

 

86% reported no help or any discounted rates, 11% received a discounted rate whilst 2.8% offered a full exemption.

Like so much with fostering finances there is no reason for these discrepancies and fostering pay and remuneration is a post-code lottery, including council tax relief.

Q5 - Do foster carers have part or full help with your council tax

Q6. Have any foster carers considered giving up fostering because of the cost-of-living crisis?

 

54% of foster carers said they have considered giving up or are giving up, 45% said they were not and nearly 2% have resigned due to the cost of living crisis.

These statistics are a serious cause for concern for a sector that was already in crisis, according to the Fostering Network’s State of the Nation report in 2021 all but six of the total number of local authority fostering services around the UK reported having a shortage of foster carers to meet the needs of children in their local population, and according to an analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) by 2026, there will be a deficit of 25,000 foster care families by 2026.

Have any foster carers considered giving up fostering because of the cost-of-living crisis

Q7. How many foster carers have another income coming into the household?

 

Nearly 40% of foster carers have no other income, fostering is their main job and only source of income.

60% said yes they do have another income, however, as we have seen 97% of the total are feeling their ability to foster is significantly impacted by the current cost of living crisis, despite this second income into the house.

How many foster carers have another income coming into the household

Q8. Which County or area do respondents foster in?

We had 870 responses to this question, it was a broad and even coverage of the UK.

Responses were lower than the total as this was not a compulsory question and was left to the foster carers’ own choice to identify the area they work in.

Fear of reprisals is a great factor within the fostering industry and many foster carers will not participate in anything that might single them out.

Q9. Additional comments from foster carers

We asked carers to give us their additional comments in order to help us get their views across to the government and received 419 written responses.

Recommendations

  • In the short term, we ask the Government to step in and pay a meaningful one-off payment to foster carers immediately and again in November and February to ease the pressure until the cost of living crisis is over.
  • This is essential to stabilise placements, to ensure children’s needs are met, their standards maintained and they remain in secure loving families.
  • In the longer term remuneration of foster carers needs an overhaul and increase, and work on levelling up across the UK.
  • Government must also ensure that increases to foster carers’ allowances, fees and one-off payments reach them and do not remain with the LAs or agencies.

In Summary

Foster carers work on the frontline caring for, loving, nurturing and supporting children who have experienced abuse, neglect, scarcity and poverty, these are the UK’s most vulnerable and traumatised children.

Those caring for them should be afforded and equipped with the right remuneration to comfortably carry out that role, children should have all their needs met and benefit from all that good foster care can offer. No child should not be moved out of poverty to move back into it.

It is also important to note that fostering families have not long emerged from lockdown, in which 80% of carers received no extra funding (Foster Carer’s Alliance survey 2020) which saw a huge burden and pressure on foster carers’ finances, including those with second incomes, when these were furloughed, on grants or laid off.

In the recent general debate on the recruitment and retention of foster carers in Parliament on 7th March this year Helen Hayes MP asked the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to review the level of national minimum allowances for foster carers.

The then Children’s Minister, Will Quince, answered“The department is clear that no one should be ‘out of pocket’ because of their fostering role and expect all foster parents to receive at least the national minimum allowance plus any agreed expenses to cover the full cost of caring for each child placed with them (standard 28).”

Will Quince

It is very very clear from this survey that this is not happening and we ask the government what they intend to do about it as it is clear from this survey and report that immediate and urgent action is needed.