FosterWiki Opinion Piece

The evolution of the fostering role is now inevitable

The evolution of the fostering role is now inevitable. Historic fostering court case begins in a corner of East London.

A report by Sarah Anderson

On Tuesday 20th June 2023 a historic fostering court case begins in a corner of East London where an inauspicious office block holds tribunal hearings.

Three foster carer members of the National Union of Professional Foster Carers are bringing a joint claim for worker status. This has never been done before, they will be fighting to overturn W v Essex, a Court of Appeal case in 1998 that said foster carers were not workers, if foster carers win this landmark case it will wind its way to the Supreme Court. If successful it will revolutionise the way we see fostering.

The Government’s top-flight barristers will be out in force in an effort to quash it, and despite the rhetoric of valuing foster carers, it feels more like the strong arm of the law trying to stamp out our light, halt our hope and attempt to crush any delusions our fostering role is any more than a spare room and fun-filled family day’s out.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is unequivocal, this is a watershed moment and they can not hold back the tide for very much longer.

There is definitely something in the air, recently I have felt a shift like never before. It’s meandering through social media, going viral in WhatsApp groups, being whispered about in training sessions, talked about in support groups, and pondered over coffee. Foster carers have had enough.

Foster carers have found themselves in a revolving door of acquiescence and despondency for years, as an endless stream of reviews, surveys and research ask the same questions, come up with the same answers, the same outcomes and the same recommendations, whilst foster carers can only look on and observe from afar, uninvited to their own party, everyone else speaking for them, everyone asking the wrong questions leading nowhere.

Nobody wants to go to court, we’ve made it clear, for years, we would rather collaborate and work together, we proffer workable informed solutions based on years of experience on the front line but it falls on deaf ears, foster carers should be seen but not heard.

Most recently in the NUPFC case Lord Justice Underhill asked the Government to consider looking into introducing a bespoke legislative provision for the position of foster carers which would provide for rights appropriate to their unusual role. He went on to say if W v Essex were to be overturned by the Supreme Court “it seems that full worker or employee status would necessarily follow notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s strong view that this was undesirable” Alas, no one did anything.

The once-looming recruitment and retention crisis has now landed, and despite the apportioning of blame, it feels more like a self-inflicted wound. Whilst covid, a lack of spare rooms, the cost of living crisis, Brexit and any number of other things get the blame, it is more to do with years of neglect.

So who will get out in front, and who will be left behind? My feeling is the vast majority of the independent sector will be more eager to embrace the change and see the opportunities, they will find solutions rather than focus on problems, and they’ll emerge with a ‘can do’ attitude that’s not just about money and profit, it’s a mindset.

However, I suspect the local authorities will continue to do what they’ve always done, and get the same results, and we will see the demise of the in-house foster carer, as they resolutely refuse to listen, refuse to change, refuse to treat their carers with care, and continue to look outward and blame, in a culture which seemingly has little or no unaccountability. They will become architects of their own downfall. I really hope I’m wrong.

Comprehensive systemic change is needed for an industry on the precipice. With 54% of foster carers recently stated in a FosterWiki survey they are considering resignation, and according to the Government statistics in 2022 nearly 70% of foster carers are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s ageing out, with many carers now saying they are ‘on their last child’ you can see something drastic has to happen.

Ignoring it is no longer an option, we have many good foster carers and could recruit far more if we get it right, no one ever leaves fostering because of the children they leave because of the system.

Now is the time for that system to be better, for the children and young people we serve and those who care for them.

Sarah Anderson is the founder of FosterWiki, more can be found about her here: