FosterWiki Opinion Piece

Foster carers need ownership of their lives

Foster carers need ownership of their lives, not controlled, owned, bought and sold – we are not commodities

Author: Robert Spencer

The pervasive prevalence of unconscious rhetoric and language within our sector concerning foster carers, coupled with its normalisation and acceptance, presents a significant and enduring challenge in what is now a broken fostering landscape.

The ongoing debate surrounding the use of ‘golden hellos’ and their perceived equivalence to ‘buying’ foster carers is troubling and has persisted for years. The way we are bought, sold and traded as part of business models, treated as possessions by services who object to their carers transferring despite never improving working conditions, and the presumption we must have been ‘poached’, manipulated and persuaded, rather than leaving of our own free will and making our own decisions is disparaging.

While such sign-up bonuses are commonplace across various industries including our own, the notion of organisations exerting the power to veto normal incentives for foster carers demonstrates how they see the foster carer workforce as something they own and control.

The irony of the industry insisting we are ‘self-employed’ can surely be lost on no one. Recent rumblings have occurred within some fostering providers regarding the potential introduction of pensions and healthcare. Whilst this represents a notable step forward, it would have been more palatable had it been prompted by a genuine concern for the welfare of foster carers (if it was genuine they would have done it years ago) rather than the urgent need to address a severe retention and recruitment crisis.

The debate surrounding the ethics of sign-up bonuses is firmly rooted within the context of financial considerations. The substantial investment required to assess, approve, and train foster carers underscores the financial ramifications of losing them to competitors. However, with foster carers now ‘worth’ thousands to agencies and services this discourse must transcend mere financial concerns and address the broader ethical implications of treating individuals as commodities to be bought and sold.

This situation begs the question of how discussions like this can persist in the 21st century, given the established consensus regarding the inherent dignity and autonomy of workers.

The proposition of establishing an independent licensing body for foster carers, thereby enabling fostering services to employ them, offers a potential avenue for addressing these issues. Such a framework would afford foster carers greater mobility and agency, while also ensuring accountability and professionalism within the sector.

Ultimately, fostering services must demonstrate a genuine commitment to supporting and valuing foster carers, irrespective of the presence of financial incentives. The equitable treatment of foster carers in all aspects of their professional lives, including allegations and decision-making processes, is essential for creating a culture of respect and collaboration within the sector.

In doing so, concerns surrounding the use of incentives such as ‘golden hellos’ would be alleviated, as the focus would shift towards a supportive and inclusive professional environment for all involved parties.

As deliberations continue on sign-up incentives, referral programs, and the persistent hurdles in retaining foster carers within stringent regulatory frameworks, the concerning trends of dwindling foster carer numbers and stagnant recruitment efforts persist.

Regrettably, the primary victim of these challenges remains the vulnerable child in need of care. Improving outcomes for our children and young people necessitates a commitment to excellence, which can only be achieved by heeding the insights of frontline workers. Their firsthand experience provides invaluable guidance on necessary reforms and the practicalities of implementing them.

Robert Spencer is a pseudonym to protect anonymity at the author’s request.
Edited by FosterWiki

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