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Free COVID vaccinations for Foster Carers

Free Covid vaccinations for Foster Carers in Greater Manchester

Stockport Foster Carer’s Association prompted their fostering service to change NHS England policy

A FosterWiki report

In what could ultimately have implications for national NHS policy, the Stockport Foster Carer’s Association, a registered charity that represents foster carers in Stockport, secured a landmark decision this week with the local authority fostering service, when successfully securing free Covid vaccinations for their foster carers.

Geoff Durbin, Vice Chair of the association told FosterWiki: “When I heard (through the grapevine) that Stockport frontline health and social workers were to be given Covid jabs, I immediately asked Vaunda Taylor, the Service Lead for fostering to ensure that our foster carers were afforded the same benefit – after all if we aren’t at the frontline of children’s social care, who is?!

To be fair, Vaunda completely agreed with us but she hit a barrier with NHS England who initially said we didn’t fit into the definition covered by the vaccination policy, and that appeared to be that”.

With the Stockport Foster Carer’s Association having previously successfully argued for free Covid 19 vaccines for foster carers during the pandemic, it was even more frustrating for Geoff and his team that the same principle wasn’t applied this time around.

Geoff felt that due to this a precedent had clearly already been set, and was determined not to accept the initial decision. Geoff told us that the previous week, all ten Greater Manchester local authorities had publicly signed off on their ‘Fostering Promise’ which included the commitment to treating foster carers as ‘valued and respected colleagues’. This was launched at a high-profile event including the leaders of all ten Greater Manchester local authorities outside Manchester Town Hall.

Geoff was asked to speak at this event as the voice of the foster carers, alongside Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester. At the heart of Geoff’s speech was how foster carers consistently keep their ‘promise’ to ensure the looked-after children in their care are safe and loved, so local authorities need to deliver on their promise to foster carers, or as Geoff says “the words effectively mean nothing.”

Geoff explained “Although the Promise isn’t a legal document as such, I believe it still enables us to hold the authorities to account, so I went back to Vaunda reminding her of what the Promise said and suggested she used this to challenge the decision.

Vaunda then elevated the issue to the Director of Children’s Services, Chris Mc Loughlin, and we were also assisted by Bernie Brown (Bolton’s Director of Children’s Services) who got the first breakthrough when Bolton agreed to include foster carers in the vaccination programme.

Chris got the news soon after that together she had successfully persuaded the Director of Public Health that Stockport Foster Carers could get their jabs on November 1st and that felt like a big moment to me. I felt genuinely elated that we had persisted, and prevailed!”.

Geoff told us he believed that although ‘On its own, this might not seem like such a big issue’ he believes there are several important consequences that are worth further thought. Firstly, in the very short term, if the principle of free COVID jabs agreed upon by NHS England has been agreed for one local authority’s foster carers, it must surely by default apply to every authority nationally. He believes this message now needs communicated quickly and nationally so all foster carers have the option to access this important health benefit.

FosterWiki Founder, Sarah Anderson told us:
“We can not underestimate Geoff’s landmark achievement, his demonstration of great leadership in our fostering community should be celebrated by the whole sector. Foster carers devote their whole lives to children in care, they deserve to be valued as equally as others on the front line of health and social care.

Whilst I understand the complexity of devolved authorities and their autonomous decision-making procedures this must not be a barrier to rolling out this fundamentally crucial policy, and now that NHS England has confirmed foster carers fit into the definition covered by the vaccination policy there should be nothing to stop it.

At the end of the day without foster carers there is no foster care, so it’s crucial they are not sidelined by Covid 19, left unable to foster, temporarily or otherwise.

Let’s not forget this is fundamentally about our children and young people, if we have no foster carers to provide the loving family homes they so need, the stability they need, and the outcomes they deserve then ultimately they are the ones who suffer.”

A spokesperson from FosterWiki added:
“We wholeheartedly welcome this new initiative by NHS England and local authorities in recognising foster carers should be treated exactly the same as others at the front line of health and social care and will be working with decision-makers to roll this out more broadly. We thank Geoff and all those involved for their passion and persistence in making a difference to foster carers and the children they care for everywhere.”