FosterWiki Opinion Piece

They attempt to shame me over money, but I reject it.

A foster carer talks about money

Gillian Burgess, Foster Carer

I thought I would share some recent experience. The fact that this is the case speaks volumes about the shame and fear that exists in the fostering community about the accusation of ‘doing it for the money’. In other professions we take pride in our expertise and ability being valued and recognised with good financial remuneration.

It is taken for granted that ‘hard’ jobs attract better pay and conditions but in fostering there is an inverse relationship. Foster carers are respected more if they do it for ‘love not money’ and are seen as ‘greedy’ if they ask for more.

This attitude is, in my opinion, fundamental to the problem of the shortage of foster carers notably within certain social strata where there is a basic need for income i.e. people cannot afford to do it for free or for pin money.

Paying low wages (yes I know it is technically inaccurate to use the word wages) is not only a deterrent for people to step forward and join the fostering workforce (yes it is work) but also a disincentive for many to pursue quality learning and education to improve care of children.

Despite Josh MacAlister’s message that all they need is love I would reply that love is not enough, love does not pay the bills.

Everyone is agreed that good matching is at the heart of a successful fostering programme. It is time to own up and admit that good matching is a thing of the past for local authorities. It is about the availability of a bed with many children being sent hours away from familiar locations with little prospect of maintaining contact with family which in turn leads to poor outcomes.

In my experience this can also result in inappropriate placing in residential accommodation at a cost of many thousands per week.

So in summary poor wages leads to a shortage in the workforce which in turn increases the costs of care as LAs are forced to turn to residential accommodation at eye watering cost. A biproduct is poor matching and an inability of LAs to impose high standards due to the desperation of the situation.

This is the background to my situation as an agency foster carer. My history is working in the City where my value was reflected in my remuneration. If I was successful I was paid more.

That didn’t mean that I was tempted to be immoral or engage in questionable activity and decisions. It encouraged me to be better at my job and allowed my employer to make demands of me to improve my knowledge and qualifications.

Recently I was asked to provide a child with a home at the standard weekly rate. This was a child with complex and demanding needs. The child had had 4 different foster homes in less than 4 months and was almost certainly destined for a residential home costing many thousands per week.

I spoke to my agency and suggested that this was a high needs child and that a higher rate was appropriate. They agreed and said they would increase the pay by a very small amount per week providing I agreed to extra training etc. I contacted the existing foster carer and asked them whether they were being paid an enhanced rate for this child bearing in mind their needs. They confirmed they were being paid three times as much as the standard fee per week and had been offered even more if they agreed to extend.

Now call me old fashioned but I don’t like to be seen as a cheap option and I believe that if I am standing alongside someone, doing the same job, then I deserve to be paid the same.

I went back to my agency and said I would accept the placement for the enhanced fee the previous carers were receiving per week. I actually said I wanted that but would accept slightly less and not to come back to me with a figure lower than that. The agency were taken aback at this reply but my position was that this rate had been established for the job and agreed by the LA and they were staring down the barrel of paying thousands more per week for residential.

Demanding this pay does not mean that the care I would provide would be any less than if I accepted half this amount. Why is it that in foster care high pay is equated to poor care ?

What was really interesting was the reaction of my agency who were very reluctant to make this demand. They thought it was too much to request and were reluctant to believe that the local authority were already paying this amount. I subsequently confirmed that the last three foster carers for this placement were all paid at this higher rate.

One social worker at the agency said that the care system was not sustainable if carers were paid at this rate! (It seems that I was going to collapse the whole Care System with my demands). If anything is going to collapse the system it is the profits demanded by the agency parent company owned by a hedge fund and based in an offshore tax haven.

I had to really push the agency to put forward the proposal, but finally it was accepted by the local authority (obviously), their alternative was to pay many thousands for residential.

There has been an attempt to shame me on this but I reject it. I work for a commercial organisation who enjoy 20% profits which they happily take offshore. My intervention has saved the local authority and taxpayer thousands of £s per week. The outcome for the child in question is better being with me that in residential. Her outcome, statistically, will be better. I will care for the child with all my heart and do everything I can to enrich her life. The additional fee per week will allow me to spend more time and resources to help her (I will not take up a part time job on offer that would bring in more than that).

So who I am hurting by insisting on being paid the going rate ? Is it the taxpayer ? No they are saving massive amounts. Is it my agency and their hedge fund owners? Probably not but even if they have cut their margins on this placement I am sure they will survive.

Who is benefitting ? Well undoubtedly the child who will be in a caring, nurturing foster home which statistically has a better chance of providing a good outcome than a residential setting. (There are specific reasons why this placement has a better chance of success than previous foster homes).

Am I, as the foster carer, benefitting ? Well that is questionable. Certainly I am benefitting by receiving the enhanced rate rather than the original proposal (which I would never have accepted knowing that others were being paid vastly more for the same job). However would my life be easier working part time and not having the child with me at all? Undoubtedly this is the case. Being a foster carer is hugely demanding and if anyone thinks a few hundred pounds per week is appropriate compensation then I would suggest they have never done the job.

Taking on a job with its 9-5 demands, weekends off and 6 weeks holiday a year is a far easier option.

If we are to expand the foster care workforce which is in massive decline then the ONLY solution is to increase pay and conditions and publicise this widely. Yes it may attract some for the wrong reasons (which the system needs to filter out) but it will also attract many for the right reasons. People will step forward in the knowledge that they will be rewarded for their hard work and be able not only to pay their bills but maybe enjoy a decent standard of living also.

Is that really too much to ask ?

I regard myself as a dedicated professional willing to take on demanding roles and I demand to be paid accordingly.

Paying me more does not reduce the standard of care that I offer.

My message to foster carers is to value your work. If you don’t value the work that you do then don’t expect others to value it either. Would you really give worse care to your children if you were paid more ? If you were paid more could you increase the comfort and care and opportunities available to your foster children?

Undoubtedly yes.

*Gillian Burgess is a pseudonym to protect anonymity

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