Rising costs of caring risks the stability of children and young people in care
The cost of caring is becoming untenable for many foster carers, as prices continue to rise, risking children and young people’s stability and wellbeing. This is an outcome we must avoid.
Accumulative cost of living increases have affected households across the UK. Our members tell of foster carers, who like many families, have been making significant adjustments to reduce their household spending. This can mean weekend treats and trips out are off the menu and in some cases foster carers are having to make austere choices.
Foster carers are reporting that they are focusing on basics such as ensuring fuel gets the child to see their birth parent for family time but not for other activities such as sports clubs or music classes. For some this means not being able to afford to source the specific cultural ingredients or produce that can help a child to feel connected to tastes and smells of home and nourishing their identity and sense of self.
Our foster carer advisory committee has a membership from across England, and the experiences ring true regardless of whether they are fostering for a local authority or an independent fostering agency, and the stories they tell make for difficult listening.
One foster carer has had to start work, as she can no longer afford to remain a full-time foster carer. She hopes to be as available physically and emotionally for the young person she cares for, but she is all too aware she might not be able to attend as many meetings or training opportunities and offer support to her foster carer peers in the way she could, up until a few weeks ago.
A carer recently shared how she has come up with a creative solution to financially support her friend, who also fosters, by asking her to clean her home one day a week. Her fostering allowance has had some uplift in the past few years, whereas her friend in a neighbouring local authority has not had any increase. Whilst this thoughtfulness is applaudable on the one hand, this ought not to be the solution to retain carers.
These are not isolated examples. Foster Talk recently published the results from their Fostering Survey on the cost of living. The results are worrying. The survey found that 45% of foster carers have taken on new or additional work/hours to supplement their household income. Many feel they will either be forced to stop fostering, take on extra work or go into debt. This will directly impact the emotional wellbeing of the children and young people who living with these carers as they struggle to make ends meet.
Previously there may have been treats, meals out and day trips to support a child in foster care feel stable, cared for and supported. Now, instead, carers are using free activities within walking distance, packed lunches and snacks from home. Some of this might seem like subtle and low key lifestyle changes but when you consider the overall impact for our children and young people in care population the impact will be felt acutely. The Foster Talk survey also found that 3% of foster carers had used a food bank in the previous six months. As inflation rises this figure will to increase.
As we listen to the lived experiences of our members and speak to colleagues across the sector we are worried about the negative impact that financial stress on foster carers will have on children and young people in care. More needs to be done to address this.
We need a National Retention and Recruitment Strategy, which starts with a focus on retention of foster carers. If not, we risk losing some of our most experienced and capable foster carers – who can best help the children who need them the most. Losing foster carers because the cost of caring is too high, will disrupt children’s lives. These children will have experienced instability in their own lives already. More instability because of financial stress of their foster carers is a tragedy. There is no way to sugar coat this stark reality.
As the Government considers the recommendations from the Care Review, we urge them to listen to foster carers and to focus as relentlessly on retention as on recruitment. Some of the suggestions could be about bringing much needed consistency to carer’s allowances and mileage allowances, exemption from council tax, a one-off payment per child being cared for to cover increased living costs or an increase in the foster carer tax exemption rates.
Children and young people in care must be a priority – they have already faced more adversity than other children. To meet their needs well, we need the best foster carers to be able to care for them.
Our members, regional Foster Carer Associations and other organisations across the sector have highlighted concerns around the cost of living crisis. It will take a bold response at a national level to address – otherwise the consequences for our children and young people in care will be significant.
Emma Fincham, Fostering Consultant, CoramBAAF