Throughout the coronavirus crisis we have been liaising with officials and other organisations and charities within the sector to advise and influence decision making. We are aware that there is a wide range of issues that foster carers are experiencing due to the outbreak, this page highlights the issues that we are actively campaigning to change at this present time. If you want to highlight any further fostering related issues to us, please email email@example.com.
Our main areas of focus in policy and campaigns during the pandemic have been on the below topics. We have also gathered evidence about children in foster care's experiences of education during lockdown and made a series of recommendations based on this.
Priority access to vaccination
During the covid-19 outbreak, foster carers across the UK are continuing to fulfil their critical role looking after the children and young people in their care. They are required to meet social workers and other professionals as part of the care they offer to young people. Most children in foster care also meet with birth families on a regular basis to ensure contact is maintained. As a result, many foster carers and their families are exposed to multiple households in their fostering role which increases the risk of contracting the virus.
It is essential that foster carers are protected in their role and recognised as a vital part of the social care workforce. Therefore, we believe foster carers should be prioritised within the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine.
We are talking to governments across the UK to call for foster carers to be given priority access to the coronavirus vaccine and have written the following letters to the Ministers responsible for the vaccine:
- Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for Vaccine Deployment in England.
- Robin Swann, Minister for Health in Northern Ireland.
- Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Care in Wales.
- Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health in Scotland (briefing paper).
- Paul Hawkins, Director of Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery, and Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer in Scotland.
Loads of you joined our call for foster carers to be prioritised in the coronavirus vaccine roll out by writing to your elected representatives and 3,894 letters were written in total.
Update as of 25 February 2021:We are delighted that in Northern Ireland, all foster carers (which includes kinship carers) are eligible for the vaccine as part of the social care workforce in priority group two. Foster carers will be prioritised for vaccination in Wales in two stages, notwithstanding an element of local consideration in recognition of the need to ensure local foster care arrangements. Those caring for children and young people with complex medical needs will be treated on the same basis as childcare and education staff, and fall within the scope of frontline social care workers under cohort two. All other foster carers will be prioritised alongside some unpaid carers under cohort six. The additional consideration we were mindful of in making this decision was that if a foster carer were to fall ill there may be no one else able to care for the child or young person.
The Fostering Network's Chief Executive, Kevin Williams, has also written to all Directors of Children's Services in England responding to the concerns of foster carers regarding contact arrangements, school attendance for children in foster care and priority access to the Covid-19 vaccines. Read the letter here.
- After a follow-up letter to Nadhim Zahawi sent on the 4 January 2021, we received this response. We were disappointed with the response particularly from an ex-Children's Minister who is seemingly unable to build on his previous work and recognise foster carers as essential to the social care workforce. We have been made aware of at least 45 local authorities in England vaccinating foster carers as part of the social care workforce. This has sometimes been extended to foster carers approved by independent providers, but this has not been consistent. Over 1,800 people have written to their MPs and we continue to campaign for foster carers to be a named group in priority group two of the vaccine roll-out.
- We are hearing the least reports of foster carer vaccinations happening in Scotland. Over 1,600 letters have been sent to MSPs calling for priority vaccinations for foster carers, and we continue to raise the issues with officials and across national media. On 9 March we received a response from the Scottish Government to the letter we sent to the Chief Medical Officer and Director of Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery. We viewed their response as extremely disappointing and will be taking further action.
Key worker status
Many children and young people in foster care have additional health, dietary and emotional needs and foster carers need to be able to meet these and other practical needs. Foster carers also have children coming to live with them on an emergency basis, requiring them to be able to purchase food, clothing and other equipment at short notice. However, there have been reports of foster carers struggling to access the products that are needed to enable them to provide for the children in their care.
The UK Government's definition of social care workers says that it 'includes but is not limited to:... social workers, care workers, and other frontline social care staff including volunteers; and, the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s social care sector.'
In recognition of the fact that foster carers are caring for some of our most vulnerable children during this time of crisis - maintaining relationships, providing stable family homes and keeping children safe - we think this important role should be recognised as being on the frontline of social care along with social workers, caring for children on behalf of the state. As such, we believe foster carers fall within this Government definition and should be classed as social care workers.
Recognising foster carers as social care workers would enable foster carers to have access to supermarkets outside general public times as well as the ability to make online orders for essential items. Fostering services should facilitate this by providing their foster carers with the appropriate letter and/or identification to confirm their social care worker status so that they can access supermarkets during key worker hours and qualify to order essential items online.
In Wales, foster carers are entitled to a social care worker card which grants them key worker status. Fostering service managers should have received an email from Social Care Wales about how to get the card to unregistered social care workers. Social Care Wales’ website details further information about the social care worker cards.
We are campaigning for all foster carers in the UK to be considered key workers during the crisis so they can access essential items, be eligible for testing and have priority access to the vaccine. We are sharing the experiences of fostering services and foster carers with governments across the UK, to illustrate the need for key worker status.
Foster carer finances
The Fostering Network has had queries from foster carers concerned about their fostering finances during the Covid-19 crisis. These fall into three groups:
- Those foster carers with coronavirus who, temporarily can no longer care for their fostered child(ren);
- Those who have to self-isolate for 12 weeks because they are in the very vulnerable category;
- Respite foster carers who are unable to offer respite placements as a result of the social distancing requirements.
The Fostering Network believe that foster carers who fall under these categories should be paid a retainer at this time by their fostering service to ensure consistency of financial support. We believe fostering services should be able to draw down from a central government fund to pay for these retainers. We are currently talking to governments across the UK about our proposal and will keep our members updated.
We believe this should happen because:
- The employment status of foster carers is ambiguous. Foster carers are only classified as self-employed for tax and national insurances purposes and therefore fall through the gaps in all the Government’s financial support packages announced to date. The recent announcement for self-employed persons is not helpful for many foster carers because they use Qualifying Care Relief and the majority of foster carers are below the threshold and have no taxable profit from their self-employment.
- To ensure continued capacity within the foster care workforce and continuity of care for children the fostering service is best placed to administer the retainers for their foster carers, but it should be funded centrally. We do not feel the responsibility should be held by foster carers, who are looking after children on behalf of the state.
We would urge the Governments of the UK to explore the provision of an increase in the level of financial support given to foster carers to take into account these additional duties.
We received feedback from fostering services about these issues and have summarised the responses from fostering services in England in this briefing.
Statutory instrument amendments in England
On 23 April 2020, The Department for Education in England made temporary changes to The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/445) with the intention of allowing greater flexibility during the outbreak. Read our initial response here.
On 4 May 2020, we sent a letter to Children's Minister, Vicky Ford MP on behalf of The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers to express concern about SI 445, which makes unprecedented changes to regulations relating to the care and protection of vulnerable children and young people.
On 27 and 28 July 2020 there was a court case into the changes to the amendments about whether they were made unlawfully or not.
The High Court has granted permission for judicial review on three separate grounds:
- That the Department for Education failed to consult before making the changes to children’s legal protections;
- That the Regulations are contrary to the objects and purpose of primary legislation, particularly the Children Act 1989;
- That the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, breached his general duty to promote the well-being of children in England.
The majority of these amendments expired on 25 September 2020. For the changes that have remained in place, we have created a briefing paper for fostering services explaining the changes, the savings provisions and notes on the relevant guidance.
On 7 August the High Court found that the Department of Education acted lawfully. The court found that the changes were rushed through but that this was justified by the exceptional circumstances. The judge said that in any other circumstances she would have been 'minded to find that the consultation was not lawful if the Commissioner was not consulted'.
On 25 November, the Court of Appeal's ruling found that it was unlawful for the Secretary of State for Education to bypass the Children's Commissioner, as well as other bodies representing the rights and interests of children and young people in care.This marks an important victory for children's rights in England.