Headlines: October 12th, 2004

Families fostering children for almost half of English local authorities are being paid allowances below recommended minimum rates according to a new survey published today. The study, carried out by leading fostering charity the Fostering Network, says this means they are effectively subsidising the state.The survey shows foster carers in 46 per cent of English authority areas receive less than the recommended rate and so do not get their fostering expenses fully covered. That, says the Network, is leaving fostered children and carers short-changed in spite of Government standards that state that all carers should be reimbursed for the full costs of fostering.

The publication today coincides with the start of the Commons committee stage of the Children Bill, which includes an amendment to introduce a national system of minimum fostering allowances in England. Supporters of the idea say if it is implemented and properly funded it would end the current postcode lottery in allowances.

The Fostering Network’s publishes minimum allowances each year and these are widely accepted as the benchmark for expenses incurred through fostering. For 2004-05 they start at just over 108 pounds a week for a baby and vary according to the age of the child. Expenses are also higher for foster carers in London. The survey found that councils are paying allowances from 50 pounds per week for the youngest children, with rates in neighbouring authorities varying by as much as 100 pounds a week.

Of the 113 English local authorities that responded to the survey between April and August this year 52 gave carers less than the Fostering Network’s minimum allowances and 61 are paying the recommended rate or above. Equivalent figures for Scotland and Wales will be published later this month.

The Fostering Network’s executive director Robert Tapsfield says there is no logic to a system that values children differently depending on where they live. With authorities facing a shortage of more than 8,000 foster carers in England, it was not a sustainable position to expect carers to fund foster care from their own pockets.

“The Government has the perfect opportunity to deal with this issue once and for all, and we urge them to ensure the amendment on a national system of allowances is accepted and implemented,” he said.