It’s safe to say that 2017 was the year that foster carers finally had their voices heard. It’s no coincidence that the many debates in the press and with government are as a direct result of foster carers finding their collective voice and getting unionised
For far too long, foster carers have been forgotten and taken for granted. People who provide one of the most fundamental and vital roles in our society, caring for children who so desperately need them, had been left without income security, without any rights and in some cases bullied. But, as we enter 2018, there is a glimmer of hope that if we continue fighting for improvements together, we will achieve them for foster carers and children alike.
GMB has been representing foster carers for 8 years. A coalition government was elected and with it came austerity and local authorities left with huge savings to make turned on their foster carers. Up until this time, foster carers were often isolated individuals, working alone in their homes, self-employed with no employment rights. They were expected to work to whatever terms the local authority specified. Austerity resulted in attacks on and cuts to these terms. Foster carers, seen as a group of people who would not challenge the cuts, surprised everyone when they got unionised. Campaigns have been won, and lost, in many areas, the key however, is that the GMB helped foster carers find their voice and fight for their worth and the children they care for.
As a result of years of campaigning with foster carers, the GMB were in a position of being able to submit evidence on behalf of our members into two crucial government investigations. The first was the Education Select Committee Inquiry into Fostering at which GMB submitted written evidence. I was called to give verbal evidence at the Inquiry on 1st March 2017, followed by a request to submit further written evidence. Our main requests of government were a national register of foster carers which would allow for national standards and terms and enable the sharing of resources across local authorities and allow foster carers to foster for more than one area. Thus addressing the recruitment crisis we currently face and putting an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ of what foster carers are entitled to. We also emphasised the essential need for professional recognition for foster carers giving them the respect they deserve. Tax and pensions were also high on our list of recommendations.
Therefore, on the 22nd December 2017, when the Education Committee published their report from the inquiry, the GMB and its foster carers welcomed it as a step forward towards professional recognition and fairer treatment in fostering. Improving conditions for foster carers has always been a key campaign for GMB and the inquiry report clearly recognises this as a priority. Our request for a national register was listened to, despite other organisations speaking out against it, and a recommendation was made for a national college. Financial insecurities are a major concern for many of our foster carers and again this was recognised in the report by the committee’s recommendation for national minimum allowances to be looked at considering cost of living increases, as well a review and update of the taxation rules affecting foster carers.
It is slightly disappointing that the committee chose not to refer to foster carers as professionals, despite acknowledging that they are professionals and should be treat as such.
The inquiry report was published in the same week that the GMB scored a victory in our ‘Fostering Fairness’ campaign. Working with Tracy Brabin MP, Shadow Minister for Early Years, and other MP’s, we campaigned for the government to revise its flagship policy giving 30 hours free childcare to parents of 3-4 year olds. This policy discriminated against and excluded children in care without any justifiable reason. As of September 2018, all children, irrelevant of whether they are in care or not, will have access to this.
2017 saw amendments to the Children & Social Work Bill being debated. Emma Lewell-Buck MP ensured that GMB foster carer voices were heard during these debates, calling again for a national register and minimum local standards for foster carer allowances, support, training, terms and conditions. It was as a result of this debate that a commitment was made to consider these issues in the National Fostering Stocktake. This is where the GMB’s second written report of evidence was submitted.
As the year progressed our collective strength could not be ignored. GMB foster carers were given a platform to meet with Paula Sherriff MP on several occasions to have their voices heard. As a result, a commitment was given by Paula Sherriff MP and John McDonnell MP Shadow Chancellor that they would campaign alongside them for improvements in fostering. This ultimately led to more MP’s getting on board with our campaigns and finally seeing foster carers mentioned in the Labour Party Manifesto. Sadly, the Labour Party did not win the election. However, foster carers and the children they care for remain on their campaigning agenda.
2018 promises to be just as progressive for foster carers as we await the government response to the Fostering Inquiry report, as well as for Sir Martin Narey to publish his report from the National Fostering Stocktake. We will also be ensuring the government sticks to its own deadline of September 2018 to fulfil its promise to implement the necessary changes to the policy which will allow foster carers of 3-4 year olds to access free childcare afforded to children of the same age not in care.
The GMB represents foster carers in all of our 9 regions and we will continue to support our foster carers as individuals and as a collective. More foster carers are joining the GMB to ensure they are a part of campaigning for these exciting changes. Details of all our campaigns, reports and information on joining can be accessed at www.gmbyorkshire.org.uk/foster_carers
Lead Organiser for Foster Carers