The Foster Care Workers Union speaks with foster carers facing difficult situations every week and one of the issues we hear about regularly is the dilemmas people face when they become ill. We have members who have postponed important operations as the timing didn’t suit the needs of the young people and others who have made difficult decisions about weighing up their need for treatment and the needs of the children in their care. This account is based on one such story and we have used the name Michelle to protect the foster carer and the children’s identities.
I am a foster carer in the North West of England and to start I want to say that I love what I do. I’ve been doing this for just over 8 years now and I normally look after 2 small children. This is my speciality because I was a nursery nurse for many years and when our family decided to look into fostering my social worker and everyone else agreed that this should be our focus.
Over the years I have been very busy. I have loved and cared for over 15 children in that time, Some have stayed for just a few weeks and the longest was with us for over 2 years before he was adopted by his new family. At that time saying goodbye to this small boy was the hardest thing I had ever done but last summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I faced an even bigger test.
My treatment started with chemotherapy and it very quickly became clear that I couldn’t be a full time foster carer while I was dealing with this treatment. Plans were quickly put in place to move the 2 little ones to new fostering families and we said tearful goodbyes not knowing if we would see these beautiful children again.
The following week it was devastating to learn that I wasn’t entitled to any sick pay, in fact I was told I owed my local council several hundred pounds as they felt I had been overpaid. Within the space of a few weeks I had lost my health, my much loved role as a foster carer and now my income and the reality of my situation became very real. My partner, who is a self employed painter and decorator, had to take on extra work so we could pay our rent, our council tax and our bills at a time when he desperately wanted to be at home looking after me. This was really stressful as we had moved to a new 3 bedroom house 4 years ago to give us more space to foster and this was obviously a costly thing to do.
I won’t go into the details but my treatment was really hard but I am pleased to let you know that in January of this year I had a scan that showed no sign of the cancer. At that point I went back to fostering and we were really happy to have a pair of 8 month old twins come to live with us 7 weeks ago. We were just getting into the swing of things when the corona virus hit and all of a sudden my husband’s work dried up. He will be able to claim some help from the government but will get no money until June. So at the moment the only income we have is our fostering payments and I am terrified that I become ill again. If that happens we will have nothing and I don’t know if we can survive that situation again. Following last year’s problems we have no saving left and we have already had to borrow money from my elderly mother.
I have been a loyal and hardworking foster carer for 8 years now and I am entitled to nothing if I fall ill with corona virus and cannot work. I find this so unfair and like thousands of other fostering families I am calling on the government not to forget us and the children we love and care for at the same time
If you’ve been moved by this blog, please sign the petition calling for Statutory Sick Pay for foster carers.