At the last session for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Foster Carer Workers, members shared powerful testimonies about their experience of fostering during the Covid pandemic. Here is Maude’s. You can watch the full session here: https://www.facebook.com/IWGBfostercare/videos/250151702993861/
My husband and I have been foster carers for more than 20 years. We have four boys aged between 7 and 16. Two have challenging behaviour, one has special educational needs and one has autism. We love being carers, it is both deeply rewarding and also incredibly challenging and stressful. One of the biggest challenges is that we are categorised as independent contractors, which means we have very few rights and during this stressful time, we are very concerned about not receiving sick pay.
Even before Coronavirus, this was a big challenge. My husband has been undergoing chemotherapy for the past two and a half years, with cancer that keeps coming back. In another job, he would have taken sick leave and had at least some pay coming in. But instead, I’ve taken over the care of all the children as well as looking after him full time. He gave up his job to do fostering ten years ago to help me out, so we could take on two more boys. During this time, I’ve also been unwell myself a few times, and I’ve been on immuno-suppressants for seven years.
We don’t want the boys to be taken from us, but if we are going to provide the best care for them, we need more support.
I’ve told the local authority a few times that we are struggling and under immense stress. Their response is always: ‘if you can’t handle it, we’ll take the boys away from you’. We don’t want the boys to be taken from us, but if we are going to provide the best care for them, we need more support. Support from local authorities has been absent from day one. We are not offered any respite, as this is deemed too unsettling for the boys. We are only allowed three emergency nights a year, and it is up to them to say what is deemed an emergency. Supposedly we get four weeks unpaid holiday a year, but you never do get it, because they can never find anyone to do the respite.
Coronavirus brings its own worries, as my husband and I are both high risk. My worry is that, if we get the virus, we could both get really, really sick. And then neither of us will be able to look after the children. If that happened, I have no doubt that the children will be taken away from me in an instant. That would bring massive financial worries, on top of worries about the children. The second the children are taken away, the payments stop. No pay, no retainer, no holiday pay, no sick pay, absolutely nothing. We would have no money coming in whatsoever.
We would then have to apply for benefits, but I worry about the time it takes to get financial help in the current situation. The money wouldn’t cover our mortgage, let alone the household bills. We would lose our home and everything we have worked for in fourty years. Even if we did get better, we wouldn’t be able to foster the boys again, as they would have moved on and we might not have the space for the children, or be in the best health to take care of them.
I know some people say families get ill and you just deal with it, so why can’t foster carer’s deal with their illness without sick pay? But fostering isn’t the same as your normal, average family unit. The children who come into care often have behavioural and emotional challenges, have experienced trauma or abuse, and struggle with boundaries. They all have different backgrounds and different needs. Every night I’m up with at least one of them. I’m lucky if I get a full four hours of sleep and coronavirus has made it worse, because the boys are not getting the stimulation and the exercise that they need.
Another way it’s not like a normal family, is I have an office of bosses telling me what I can and can’t do all the time, on a daily or weekly basis. We are scrutinized and penalized for every single thing that we do, day in, day out. Everything from how the children are dressed, their schoolwork, their eating habits, their attendance at school and how much pocket money they have.
Everything and everyone is monitored constantly by social workers, everyday we have to log their behaviour, especially if something happens, and who comes and goes from our home, in case of any allegations made against us. That’s not an everyday, normal family life. On top of all this, we have many meetings with social workers, schools, contacts, siblings, parents – everything. We have to do all this with each of our boys and it all adds up to a lot of work.
When it suits social services, they speak about us as professionals… but when it comes to getting proper pay and better working conditions, they act like we are just like any other family.
We are not paid enough to do this work. It feels like when it suits social services, they speak about us as professionals. We have to be scrutinized, be accountable, keep records and attend meetings, often with very short notice. But when it suits them, like when it comes to getting proper pay and better working conditions, they act like we are just like any other family and we don’t need any other support. We are made to feel like we are complaining when we speak up and seek more support and financial help. We are threatened with being deregistered and that stops many carers from speaking up, from fear that they will lose their jobs.
In this pandemic, we should be classed as key workers. We haven’t stopped working, we have had to work harder, 24/7, because the children are not in school anymore. We are not regarded as essential workers. I feel like I’m on the bottom rung of the ladder and most other carers do as well.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the foster carer
With thanks to IWGB volunteer Gazelle Mba for writing up this testimonial