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Fostering under Covid: Pamela’s story

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 Pamela’s. You can watch the full session here: https://www.facebook.com/IWGBfostercare/videos/250151702993861/

I have been fostering for nearly 20 years and currently have a few long term children, having just adopted one of them. I’ve fostered all age groups, from babies, right up to 18 year olds and everything in between. My motivation for fostering came from when I was younger during the troubles in Northern Ireland. My parents fostered a lot of children and took care of them. They had often experienced trauma and were very unhappy,  but when they stayed with us, they felt protected, they felt safe and became happy children. They have stuck with me through my life. When I had a child of my own, a friend of mine, a foster carer, looked after her while I worked. I saw what a good job she was doing, and although as a single parent I wasn’t sure I could do it, when my daughter turned 5, I decided to become a foster carer. 

Before speaking about the difficulties of foster care work, I want to say that I love fostering. I love the children, I love my work.

Before speaking about the difficulties of foster care work, I want to say that I love fostering. I love the children, I love my work. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do. But, In recent years, the challenges of foster care have become quite overwhelming for a lot of foster carers. The lockdown is the biggest challenge of all, with the children not going to school. There’s been immense pressure put on us by social services in relation to children’s education. The schools in our area haven’t been open for anybody, not even children in care. This has put a lot of pressure on all families, but particularly for children in care who are often already behind in school. 

Another enormous difficulty is the financial worry involved in fostering. Like many foster parents in Northern Ireland, I don’t get paid a fee at all, just an allowance that’s meant to cover the costs of the child. But the allowance we are given doesn’t cover what we spend on the children. In the last six months, the teenager I have has trashed her bedrooms and broken household items including the TV. I usually replace things without saying anything, but this was so much. After asking the social worker for some money to replace things, I was told to simply make a claim on insurance. But the bottom line is that it should be on the local authority to pay for that stuff, not us.

At the start of lockdown, we were given a hundred pounds extra per family. It didn’t matter if you had one child or four children in your care, that was to cover everybody and it was a one time thing. There’s been no other money given to any of us. It doesn’t cover the extra art supplies, extra books, toys, the extra food and heating, because the children are now home 24/7. 

Another worry, especially as a single carer, is if I fail ill with coronavirus – what happens then? For instance, when I had vertigo in January, I was in bed for a week and I was lucky to have my sister live with me and help me out with the children during that time. But right now there is no respite and no foster carers available, so if I get sick, the children will be taken away. I can’t ask my sister, as she has lung problems, so is isolating. If I fall sick, how will I pay my bills? I don’t. That’s what it comes down to. 

[After a false allegation]… the children were taken away from me. I was left with nothing. I was left bankrupt.

I have had similar experiences in the past. I was fostering a brother and sister, and after four years, she made an allegation at which point both children were taken away from me. Everything stopped. I was left with nothing. I asked social services if they could help me out and they said: ‘not our problem’. I was left bankrupt. I was lucky that after four months, they found out that the allegation was untrue. His sister didn’t come back, because she wanted to go home (that was why she had made the allegation), but the boy returned and I fostered him for 10 years in the end. 

We are a service that is a necessity not a luxury. We should be given a salary and an allowance that covers the costs of raising these children in our care. 

There is no other unpaid, voluntary role that is 24/7, 365 days a year. Where you cannot choose how many hours you do, how many days you work. I don’t blame any individual social worker, or any local authority or NHS trust, because I know they are pinched for money. But they do need to make it easier for us to care for our children. This is only going to happen with sick pay, holiday pay and a proper fee. Without these things, a lot of foster carers will leave and in the last year, I personally know a number who left because they are burnt out. In reality, if there aren’t any foster carers, where will these vulnerable children go? We are a service that is a necessity not a luxury, therefore we should be given a salary and an allowance that covers the costs of raising these children in our care. 

With thanks to IWGB volunteer Gazelle Mba for writing up this testimonial

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