Minimum Allowance For Foster Carers To Be Introduced

A national minimum allowance for foster carers will be introduced for the first time in England, Children’s Minister Parmjit Dhanda has said. From April next year, the national minimum allowance for a baby will start from £100 and rise up to £116 per week for foster carers in London. For teenagers aged 16 and 17 allowances will range from £151 to £176 per week. Foster carers in London will receive the highest allowance.

Mr Dhanda said councils will receive £63m from April 2007 to April 2008 to help improve the lives of children and young people in their area, including providing more support for foster carers. Councils are receiving an extra £22.5m this financial year.

But the Fostering Network, which has more than 35,000 members, said today the rates were “still far too low”. The charity said their research showed that foster carers in London with a 16 or 17-year-old would need a minimum rate of £239.39 per week for the same period.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “The proposed rate will be good news for those foster carers who currently receive very low allowances but they will still leave thousands of foster carers out of pocket.

“The Government’s proposed allowances do not take into consideration a number of key costs including housing and transport. Fostering services will have to pay above the Government levels to ensure all their foster carers have their costs fully covered.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) said: “The National Minimum Allowance will help ensure that those carers currently receiving unacceptably low levels of allowances receive a fair level in future and will improve the transparency and consistency of payment systems.

“However, regional variation exists at present, and in some areas carers are already receiving reasonable overall levels of payment. Where this is the case, Local Authorities should not reduce their payments if they are currently above the level of the Minimum Allowance and we have made this clear in the guidance that we are issuing today.”

Mr Dhanda said local authorities would also continue to get an extra payout of around £60m per year as part of the Children’s Services Grant, to improve fostering services.

The DfES has also published guidelines for councils explaining the system.

Mr Dhanda said: “We recognise the real progress that local authorities and independent fostering agencies have made in improving fostering allowances in recent years. The role of foster carers is unique and invaluable – they provide the security of a family home for very vulnerable children with varied and complex needs. Getting the support right for foster carers – including financial support – is an important priority for this Government.”

The minimum allowance was calculated following a nationwide public consultation on proposals drawn up by DfES following advice from people working in fostering.

Mr Dhanda said: “As a result of comments made during the consultation, the allowance levels have been increased.”

The allowance rates will be monitored by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. The rates will be revised annually in line with inflation.

Previously local authorities decided how much foster carers should receive.

There are more than 60,000 children and young people in the care system on “any given day” in England, 42,000 of whom live with 37,000 foster families, according to the Fostering Network.

David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the charity welcomed the Children’s Minister’s announcement.

He said: “BAAF welcomes the setting of national minimum allowance rates for foster care. Looking after other people’s children costs money and foster carers need to have these costs fully covered if they are to have a fighting chance of giving these children the stability and security they so desperately need. BAAF is sure that the 25% of local authorities that need to raise the rates they currently pay to meet the Government’s suggested rates will do so.

“Let’s be clear, these national minimum allowances are for the basics. It is money to pay for the essential costs of looking after a child: food, clothes, transport, toys. Let’s also be clear, these are minimum allowances.

“Many local authorities are already paying more and this can only be good for the children in their care. This important development needs to be part of a continuing and concerted effort to ensure that when children become the responsibility of the State, for as long as this lasts, they can and will get the best.”