Foster carers demand the same legal rights as council workers

Foster carers are fighting to gain the same rights as other local authority workers and calling for greater legal protection, after Norfolk County Council was ruled to have acted unlawfully in removing two teenagers from a placement without consultation.

The case involved foster carer Raymond Bewry, who raised concerns with the council in May 2009 about the care of asylum-seeking children. At the time of the complaint, he had been fostering two teenage asylum seekers. But in August 2009, while the children were away on a respite break, the council held a meeting without the knowledge of Bewry or the children in his care, and decided to stop the placement.

Despite winning a High Court case last month, Bewry, who is now chair of Norfolk’s foster care association, is unable to start tribunal proceedings with the council because foster carers are not covered under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

“Two-thirds of children in care are cared for by foster carers and for them not to be covered is ridiculous,” he said. “The government needs to make amendments to ensure that all people working with children and young people are covered.”

Bewry has also written to Ofsted, calling for the inspectorate’s guidance for whistle-blowers to be changed. The guidance lists foster carers as one of the groups that can report concerns about services or practices to the watchdog’s hotline. But it also states that the Public Interest and Disclosure Act 1998 does not protect the self-employed, which includes foster carers.

Children’s services union Aspect is also awaiting the ruling of a High Court case in which another foster carer who worked for Norfolk County Council was not given permission to have union representation at a panel hearing.

John Chowcat, general secretary of the union, said: “This is a kind of test case for the general right to have a voice in these major decisions. At the moment there are local panels that can make decisions over whether a foster carer remains on the list at a local authority or local agency. In other words, their livelihood as a foster carer can be removed but they don’t have clear rights of representation.”

Tom Savory, assistant director of children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said council staff do support foster carers. “We strive to have an open relationship with our carers and value their input into a child’s care plans, wherever this is appropriate. In terms of raising any issues, we are open to the concerns of our carers and they are able to speak to their supervising social worker, child’s social worker or the corporate parenting manager if they want to raise any issues.”

Foster carer rights

    * Foster carers are considered to be self-employed and as such are not to be regarded as being covered by worker or employee rights legislation
    * The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, also known as the “whistleblowing act”, gives legal protection to workers who raise concerns about services or practice
    * Since foster carers are not classed as workers or employees of councils, they are not protected under this act if they wish to raise a concern about their local authority
    * Junior children’s minister Tim Loughton has said a foster care charter will be published to outline how councils should support foster families