PART VIII FOSTERING AND KINSHIP CARE ALLOWANCES
Regulation 33, Allowances
This regulation covers payments to both foster and kinship carers. Guidance for kinship carer payments is under Part V. The aim of the Concordat with local government, which runs to 2011, is that this group of looked after children should be on an equal footing with those in foster carer so far as financial support is concerned, because similar issues apply to them as to children in foster care. This is addressed more fully in the guidance to PART V KINSHIP CARE
Regulation 33 makes provision for the local authority to pay such allowances "as they see fit" to a range of people:
(a) a foster carers or kinship carer;
(b) the carer of a child subject to a supervision requirement from the Children's Hearing, when he is she is not the child's parent; and
(c) anyone with parental responsibilities and rights under a permanence order with whom the child is residing.
In considering the payment of allowances, the local authority should be conscious of their overall responsibilities towards children who are looked after and accommodated by them. There is a strong expectation that the care provided will reflect the quality of care that children would receive from concerned parents. The emphasis on family-based care reflects a belief in good parenting. This places an expectation about the provision of care by foster carers. This is within the context of the wider governmental strategies at any time, about the aspirations for all Scotland's children and any additional concerns about vulnerable groups of children.
Foster carers are therefore charged with providing not just basic care but optimum care for looked after children. This includes:
- a healthy diet and good physical care;
- opportunities for stimulation and exercise;
- development of social skills and participation in activities in the community;
- building self esteem, including good presentation and acceptability by peers;
- a safe and comfortable environment;
- full inclusion in special celebrations such as birthdays, Christmas or other cultural or religious events.
Fostering allowances should ensure that children are offered high quality physical care and provision, and also that they have the opportunities to fill some of the gaps in experience that are often found in looked after children. Within the fostering household, children should not experience any sense of disadvantage, nor should the lifestyle of the foster family be financially disadvantaged by the placement.
While there is no statutory amount stated for allowances, the Fostering Network provides a recommended rate for children at different ages and stages, and this is updated annually. This guidance recommends that local authorities pay attention to this in setting their own allowances.
The issue of the interplay between fostering allowances and benefits is complex and open to continuing change in the wider benefits system. Added to this is the question of fees, where these are offered, and tax implications. Social workers who assess and support foster carers should have basic information about the range of financial implications for carers and be able to access more extensive advice on such matters.
Regulation 33 does not make any reference to fees to foster carers. In order to sustain some very challenging children in foster care, extra financial support was offered originally through enhanced allowances. There were concerns in this about identifying and 'labelling' difficult children. There was also a perceived risk of the loss of enhancement if carer input significantly reduced the difficult behaviour. It is open to local authorities to decide whether to offer a reward element for foster carers, over and above the allowances paid for the cost of providing care. An increasing number do this, normally as fees, so that foster carers are regarded as self employed. There are a number of reasons for this including:
- the growing recognition of the level of skills required for fostering and an expectation that carers participate in ongoing training;
- the inclusion in the criteria for approval of foster carers of their ability to work as part of a team, and therefore be included as a full member of the local authority team alongside professional staff;
- the range of tasks expected of foster carers being extended beyond direct care of children, to provision of reports; record keeping which may be evidenced in assessments, care planning and court processes; and participation in meetings;
- the need to recruit an increasingly resourceful and skilled pool of foster carers leading to consideration of foster carers as an alternative home-based career for people who had the necessary attributes. Foster care needed, therefore, to be a realistic and viable alternative.
Local authorities and registered fostering services should ensure that their handbook for foster carers covers these issues.
Local authorities should also have schemes and systems for paying allowances to those covered in regulation 33(1)(b) and (c) if such carers are not foster or kinship carers