Foster parenting: a vocation or a way to make extra money?
Following the Baby P tragedy, there's been a massive upsurge in the number of children being taken into care.
A report by the Fostering Network in 2011 found that an extra 9,000 foster carers would be needed this year in order to cope with the upsurge in youngsters needing families.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Money maker or life changer?
We're always writing about ways to make some extra cash, from writing e-novels to more life-changing schemes like joining the TA.
But there's one way to make some extra cash that's far more life changing than any part-time job – fostering the country's most vulnerable children.
How much can you make by fostering and just how challenging is it? Are carers paid enough and should it rise? And should pay ever be a motivating factor?
Essentially, is fostering a way to earn some extra money or is it a labour of love?
How much do foster carers earn?
So how much can households make by providing a home for a vulnerable child? Paul Adams is a fostering development consultant at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).
He explains: "There is a national minimum allowance for fostering, a government-stipulated rate.
No fostering agency can pay less than that, that's designed to meet the needs of the child."
That rate varies between £114 and £201 a week, depending on location and the age of the child. If that sounds generous then it's worth bearing in mind that the costs associated with a foster child can be far higher than those of a birth child.
For example, carers may have to drive youngsters some distance to visit birth parents. Children who've had upsetting experiences may be more prone to bedwetting, for example, or more likely to cause damage in the home.
Adams continues: "On top of those allowances, there is a fee or reward for the carer. What carers routinely report is that it's not something they do to make themselves wealthy but that in order to foster they need some sort of income."
Is foster caring a full-time job?
When you think of fostering, you probably imagine families caring for children full-time and over extended periods.
But you could help ease the overstrained care system by simply offering short respite care to children.
Adams explains: "Lots of children come into care for short periods of time. Some carers can provide weekend respite care, it very much depends on the needs of the particular fostering agency.
"I actually was a foster carer a few years ago, working full time and offering foster care for young children at weekends. Lots of short break carers are also people in full time work."
What do potential fosters need to offer? "Usually, people will be expected to have a spare bedroom, although there are some exceptions, for example if you're fostering babies.
"They need to have the time to look after the child. They need to want to meet the needs of children who've had difficult experiences.
"Foster carers are recruited from such a wide range of people. We encourage anyone who's interested to contact a local agency. It's frustrating that some people think they can't do it and write themselves off because they think they need a partner, car, or to own their own home."
How tough is fostering?
We spoke to Niki Watkiss, a mother of three grown-up children from Durham. She began fostering two years ago and so far has cared for eight children, for periods ranging from a few weeks to more than a year at a time.
Right now, she's caring for two-year-old twins as well as a four-month old baby, and shared her thoughts on the challenges of fostering.
"I suppose the challenge is the first week when you get a new child. When they arrive, you may not have any background information because the paperwork hasn't caught up, so that first week can be a real challenge...
"You also tend to find that if children have been neglected then they may be developmentally delayed."
But she's clear the positives outweigh the challenges: "The rewards are watching the children achieve things – the little tiny steps like getting them toilet trained or watching them play for the first time. Sometimes they have never really been played with before coming to you."
Is it a career or vocation?
Niki gave up a career as a computer programmer to begin work as a foster carer, so does she consider it to be a vocation or career?
"It is a job. It's a strange one because it's a cross between a job and a vocation. But there is a career path in a way, there's a lot of opportunities to grow your education and take courses."
How important is the money? Niki suspects she spends both her allowance and her fee on caring for the youngsters. She says: "Like any job it would be nice to get more. It is a profession at the end of the day; we have to deal with court reports and a lot of paperwork. For that side of it, we are at the lower paid end. And a lot of the money gets spent on the children anyway."
Paul Adams adds: "The motivation for looking after foster children isn't a financial one currently and I think that's right. By and large, when foster carers are talking about the challenges, they don't complain that they don't have enough money.
"I don't think that money is the most pressing issue. Having said that, if we look at other aspects of society, things we value tend to be paid more and I'd certainly argue that foster carers need to be valued much more."
If you're interested in fostering, you can call Fosterline for information and advice. It's a free helpline run by the Fostering Network and is open from 9am to 5pm each day, and until 8pm on Wednesdays. The number is 0800 040 7675.
Have you ever considered fostering? Do you think it's a career or a vocation? Are people wrong if they look into it as a way of earning some extra money? Share your thoughts and experiences with the writer and other readers in the comments below.
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