We are definitely living in interesting times.
The people have chosen to leave the largest trading union on the planet and leap into the unknown. Presumably in order to take control of our borders and build a hospital in every hamlet and so that we don’t have to enjoy the hardship of unelected officials telling us how straight (or otherwise) our cucumbers must be. Of course, as events unfolded, our democratically elected leader promptly quits and is replaced, without election, either by the populous or indeed the party. She must now be defined as an unelected official herself (she may or may not have an opinion on the straightness of our fruit and veg). Corbyn has been reconfirmed as the leader of the opposition, creating, for the first time in many years, a true Left Wing party.
It is against this backdrop of political turmoil that some dramatic new developments in the world of fostering have appeared. The news came in last week that sixty Foster Parents with the help of the shadow chancellor and the IWGB formed a new union for Foster Parents. The ‘FU’, perhaps?
Now, many years ago I spoke to the TUC about doing the very same thing: creating a union for Foster Parents. I felt as though if Foster Parents were ever to gain the credibility they deserved that Unionising was an obvious choice. They were quite excited, a new Union hadn’t been created for many years. This was during the reign of Tony Blair (no friend of the Unions, many opined). So we spoke about the aims and raison d’être of a fostering Union. It was as these discussions developed that it became clear to me that a union was not the right answer and I maintain that position to this day.
Let me be clear, I think Foster Parents are amazing, hard working, incredible people. To take other people’s children into their homes and offer them a chance to thrive and experience as normal an upbringing as possible is a laudable task and one that is woefully under-recognised in this country. The work that I have done over the last 15 years has been to recognise this work and increase the professional credibility of Foster Parents. In order to achieve this, of course, Foster Parents have to want it – and for me, this is key.
I am fundamentally opposed to the charity model of fostering where 'foster carers' look after children for a higher place in Heaven or for the recognition of their neighbours as somebody worth canonising, “isn’t it lovely what does Mrs B for all those waifs and strays, and I bet none of them says ‘thanks’”.
No child should be made to feel grateful for living in a family and having a cooked dinner and clean clothes all the while feeling compelled to tug at their forelocks proclaiming, “thanks Mrs B, I’ll put in a good word ‘upstairs’ when it’s my turn to meet my maker”.
Therefore, I conclude, the professional model works. A well trained, properly assessed and approved family look after children for an agreed amount of time at an agreed price and everybody understands the deal, including the child.
Some might find it odd that I am opposed, at this stage, to the Union and until I see the substance of the aims and responsibilities of the Union I will hold that position. It could offer significant benefits: like a professional advice line; it could accredit CPD for the fostering profession; it could go on to become a searchable database of members so that Local Authorities can find the right family for a child in seconds. All of that would be great but was not mentioned by any of the spokespeople who attended parliament that day. No, the quotes were of “maternity pay”, “disability pay”, “sick pay” (I think we can see a theme developing here) and one of the biggest issues “minimum wage”.
It is true that Foster Parents occupy a strange middle ground between employed and self-employed. Despite failing all the tests, the Inland Revenue deems them self employed. However, ask any Foster Parent who has tried to leave the organisation that assessed them how free they are to move and you will receive incredulous feedback, laughter and perhaps anger. Foster Parents are no more self employed than those living downstairs in Downton Abbey.
But they should be.
The Union spokespeople’s resolution to resolving the hazy employment status is to fight for employment rights. My answer is to fight for “self-employment rights”. There is a Nirvana and it is one where every Foster Parent is in control of their own career. Where they take children from any organisation in the country (best fit) they invest in their own supervision, they pay for training appropriate to their needs for themselves and commission their own AHR’s and so on. To truly own their profession in every way. We trust Foster Parents to look after some of this country’s most vulnerable children – surely we can trust them to be a professional, to be self-employed, to be grown-ups!
In the words of Citizen Smith, “Power to the People”.
Last modified on Friday, 07 October 2016 10:03