First ever foster carers union formed

Children|September 20th 2016

A group of British foster carers have formed the profession’s first ever trade union.

Yesterday 60 current and former foster carers gathered in a Parliament committee room to vote in favour of unionising.  At the meeting, they expressed worries about their legal rights, including pay, pensions and paid leave. One person who spoke at the gathering said they did not know “anyone else who works and doesn’t get a pension, sick pay, holiday pay, or recognition as a professional”.

Foster carers are paid an allowance to cover the cost of taking a child into their home. This can range from £150 to £500 each week. They also receive an additional fee based on their own level of experience.

However, they are not officially recognised as employees as they do not have contracts of employment with the local authorities or private agencies they work for. As they are technically not employees, they do not qualify for the legal rights which come with that status such as a minimum wage, sick pay or holiday pay.

Another point of concern for the 60 professionals who met in Parliament was due process. Currently, they have very little input when children are removed from their care. Sometimes, they are even left entirely out of the decision-making process.

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell attended the meeting. He supported the foster carer’s vote to form a union, saying they provided “an essential role in our society, and … carry a burden for the rest of our community so they should be properly recognised”.

Foster carers “have never really been recognised and had legal rights”, he declared.

The meeting was called by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. General Secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee believed a foster carers union represented a step in the right direction. Carers “form part of a professional network responsible for looking after some of society’s most vulnerable individuals” he said, stating that “foster care workers should be remunerated properly, treated fairly, and have recourse to due process”.

Photo by Spirit-Fire via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(25)

  1. Diana Tough says:

    Please could I have details of how to join…thank you…regards Diana

  2. Catherine brooks cotterell says:

    I currently work for a private fostering agency, who are about to announce that they are reducing our holidays from 21 days to 14. I have been with them 10 years and am extremely unhappy about this along with the majority of careers who work there. I would like to join a union please could you advise how to go about this – thanks

  3. denise ilott says:

    Same question how can carers join . This is long overdue to protect carers , regards Denise

  4. Tony Hudson says:

    The foster carers union will be a branch of the IWGB, and from what I understand the details of the branch are still being ironed out.

    If you want to join, I would send an email to office@iwgb.org.uk for details. Hopefully they will be able to provide more information.

  5. Rachel Harrison says:

    A great step in highlighting the plight of foster carers. GMB has been representing foster carers for over 5 years, giving them a collective voice and winning campaigns against attacks on their terms of fostering and job security. To join GMB along with hundreds of other foster carers across the country go to gmb.org.uk/join or email Rachel.harrison@gmb.org.uk

  6. Pamela says:

    I am a Shared Lives carer and our work is very much like fostering but we care for adults with learning disabilities and other problems who can’t look after themselves. We don’t get a pension or sick leave but we get respite. We are classed as self employed and don’t get a wage but an allowance. Part of this comes from housing benefit but that has just dropped. We also pay a silly amount of money for house insurance. We don’t have any rights or security. Could we join?

  7. Paul Evans says:

    I am an adopter who is in the process of adopting my third child. First two adoptions went very smoothly. Major problems with the local authority and one of the social workers. The GMB Union has been invaluable in helping with the issues caused by him.
    Would recommend any foster or adoption parents to join a union.
    You can join the GMB online at GMB.org.uk

  8. Debbie Hunter says:

    This news is joy to my ears we have been fostering for eight years with an independent FA
    Our allowance is less now than it was eight years ago our respite has dropped from 21 night to 14 nights with no warning and all our placement have gone onto stranded.
    like someone else mentioned we are self employed but not allowed to work for any other agency
    we don’t get a pension unlike the staff on the books.
    And when an allegation is made your allowance stops unlike Teachers, police or any other profession
    WE NEED A FOSTERING UNION

  9. JamesB says:

    I agree it is good news. Children need helping, especially with mothers spending increasing time at work and the old people having all the money they need help.

    Perhaps non resident parents could be allowed to join part time and help out where we are excluded from our own children’s lives. Family centres like in Australia may be good also. We also need assumption of shared care 50:50. Many children are neglected growing up and it is not right that we enforce that more and more with more work for mothers and less fathers.

  10. JamesB says:

    By less fathers I mean less live in Dads. We also need less professional liberals like cafcass and Prison Officers Association treating men as criminals. I hope this union will be better than the POA and take their members as they are the most looney left organisation I have come across the way their cafcass members treat fathers is a disgrace..

  11. hayat hewitt says:

    I am a foster carer with local authority in Scotland and its about time we have a union , so I would like information on how I can join a union ,, nationwide or Scottish one
    Iused to be a member of unison in my previous jobs

    • Rachel Harrison says:

      GMB is representing foster carers all over the UK. Scotland included. Contact Scotland regional office for more details 0141 332 8641

    • Kirsten Gronning says:

      You may be in interested in my post below pointing out that the GMB was not the union which was formed by foster carers at Parliament (and the subject of this blog post). My Scottish colleague Jane is officer for Scotland and would be delighted to hear from you: scotland@fcwu.org.uk

  12. Mike Herbert says:

    With the season of austerity which is an excuse to attack the most vulnerable in society, local authorities have been hit too, Foster carers have no voice and they seem to be the easy way out for local authorities to cut their allowances. Fostering is a job whether people agree or not, they are told what they should do, they are disciplined without representation and have no say in what monies they are entitled to. To be told that their fuel allowance is to be cut, parking tickets not to be paid is just not on. Of course foster carers have to have a passion for what they do, but they are now being taken advantage of.. If people in authority think that there are a queue of people wanting to foster when foster carers are being treated like they are is a joke. Foster carers need to be organized and have one voice, challenge everything that your local authority want to do, foster carers have issues, if you don’t come together and organize, it will only get worse. The good thing about being organized and in a trade union is, you would have the best legal advice to guide and help you to challenge what is coming ahead.

  13. Paula says:

    I am a foster carer and have been a victim of closet racial social worker n Scotland, when i wanted to adopt my 2nd foster child we were told u cant as the child ethnicity was the 1st and foremist, i am white the child was white and my husband Asian our 2 children are almost white, he would arrive late at our house when challenged for his time keeping he would argue with us other than apologise when challenged 3times still so apology, at panel meeting he would say hello to everyone but us, was told if 2 white parents stood there and you and your husband we would pick the white parents, will this union be the same for Scotland. And do we have a form page to chat to each other
    Thanks guys
    Paula

  14. Paula says:

    Thanks guys

  15. Kirsten Gronning says:

    Working for Rights, Equality and Standards in the Foster Care Industry – The Foster Care Workers Union, a branch of the IWGB

    In less than 3 months since foster carers voted at Parliament to form their own union … we recently launched a website, Facebook and Twitter pages which announce we are up and running and working for long overdue rights, equality and standards for in the fostering industry. Links here:

    W: fcwu.org.uk
    F: facebook.com/iwgbfostercareworkersbranch
    T: twitter.com/FCWUnion

    We are making some bold endeavours to seek more rights and protection via legal means (Parliamentary group) as well as possibly supporting future campaigns at local levels. Joining the union is the primary way to support our initiatives: £9 per month per single membership (£10 per family).

    *NB. Note this is the Union which this blog post originally referred to. Any comments above referring to the GMB were the GMB union jumping on this bandwagon to increase their membership. The GMB is not a Union run by foster care workers for foster care workers – their branches are very localised. Despite fostering for six years, I was not aware of them and am yet to hear of any real change they have driven through to improve foster carer’s working conditions.*

    • Rachel Harrison says:

      I am extremely upset to read your comments referring to the GMB as jumping on the band waggon. I have personally been representing foster carers in Yorkshire for over 6 years. We now represent members in many different local authorities and agencies right across the country. You are right in that I am not a foster carer. I am a paid union official who is there to support our members 7 days a week. We are a member led organisation which means we campaign on issues that our members want us to. Foster Carers have been joining the GMB for local and national support. We have interviewed LAC and foster carers in order to submit evidence to both the education select committee inquiry into fostering and the children and social work bill. We are also working with fostering network. It is important that foster carers have a voice. Fighting and discrediting each other does not benefit foster carers. Foster Carers do need to get unionised. It is their choice which one they decide to join. We need to be fighting for the same issues together not against each other, after all that is what a union is.

      • Kirsten Gronning says:

        It was not my intention to upset you just as it may not have been your intention to promote the GMB without acknowledging the IWGB. For the benefit of clarification here, it was the latter union who were, after all, behind the blog article at the top of this page; it was their hard work which resulted in the meeting in Parliament where foster carers voted to unionise back in September.

        On your point that it is important foster carers have a voice, I couldn’t agree more. I would also argue ( though this may not be the place, even though the Marilyn Stowe blog welcomes vigorous debate!) whether ‘a voice’ is enough given that working conditions for foster carers are becoming harder and there are so many injustices going unaccounted for which are ruining the lives of foster families. It is policy that needs changing through legislation and if that is where your ‘voice’ is, so much the better, I look forward to hearing more.

        • Rachel Harrison says:

          Totally agree that it is more than just a voice. The whole system needs to change. With the assistance of our foster carer members we have submitted evidence into the fostering inquiry and also amendments to the Children’s and social work bill. However, there is a long way to go. We must continue lobbying and working with MP’S and local councillors to keep foster carer issues on the agenda. Locally foster carers are facing cuts and attacks on terms by their local authority as well as the individual horror stories we all know of. so we must continue fighting every case for individuals as well as the collective locally and nationally. I look forward to us making improvements for foster carers and their LAC in 2017.

  16. Kirsten Gronning says:

    I couldn’t agree more Rachel, the more of us highlighting the plight of Foster Care Workers the better in 2017 and beyond!
    Where the IWGB Foster Care Workers Union differs is that we are the first dedicated Union for Foster Carers, i.e. we do not work with the Fostering Network (although very happy to promote their valuable work) as they are funded by Local Authorities and Independent Fostering Agencies; we therefore suggest there might be a slight conflict of interest!
    Just so I can clarify for readers, we are the only Union challenging the non-working status of Foster Care Workers, and have already set up an APPG with prominent MP’s which starts this month.
    Another important difference is that our *entire* executive committee is made up of Foster Carers – we really understand in depth the issues that are close to our hearts, and unless you are a foster Carer it’s impossible to properly comprehend what we feel, the way we are treated and what we go through.
    Foster Carers can of course choose which Unions they would like to join, but we must say we have been blown away by the rapid growth of our membership; foster carers wishing to support our initiatives can easily sign up here: http://www.fcwu.org.uk
    I think we are all in agreement IT’S TIME FOR REAL CHANGE
    Thanks for your contributions Rachel, very much appreciated.

  17. Fiona Lock says:

    Just what I need to join. SOH needed ! I have e mailed 2x addresses. Hope to here from you soon.

    Kindest Fiona Lock

  18. Winston Smith says:

    Foster Carers are contractors or agents for the local authority and not its employees, so can’t form a union. They can however form a professional association. But FC’s receive very large payments and there are frequent problems with the child’s contact with parents and allegations made by FC’s

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