Foster caring is about family, not career
Fostering is not a job; it's parenting, says Laura Beveridge
Laura Beveridge - Image credit: Nick Grigg
As I read the BBC News headline ‘Foster carers bid for council employee rights’, I was stunned with anger then disappointment.
Foster carers James and Christine Johnstone from Glasgow are taking their case to a tribunal to push for the same employment rights as any other employee at Glasgow City Council.
They argue that they should receive compensation, having lost out on earnings because they haven’t had a child in their care for a year. My first thought was why would a foster parent want to be regarded as an employee?
As a parent, I do not take a lunch break, I do not take holidays and do not expect sick pay or annual leave because I’m in this for life – being Maia’s mum is part of who I am.
Children can feel and know the difference between someone who works with them and someone who truly cares for them like family.
What I am concerned about is what the impact will be on children if fostering is defined as employment in law.
Children in care are experts at reading people and many have a hard time trusting adults. If foster carers become employees, children in care will question how long those employees will stick around and their intentions.
If foster carers want the same rights as an employee, then caring for our most vulnerable children is clearly not for them and I’d encourage them to make their way to the local job centre.
Care-experienced young people need genuine people that want to welcome children into their family, claim them and always be there for them, no matter what.
The concern here is that fostering is at risk of being cemented in professionalism rather than being rooted within family.
It is ludicrous for me to think of myself as my daughter Maia’s worker. It would be devastating if foster carers called themselves ‘foster care workers’ because of the implications on their relationship with children.
We cannot put love on a job description and we shouldn’t. Fostering is not a job; it’s parenting.
I believe that we need to have an entirely different conversation and children and young people need to be at the centre of that discussion.
What about what children in care have to say? What about what children in care need? What about a child’s right to family life?
One of the key issues is how we are bringing people into caring. It should not be a recruitment drive. It is an opportunity to become a parent and give a child a home.
Edinburgh City Council’s current campaign poster for fostering says: ‘Find out about a career in fostering’.
If fostering is advertised as a career, what message does this send our carers and more importantly, what message is this sending our children and young people in care?
One young person that I know has had several foster homes. One of her carers didn’t invest in her emotionally, although her basic needs were met, it was made very clear to her that the foster carers were doing her a favour and she knew exactly where she stood within the family – she was an outsider.
That placement didn’t last because it wasn’t based on love.
Foster carer James Johnstone told the BBC about how most foster carers are paid fees rather than having a salary and went on to say that they “don’t have holidays, holiday pay or anything at all, and this needs to be looked at”.
I have a friend who was in foster care for over a year, in that time he never settled and never felt like he was a ‘real member of the family’.
He talked about how his carers would leave him with temporary carers while they went off to Spain on holiday without him.
This was traumatic for him, having to leave the safety of his home and live with strangers for a couple of weeks and left him feeling unloved and rejected.
I have a three-year-old daughter and no matter how challenging she is, I would not even consider sending her away for two weeks with strangers so I could go on holiday – in my opinion, this is not good parenting.
Children in care are children that need love the most, need reassurance, security and the assurance that they belong somewhere.
If foster care is an official place of work, then fostering is doomed to fail the most vulnerable children in our society. It will send the message, loud and clear, that children are not family, they are work.
An incredible foster carer I know called Sarah-Jane Linton said: “I am despondent that today’s news illustrates a view that people wish to see fostering viewed as a career or a job. I believe it’s entirely the wrong motivation.
“Every child deserves a loving home, we need to fight back against this notion that foster care is work.
“Parenting is a labour of love, whose payment is the joy of watching our children grow to become independent adults. I love my boys, we are a family. I can’t imagine my life without them.”
We need more carers like Sarah-Jane, we need to support them and we need to find them in the right way.
Elma Murray takes over from Dame Sue Bruce at the charity
Campaigners are calling for more use of social security powers to tackle child poverty
There is space to examine failure as well as celebrate success, delegates at Holyrood’s child protection event heard
Engaging Libraries is led by Carnegie UK Trust working in partnership with medical research charity, Wellcome