House of Commons Cross Party Investigation into Fostering.
Meeting Chair Ian Mearns
Panel Norman Lamb
Sir Peter Bottomley
Prior to the meeting I spend 15 minutes outside of the chamber talking to the Chair about the purpose of the meeting, the time table and my attendance at future meetings which he was happy to accommodate.
I also spoke to foster carers about their experiences and the support they received from their authority and FCA’s. I gained a mixed response, finding an inconsistent view of the LA’s across the U.K. but interestingly discovering that all the other carers came to the meeting via the trade union. Generally, the group were disgruntled and angry and came from far and wide starting at Cornwall and going as far as Liverpool via the home counties.
The meeting was stopped at one point by the division bell for the first Brexit vote which the chair and MPs were required to attend.
The meeting opened with three carers providing their own harrowing stories of poor response from their LA’s and how things needed to change. Two came from Surrey and one from Liverpool. The Surrey carers being Penelope & Ronald Jones (carers of the London Tube Bomber) and Sarah Anderson (who turned out to be the Chair of the Foster Carer Worker Branch of the IWGB Union). The Liverpool carer was Louise Allen, a lady who had been in care and had then gone on to become a foster carer.
In my view whilst they all had heart rendering, tear producing stories they all missed the opportunity to make constructive points that could be used to shape policy. It was also clear that the union had chosen who should speak and guided their presentations using the emotional prop to support their cause rather than trying to use the time to add to their case. Surrey was lambasted for its senior management approach to fostering and it’s inability to deal with real world issues, the cover up over the Tube Bomber tantamount to criminal and open to litigious action if the carers or union chose to follow that route.
The IWGB General Secretary, an American Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee, then addressed the panel, his main arguments centered around:
Giving Foster Carer’s partial employment status to cover whistle blowing, paid holiday, payment for held rooms, full professional status, sick pay especially if the illness was linked to fostering, protected income during a dispute or where bed blocking occurred through no fault of the carers.
Provision of a central register, for all carers to enable people to move LA’s which has the advantage of keeping the number of available beds as high as possible and allowing the incoming LA to accept the carer quickly.
Respite, to be separate from holidays and is seen as time required to save a placement, give the carer and their family the resilience or breathing space to enable them to continue and should be seen as a necessary and thus paid activity and not part of the normal holiday program.
Experience and Qualifications, the union were keen to see training promoted across the country at a consistent level by an independent provider who could record the training on the central register, this would include statutory training and advanced training as carers moved up the tier levels of skill.
Payment, the union made a case for a national minimum wage for carers to reflect their skills, the risks they faced and the hours they worked. No financial figure was suggested but comparisons were made with the money social workers and other professionals earned who worked less hours and did not look after children on a one to one basis.
Dr. Moyer Lee was an excellent speaker and used his knowledge of employment law and his work on the central arbitration committee to push his points and contacts very well, however, I felt (and from their looks so did the panel members) that he lost some credibility when he used his summary to suggest that the IWGB should be the business used to host the central register and that they were well placed to provide the training across the whole of the UK.
We then went to questions and comments from the floor, I used that to try and add balance by pointing out that not all LAs were run so badly and that Suffolk could be a model on how relationships should be with carers and their FCA, s. I did support the concept of a central register for carers and asked if I could provide a case study for the next meeting. I propose to use the LADO experiences from Suffolk and the steps taken to improve both understanding of the process and the support being offered by SFCA with the service as a way of building future support for the new proposed white paper on fostering.
After the meeting broke I managed to have a few moments separately with both Norman Lamb and Dr. Moyer-Lee discussion how we may assist the work of the panel and trying to add balance to the arguments. Lamb seemed interested, but I am not sure the union are listening to anything but their own agenda.