Fostering in England - Inquiry Launched

1st December 2016

It may seem rather cold to define the homes in which foster carers raise children as a ‘workplace’ given the love, warmth and parental care they seek to provide, but the reality is that those who offer their homes to children in need are afforded fewer legal rights and protections than those in more conventional employment.

An inquiry into foster carers in England has been launched by the Education Committee to look at a range of fostering issues including recruitment and retention, available foster care places and the relationships and cooperation between carers and local authorities.

Obtaining basic employment rights like sick and holiday pay was one of the reasons that foster carers voted to unionise back in September, with carers making the argument that at the very least they should be treated like other professionals.

As the UK’s leading whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work (PCaW) has a unique insight into how individuals are able to raise concerns and in the efficacy of organisational processes to investigate and address problems. We believe foster parents need to be given whistleblowing protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. At present they fall outside of the Act’s provisions meaning any such parent who suffers victimisation after raising concerns has no legal recourse for their treatment.

PCaW is calling on the Inquiry to provide legal protection to foster parents who suffer victimisation after raising concerns and give them channels in which to raise concerns and accountability so that will not just be ignored. Local authorities need to improve how they receive and respond to foster carer concerns.

Foster carers are at a unique disadvantage in that the risks and concerns they witness may have been due to failures of the very bodies with control over the children in their care - a local authority could take steps to blacklist a whistleblower through insidious means such as withholding references or more explicitly raising concerns about their suitability to house children in the future.

If a foster carer has their children removed after speaking out, this may well prevent them and others pursuing foster caring as a career. This bad experience is likely to be passed on by other carers, further instilling a sense of fear about whistleblowing and undermining morale across the profession. A shocking case reported on BBC Radio’s File on 4 revealed the serious risks involved when foster carers are ignored (aired June 14. 2016).

Beyond fear, the belief that nothing will be done is a factor that inhibits whistleblowing across all sectors. A sure fire way to address this perception of apathy would be to make it a legal requirement that organisations investigate after receiving a disclosure from a whistleblower.

At the very least PCaW calls for local authorities to be required to have whistleblowing policies that include foster carers and giving them channels to air their concerns. These procedures have already been given a statutory footing in the health sector and financial services, with requirements that arrangements be put in place in line with whistleblowing best practice.

Foster carers perform a valuable role for the children they nurture, making a real difference to their lives and to society at large. Given the terrible failures in child protection recently it is essential foster carers are empowered to identify risks early by giving them protection and ensuring their concerns are heard.

Written by PCaW Advisor, Tom Casey

Read our submission to the Education Committee