Wednesday, September 28, 2016


You may have caught on the news that a group of foster carers (and former foster carers) have formed a trade union attached to the Independent Workers of Great Britain.

The carers say they are concerned about their lack of employment rights - such as sick pay - and not having representation when disputes arise.

Anything that's good for children in care is good for fostering, and if having a trade union is good for foster carers and it results in a better deal for children then bring it on, but fostering is special.

Everyone thinks their case is special and that they are hard done by - it's a universal - but I've had dozens of different jobs and am absolutely certain that the only truly unique job is the one I'm proud to have right now; fostering.

I heard one of the carers on Jeremy Vine along with a rep from the union they are attached to, the IWGB. The carer sounded great; she had been fostering a long time and had looked after over a hundred kids. She talked about how hard the job is and the many rewards. I noticed she asked to be referred to as 'not her real name', then she appeared to use a different pseudonym on the BBC website and yet a third false name in a newspaper interview. She is presumably worried about her job security if her fostering provider found out she was helping set up a union, which must be harrowing for the poor woman and gives insight into the practices of some fostering providers.

So who is the trade union the foster carers are signed up with? According to their own website;

"..the founders of the IWGB were initially involved with the T&G and then the UNITE Justice for Cleaners Campaigns. As a result of lack of democracy they left UNITE to join the "Cleaners Branch" of the Industrial Workers of the World. However as a result of political differences as well as a lack of control over their own resources the organisers left to found the IWGB".

My understanding is that besides the new foster carers branch the IWGB have 3 other branches representing cleaners, security guards and couriers. These are three groups of workers who are indeed likely to be vulnerable to job insecurity, abject pay and unacceptable work conditions.

But are foster carers in the same boat? We are carefully screened before approval then given massive support, supervision and training which surely elevates our job to that of a profession. We aren't 'paid', but given an 'allowance'. The foster carer who spoke to Jeremy Vine repeatedly said that fostering is 24/7 which, if paid merely the minimum wage would result in a weekly income of £1,200* If normal rules applied we wouldn't be allowed to work the timesheets we do. I've been up through the night a good few times, but the average normal day (especially during school holidays) is 15 hours, seven days a week which is 105 hours, compared to the maximum allowed = 48 hrs**

* before tax.

** unless the employee 'opts out'.

Surely the only employment contract that might cover fostering would be one of those zero hour ones, who wants that?

The biggest bugbear for me would be any interference with the essential parent/child nature of fostering. Yes, fostering is a profession in my view, but above and beyond that it is something almost mysterious, intangible. It is an expression of one of nature's sweetest and most valuable urges; the urge to help children stand and walk on their own two feet. Every animal, especially the mother, is marbled through with this drive. It's powerful and yet beautiful.

For me, trade unions are essential. They do much more than take their members out on strikes, they actually have a proud history of doing things such as forcing employers to put safety guards on factory lathes so that no more women were dragged to death or disfigurement by their hair.

So good luck to the fostering branch of the IWGB, and good luck to all your branches. Your fostering campaign can begin by trying to get our voice heard with the new government review of fostering which has just been announced.

But I would say this to foster carers who are unhappy and feel vulnerable; don't spend too much time worrying or hoping someone else will front up your problems; it's a free market, shop around.

Look out an agency which offers a better deal, they are out there.


  1. I haven't been following this very closely in the news but I think it highlights something I've been thinking for a long time - There is a big disparity between LA carers and IFA carers.

    We're IFA, and compared to what we heard about the LA, our allowances are higher and the support is better. These were essential for us the hubby was giving up work to be a full time carer so we need a similar level of income, and we hadn’t been parents so wanted to know we’d have a strong support network. We do work closely with the LA that our children come from, however I know our IFA would step up if we had problems, a luxury that LA carer’s won’t have.

    So I wonder if the majority of the carers who are advocating for a union are LA, and if not why they didn’t just move to an IFA? I suspect they all have their reasons (I was told that babies and “easy” kids go to LA carers - maybe they have heard IFA just get teens and challenging children).

    Be interesting to see what the union membership is, and what they do.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Mooglet.
    In addition to your observations, which I think are very accurate, I suspect that carers find themselves believing that if you switch provider you have to undergo the approval process all over again, which is not the case. There is a process of re-verification which possibly varies from LA to IFA, but it's more streamlined than people think.