AN MHK has warned that foster carers could leave the service because of changes to how they are paid.
The concerns were raised in the House of Keys by Douglas East MHK Brenda Cannell, who claimed that proposed changes to the fee structure would mean ‘massive reductions’ to existing foster carers.
‘Some are proposing to leave the service of foster care,’ she said and questioned how this stacked up with the Department of Social Care’s intention to increase the number of children being fostered.
Social Care Minister Martyn Quayle insisted there was ‘absolutely no desire whatsoever’ for experienced foster carers to leave.
He said that from April last year, Fostering First, a registered charity which is a subsidiary of the Children’s Centre, had taken over responsibility for the fostering service on behalf of his department.
One proposed change to the payment structure involved the guaranteed retainer, of as much as £225 per week, currently paid to six foster carers, regardless of the amount of fostering they undertake.
Mr Quayle said: ‘It is proposed to remove this guaranteed retainer, where no fostering is taking place, allowing the funds to be directed to foster carers who are caring for some of the most challenging children.’
He said at the same time, the new structure would have the flexibility to pay some foster carers for short periods when they are between placements.
The minister said that Children’s Centre was consulting with those involved and he said he appreciated that some carers would not be happy with the proposed changes as it may reduce the payments they receive.
But he added: ‘However, the department believes, in total, it will provide more appropriate payments to foster carers for the responsibilities that they undertake.
‘I think the Children’s Centre and Fostering First have the best interests of the children involved, to provide a better service or, at least, more fostering services for the moneys that are being made available [to them].’
There are currently 44 registered foster carers and 52 children and young people placed in foster care.
Fostering First employs eight staff, comprising one manager, three qualified social workers, three support workers and an administrator.
The cost to the taxpayer for the current financial year was expected to be £659,572, excluding the cost of allowances made to foster carers, expected to be £936,000.
John Houghton MHK (Douglas North) said there were ‘serious concerns’ over the issue and claimed the minister had not been properly briefed – a claimed rejected by Mr Quayle.
Social Care department member Bill Malarkey MHK (Douglas South) said the guaranteed placement could be as much as £225 per week and claimed there had been one foster carer who had refused five different offers of placement.
Mr Quayle said the payment to that individual would cease.
Mrs Cannell pulled up the minister over discretionary payments, claiming the new payment structure did not mention special needs when the previous system, approved in 2004, had a ‘whole special needs range’.