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Foster carers protest outside meeting

Devon County Council insists it is investing more

Devon County Council’s cabinet unanimously voted to introduce a ‘fairer and equitable’ system for allowances that would centre the fees on the needs of the child, rather than the current system where it depends on the tier of the carer.

The changes mean 50 per cent of carers (135 carers) will received an increase in fees, for 10 per cent they will stay the same, but for 40 per cent (108 carers), they will lose out.

Those carers will continue to receive their current fees for two years or until the child leaves the placement, but scores of carers protested outside county hall before the meeting and booed the cabinet as they made their final decision.

Twenty carers had grilled Cllr James McInnes, cabinet member for children’s services, over the ‘grossly unfair cuts’ at the start of the meeting.

Lorraine Taylor said: “You say you are putting children first, but we say the proposals are flawed. How can you expect foster carers to accept lower allowances, with higher expectation, and no reduction to our workload?”

Anne Purdy said: “How will you convince me to stay with the Devon Fostering Service under this new pay structure which is unfair and penalises many of us?”

Deborah Simpson simply said: “If you valued us, you wouldn’t do this to us,” while Teresa West said that carers felt that the ‘consultation was merely a tick box exercise.”

But Cllr McInnes said: “The safety of and looking after the most vulnerable members of society is the most important thing for us and this process cannot have been a tick box exercise as cabinet and our children’s scrutiny committee have adjusted the recommendation based on what you have said.

“The situation in Devon is not fair. A child with similar issues could have three different levels of payment depending on the carer. The allowance should be fair and equitable to all foster carers and I am content the scheme before cabinet today is.”

He added that the council were investing an additional £2.6m into the foster carer service over the next three years.

However, Cllr Claire Wright, speaking on behalf of a group of foster carers, said that some foster carers were already contacting lawyers about a judicial review into the decision and called on cabinet to delay any decision.

She said that: “Over a hundred of the most experienced carers will lose between £5,000 and £15,000 a year, which is unacceptable. It will damage livelihoods and children.

“Carers feel deeply disappointed with the way that they have been treated, the proposals are counter-productive as some carers will either leave or it will unaffordable for them to stay, their proposal for the scheme to only apply to new carers has been ignored and there is no evidence that more foster carers will be recruited.

“Many foster carers say they will be forced to leave the service if these changes are approved and the biggest losers will be the children.

“Some foster carers already contacting lawyers about a judicial review  so please delay any decision while you look into this.”

Cllr Frank Biederman said that foster carers were the most special people he had met in public life, but said: “We have to remember that children are at the centre of this.”

He echoed the calls for the cabinet to step back and give themselves another month before making a decision as foster carers had not been consulted on the final proposal, saying: “I don’t want us to get this wrong. We need to get this right.”

Cllr Alistair Dewhirst said he was saddened with how we got to the situation where foster carers were protesting in such numbers.

He said: “It was a project done with the best of intentions by people who really do care about children in Devon that had led to the situation we have now where half the cohort of foster carers and plainly incredibly upset at the process and the end result.”

And Cllr Rob Hannaford, chairman of the children’s scrutiny committee, said that it would appear the changes proposed by the committee didn’t go far enough in the eyes of foster carers.

He said: “We tried to build some things back into the system to mitigate the changes and so we are not throwing the baby out of the bathwater. The scrutiny committee did take this very seriously.”

However Cllr McInnes said: “The current system is entirely unfair. The system we are proposing to put in place is fair and equitable and is based on challenges and needs of the child.

“Devon County Council values its foster carers and the contribution that they make to the lives of many children and young people.

“In addition to creating a fair and equitable system, it is our intention by creating a more transparent fee structure, coupled with our highly regarded support for foster carers, to be in a stronger position to recruit more foster carers in the future.

“This has been a very hot issue over the last 12 months and I knew it would be a hot issue when we decided we had to do this.

“I have been determined right the way through this and I won’t be deflected from the end goal of what I want to achieve, which is that children must be at the centre of this and that we must have an allowance system that is fairer and equitable, and the current system is not.”

The cabinet also heard that some foster carers were in favour of the proposed changes.

Cllr McInnes asked the cabinet to support the recommendation, which they did so unanimously.

The new fees, which will take effect from three months’ time, mean that a weekly allowance of £229 is allocated to cover the basic expenses of caring for a child and all carers will receive the payment.

If a carer attends six training events and six support groups, the allowance will rise to £345 per week, while an extra £90 a week is allocated when the care they need to give a child requires extra support and a further £70 a week for children with more complex needs who pose a significant caring challenge.

The highest allowance would be £505 a week and would be based on the needs of the child, while the current system means that a carer could get a maximum of £397 a week to £536.

A review and evaluation of the changes will be reported to the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee in 2019.

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