Daniel Sinclair explores the implications of a recent Scottish court ruling the found a fostering couple should be classed as council employees
The dust is still settling after the judgement of the employment tribunal in Scotland in which foster carers James and Christine Johnstone were judged to be employees of Glasgow City Council rather than self-employed.
Despite the judge being clear that the ruling does not set a precedent for all foster carers, it does still highlight the vital role foster carers play in society and how they are treated, supported, respected and remunerated. What is clear is that it can no longer be business as usual when it comes to fostering both here in Scotland and right across the UK.
As the UK’s leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network has long campaigned for the improvement of foster care for everyone and that includes, in no small part, foster carers, without whom there would be no foster care.
One of the hot debates within fostering at the moment, of which this tribunal was a part, is around whether foster carers are professionals or "parents plus". The Fostering Network rejects this dichotomy. We believe that being treated as a professional and having a desire to offer a child the opportunity to be a full member of your family are not mutually exclusive. Showing love and being a professional are not opposite ends of a spectrum.
The debate shouldn’t be around whether foster carers are professionals but, rather, why foster carers are often not treated as such by their co-professionals. By professional, The Fostering Network means that foster carers are supervised, trained, skilled and experienced – and ought to be well respected, sufficiently remunerated, offered ongoing training and properly supported.
Specifically, The Fostering Network is calling for a range of changes including a minimum fostering allowance in Scotland (bringing Scotland in line with the situation elsewhere in the UK) and a post-18 allowance throughout the UK in order to ensure adequate funding for the care of every fostered young person until the age of 21, a fee for foster carers’ time and expertise, adequate respite provision to maintain their wellbeing, and whistleblowing rights to safeguard good practice.
We look forward to taking the opportunity that this judgement presents to work with all those involved in the lives of fostered children to make foster care the best it can be for foster carers and, vitally, for fostered children.
With the care review in Scotland underway, the onus is on the Scottish Government (along with the governments of the other UK nations) to invest adequate levels of funding and commitment to ensure that foster carers, who are looking after children on their behalf, are given every opportunity and resource to be able to do this to the highest level.