Following the story published in the Bradford paper, Telegraph & Argus in January, Nigel Priestley shows the effect this is having on people’s lives. The worry is that other Council’s around the country may follow this example.
Maureen was a 59 year old grandmother when Kirklees Council decided that her grandson Liam could live with her under a Special Guardianship Order.
Special Guardianship orders are seen as a half-way house between a Child Arrangement Order and an Adoption Order. When the local authority has previously had the child in care, people like Maureen can be paid a Special Guardianship Allowance. Allowances can also be paid to carers with Child Arrangement or Adoption Orders.
Liam was a handful. Finding him a suitable fostering place would have been a challenge to Kirklees. So like many local authorities, Kirklees decided that his grandmother could care for him. But they didn’t want to pay her at the same rate as foster carers. In fact at the time Kirklees paid an allowance which was two-thirds the amount paid to foster carers.
Fostering Allowances are split into two main parts – the first is the basic allowance which covers the cost of looking after the child and the second are the fees that are paid to foster carers. Carers with SGOs, Child Arrangement or Adoption Orders should be paid the equivalent the basic allowance.
In 2010 Maureen successfully took Kirklees Council to court. The judge in Leeds confirmed that Special Guardianship Allowances had to be fixed at the same level as the basic fostering allowance.
The Court decision followed a similar previous High Court decision involving Lewisham Council in 2008.
But some local authorities still didn’t act on these judgements. In 2013 the Local Government Ombudsman hammered Liverpool when he found that 300 carers were being underpaid. The case started with a carer with a SGO being underpaid – just like Maureen. The Ombudsman ” urged other English local authorities to check their own procedures to make sure they weren’t experiencing the same problems. Many councils struggle to recruit carers, so it’s only fair that these people get the benefits and allowances they rightly deserve.”
Bradford still didn’t act.
Bradford has many Maureen’s! The Council wants to cut the Fostering Allowance because it has discovered at long last that it has not been paying the right amount to people like Maureen despite these decisions. Council officials claim that if they don’t pay properly, they say they will face expensive Court challenges. But instead of increasing the Allowance up to the same as Foster carers, they want to slash the Fostering Allowance! This will impact on both foster carers and kinship carers.
Bradford has questions to answer. Why has the Council for the last 7 to 9 years failed to comply with these court rulings? Why did they ignore the Ombudsman?
Why did the Council knowingly fail to properly support damaged children placed with relations? Research by Family Rights Group and University of Bristol confirms that many kinship carers face serious financial difficulties after taking on the care of the children. In Maureen’s case the judge noted “Mrs Barrett does not have the money to pay for the activities which would use up Liam’s energy”.
Will each carer receiving a SGO, CAO or Adoption Allowance be told what they should have been paid – and compensated? Or will carers already with their hands full caring for the children placed with them have to get expert legal advice and challenge the Council.
Right across Bradford there will be many kinship carers facing the same difficulties as Mrs Barrett – and Bradford has deliberately short-changed them.The Deputy Leader of the Council has claimed that “payments in Bradford still remain higher than in the rest of West Yorkshire.” Not according to Bradford’s recent webpage information. The Council pay £127.47 per week to foster carers with a child aged between 0-4. Kirklees and Leeds pay £142.86.
Do the sums add up? Will over £400,000 be saved? Bradford now face damages claims for the shortfall between what Bradford have been paying to Special Guardians and other carers and what they should have been paying. Two Bradford carers have already contacted me – more will follow.
It is a short sighted Plan. If the cuts go ahead, it is difficult to believe that foster carers won’t simply join the many private fostering agencies that offer better terms and conditions. Agencies will cost the Council significantly more.
Bradford has failed to consult family and friends carers but if they had what message does it give? Many carers have to put their own plans on hold, often having to give up work to ensure the emotionally damaged child they take on can be properly cared for? Will they be as ready to step in when the Social Workers are desperate?
Bradford’s actions so far indicate that they deliberately chose to underpay family and friends carers for years. When faced with the challenge of the future, they have decided to cut the basic fostering allowance. Bradford wants a bargain basement approach to caring for some of the areas most damaged children.
Bradford like many local authorities has to make cuts – but making the carers of vulnerable young children pay is scraping the bottom of the barrel.