Once protesters had arrived in the meeting it was immediately obvious that there had been a climbdown of sorts, with a new amendment tabled to the original proposal of slashing the income of the most experienced foster carers – and instead using it to fund new foster carers allowances.
Under the original proposals, over 100 foster carers each stood to lose between £5,000 and £15,000 a year. That’s around 40 per cent of Devon County Council foster carers. A grossly unfair situation.
Some foster carers are set to see gains in their income. Others will see no change in their income.
That core principle has not yet altered unfortunately, however, the amendment on the table when we arrived was to defer the cuts for two years, to all foster carers.
This was an improvement of the original plan which was to defer for two years cuts, only to foster carers who face more than a five per cent reduction in income.
But yesterday’s tabled amendment would have simply delaying the inevitable huge income cuts, so was not supported by foster carers.
Four foster carers addressed the committee. Two against the proposal and two in favour.
The foster carers who spoke against outlined the demands and rewards of their jobs and asked that the committee recommended to introduce the proposed arrangements for NEW foster carers only, retaining current allowances for all existing foster carers.
I spoke against the plans and asked the committee to reject the plans to cut the income of any foster carers.
I also asked the committee to recommend that full council makes the final decision, instead of the nine ruling party (Conservative) councillors sitting on the cabinet.
This is new best practice that has been agreed by the Centre for Public Scrutiny, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the government itself.
On this point an officer explained that they were awaiting further guidance from the government and it was currently contrary to the council’s constitution to take this decision to full council.
NB I have now got agreement for an agenda item on this issue at the next Procedures Committee meeting in November.
Councillors on the committee were largely sympathetic to the plight of the foster carers and sought to understand the motives behind the proposals better.
Cllr Christine Channon made a proposal to retain existing foster carer allowances for existing placements. Her proposal was seconded by Cllr Frank Biederman. There was applause in the public gallery at this. However, there was then a discussion among councillors about the two year protection and whether or not it included. It was agreed that it should be excluded.
This caused muttering among the foster carers present as it meant that foster carers who take emergency placements and those who don’t currently have any children with them, would immediately lose significant sums of money.
To complicate matters further, officers confirmed that the protection for existing placements OR the two year income protection would apply, but would cease whichever came sooner.
This meant that the two year protection would not have helped those carers who take on emergency placements, nor any foster carer who is currently not looking after children, in any case.
However, it was too late for further representations from the public at this stage and the proposal was voted through.
It was clear that the scrutiny committee was trying to help the foster carers but didn’t necessarily appreciate the full implications of what they were voting for.
Cabinet is set to make a decision on this issue on Wednesday 10 October.
I hope that they will agree to introduce these proposals for NEW foster carers only. This is the only way to avoid a disaster for those children looked after by those foster carers, who feel they have no option but to quit the profession.
Here’s the link to the webcast of yesterday’s meeting – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/358601
Pic: Standing in solidarity with Devon foster carers, who face huge income cuts as a result of Devon County Council’s plans to attract new foster carers.