I understand why such a headline is used. It does not sit comfortably to think of earning a wage from caring for vulnerable children. It feels much better to think of this sort of caring as an act of altruism, of love, of compassion. Somehow 'money talk' sullies that as if it's not possible to be compassionate and also be paid a living wage.
Except if you are caring for vulnerable children as a social worker . . . I suppose it's ok if they get paid. What about a doctor or a nurse? Yes, they should get paid, probably more than they already do, don't you think? Oh, and I suppose teachers must care for their fair share of vulnerable children too. Well, we should definitely pay them. Childminders care for children too; they even have them in their own homes. They definitely get paid.
But that's it, right? We should draw the line there? I mean foster carers do care for other people's children in their own homes, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but that's not a job, right? Oh, and they attend mandatory training both before they are approved and then several times per year, including gaining nationally recognised qualifications, but still, not really a job. Of course they maintain confidential records, work with teams of professionals, attend planning meetings, liaise with birth families, manage challenging behaviours, undergo annual appraisals, meet regularly with managers (aka supervising social workers) to set goals and manage situations, keep up-to-date with the latest developments in their field . . . . but still, is it really a 'proper' job?
Oddly, despite apparently not having a job, I have in front of me a job description. It includes phrases like:
- Observe and assess children; record observations and assessments on a regular basis
- Advocate on behalf of children in a manner which promotes their rights whilst supporting multi-agency working
- Attend meetings and ensure professional participation and contribution
- Support children and families to understand issues around attachment, loss and bereavement
- Assist at training events and foster carer recruitment events
- Support the fostering service and contribute effectively to the development of the service
Note that none of those descriptors relate to any actual care of the child. All of that is included of course, but the above is just a few of the things a foster carer might be expected to do in addition to caring for, feeding, clothing, playing with, and, you know, loving a child.
In the week that I have been told that my fostering allowances (we don't get paid a salary - it's not a job, right?) are to be cut by £80 per month, I am here to tell you that fostering IS a job. And it's not just me saying that; it's my bank manager, my mortgage provider, my utilities providers - after all, since, as a carer for under 5s, I am not allowed to work outside of the home, fostering is what puts food on the table. Oh and tax credits. How clever of the state to basically subsidise itself.
What's more, it's an important professional role - see, the word 'professional' actually appears in the job description above - which requires a serious and varied skills set. I take my professional development seriously, seeking out additional training (some of which I pay for myself), buying books, researching articles on the internet. I know that I am not alone in this.
So, yes, in case you are in any doubt, fostering IS my job.
Oh, and it's also my life.