Support for NI foster carers lagging behind: Dodds

DUP Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds has called on the Health Minister Robin Swann to urgently increase allowances paid to foster carers in Northern Ireland.

By Diane Dodds MLA

Upper Bann

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Commenting ahead of a debate on a motion brought before the Assembly by the DUP highlighting the need to increasing foster carer recruitment, she said:

‘‘Foster carers play a vital role across Northern Ireland, providing a safe, loving and nurturing home for vulnerable children and young people. It is critical that they are valued and properly remunerated.

The number of children and young people presently in care in Northern Ireland is at a record high. In eight out of ten of those cases, a child will be supported through fostering arrangements. Yet despite demand rising sharply, the number of local foster carers who de-registered in 2022/23 actually increased by 66%. Last year, the Fostering Network NI also published research which indicated that around 260 additional foster carers were needed to meet both existing and expected demand.

One of the factors fuelling this crisis in recruitment and retention is the fact that financial support for foster carers is lagging behind what is provided in other regions of the United Kingdom and indeed the Republic of Ireland. The current allowances simply do not reflect the full cost of looking after and supporting a child in care. Previous studies have found that those costs are generally higher than when compared with children not in contact with children’s services.

The Minister of Health must realise that it is wrong for foster carers to be expected to subsidise unmet basic costs. In some instances, due to the appalling wait times for access to hospital services or counselling, a foster care feels they have no choice but to dig into their own pockets to ensure a child can access services and expertise critical to helping them to recover from trauma of adverse experiences. That is deplorable.

Without appropriate financial support that takes account of the high cost of living, many prospective carers understandably simply struggle to see how they could do the job justice and support a child to best effect. That represents a missed opportunity to secure better outcomes for local children and young people. Therefore, I would call on the Minister to urgently provide an uplift to the current foster care allowances.’’

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