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Havering Council’s foster carers will now get more money, a council tax exemption, free entry to leisure centres and free parking in a bid to attract more people to sign up.
The council’s leadership agreed to improve the deal for its in-house carers at a meeting on July 7 after receiving a report that the foster service was beginning to run out of carers.
There are around 240 Havering children in foster care each year, although this number is beginning to rise, particularly as more children are needing to stay in care long-term.
The council hopes that the cost of this financial incentive, which includes an extra £90 – £135 allowance for many carers, will be outweighed by not having to pay private fostering agencies.
Andy Clarke, who has fostered for 16 years and is chairman of the council’s Foster Care Association, said the improved offer for carers was “amazing”.
He said the council has a “fantastic” service but has struggled to compete with agencies and other boroughs due to its relatively low allowances for carers, which were last reviewed a decade ago.
He and his wife, who he estimates have cared for around 40 children over the years, focus on some of the borough’s most complex cases, caring for them for a few years until they are ready to go on to more permanent homes.
He said: “[The best thing is] seeing the children smile and seeing them become children again, to start to enjoy life and realise there is happiness out there.
“One of the hardest things is the early days, when you are struggling to make that connection, there can be periods where you really don’t think you are getting anywhere.
“Sometimes these children come from very chaotic backgrounds and are only used to that kind of behaviour. When you put them in a safer, quieter environment then, for a period, they may try to recreate the chaotic background they are familiar with.
“You need patience, the ability to not overreact, to listen and advise and to be a good advocate always for the child, sometimes even against the council.”
Andy has cared for children as young as a few days old, after picking them up directly from the hospital.
He and his wife also adopted a boy they fostered, something they never planned to do when becoming carers, who arrived in their home at 20 months old and will turn 17 next week.
He added: “A lot of carers like long-term caring because they are in a routine but what we like is that each child brings a new challenge and a new scope for learning.
“Sometimes you think you really didn’t make much of an impact… but actually a few years later they do remember it. You just have to make sure you don’t set the goals too high.”
In addition to a higher allowance and 100% off council tax, the borough’s in-house carers will receive free entry to leisure centres, along with free entry for the fostered child, free green bin collection and free parking in resident bays and council car parks.
The council’s cabinet member for children, Robert Benham, said the council has around 80 in-house foster carers currently and hopes to see this increase to 100 in the next six months.
He said: “We are seeing the demand increase over the last couple of years, but our carers are an aging population and we sadly lost three due to COVID-19.”
He hopes to challenge the perception that carers have to be “a model husband and wife”, pointing out that many of the borough’s carers are single people or same-sex couples.
The age of foster carers also ranges widely in the borough. The youngest carers are 24 and 25, while the eldest is 72.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, he said, is finding carers who are happy to take in older children, although he noted some carers actually prefer older children, as they require less supervision.