Foster carers in Sunderland are some of the lowest paid in the North East, city councillors have been told.
In some of the most extreme cases, those who take youngsters into their home could be receiving a third of what is available in neighbouring authorities.
The situation regarding carers’ fees was laid bare in a report to Sunderland City Council’s Corporate Parenting Board (CPB) on Monday (April 16) at Sunderland Civic Centre.
This showed the basic weekly rate in the city was £35, compared to £100 in Gateshead and £150 in Newcastle.
“We’ve been talking about possible increases in fees for quite a while and compared to other authorities we’re miles behind,” Maurice Davis, a foster carer with more than 30 years experience, told the panel.
“If we keep doing recruitment events and offering £35 a week you’re not going to recruit anyone.”
Fees are supposed to recognise the time and skill invested by carers and are set by councils to retain the most experienced, but there is no formal requirement they be paid.
They are different to allowances, for which the government sets minimum levels specific to the age of children and the number being looked after.
The most experienced foster carers in Sunderland can be paid fees of £200 a week, but this rises to £300 in Gateshead and £400 in South Tyneside.
The CPB’s report admits payments in Sunderland appear ‘significantly lower’ than other North East authorities.
However, it adds this is a basic rate which does not include ‘additional enhancements’.
In December, Together for Children, the organisation which has run children’s services in Sunderland following 2015’s damning Ofsted inspection, said there were more than 400 children in foster care in Sunderland looked after by about 270 registered foster carers and it was seeking to recruit more.
Coun Louise Farthing, cabinet member for children’s services and CPB chairman, admitted the current scheme doesn’t ‘appear to be fair’ to foster carers.
She said: “I know they [Together for Children] have been looking at the fees structure for some time and it’s been a hindrance to recruiting foster carers.
“We’re looking for people who want to care for children, rather than a salary – the caring element should come first.”
Foster carers are paid in allowances per child at rates set by the government.
Councils also often add extra fees on top of this to reward long service, experience, time commitments, etc.
Councils set the criteria for fees themselves and have their own bandings.
HOW RATES COMPARE BETWEEN COUNCILS
Level A – £35
Level B – £70
Level C – £200
Level A – £150
Level B – £200
Level C – £250
Level A – £100
Level B – £220
Level C – £300
Level A – £105.49
Level B – £183.47
Level 1 – £0
Level 2 – £100 for 0-11year-olds or £150 for 12-18-year-olds
Level 3 – £300
Level 4 – £400
Level 1 – £0
Level 2 – £50.05
Level 3 – £160.02
Level 4 – £235.41
Level 1 – £0
Level 2 – £72
Level 3 – £151
Level 4 – £226
*all amounts are weekly
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service