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Fostering allowance becoming insufficient amid cost-of-living crisis, say carers

The allowance paid to foster parents has not increased since 2009.

Image: Shutterstock/Juan Enrique del Barrio

FOSTER CARERS HAVE said that they should be eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, as the remuneration they currently receive is becoming insufficient in the cost-of-living crisis.

The foster care allowance is currently set at €325 per week for children under 12 and €352 weekly for over-12s. It has not been increased since 2009.

The Irish Foster Care Association (IFCA), in its pre-budget submission, has called for the Back to School Allowance to be extended to foster parents.

An IFCA spokesperson told The Journal: “With the cost of living increase, and the foster care allowance remaining at its 2009 rate, foster carers are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of children.”

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IFCA is also calling for the foster care allowance to be increased by €100, “in recognition of the complex care needs of children who have experienced early childhood adversity”.

The vast majority of children in state care – 90% – are in foster care, with the remainder in residential care and a small number in other settings such as disability services or detention centres.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection told this publication: “The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is not payable in respect of foster children as the financial support available to foster parents from Tusla, the foster care allowance, includes assistance with the cost of clothing and footwear for the foster child.”

The foster care allowance is not means-tested.

Pre-budget submission

In its pre-budget submission, IFCA said that “Ireland is unique in being able to provide foster family-based care for such a high proportion of children in care, however, our ability to continue to do so is coming under considerable strain as the current cohort of foster carers is getting older and it is proving more and more difficult for Tusla to recruit new foster families”.

It said that the call was based on feedback from its members.

The association added that “the retention and recruitment of new foster carers has been highlighted as an issue as the number of approved foster carers on the panel of approved foster carers has fallen year on year since 2016 and is down 11% (502) overall. Investment in foster carers is required if this trend is to be reversed”.

“The fact that the Foster Care Allowance has fallen well behind the cost of living is posing real difficulties for foster carers and the children they care for.”

Independent TD for Sligo-Leitrim Marian Harkin, who raised the issue via a Parliamentary Question, pointed out that since the Back to School Allowance is means tested, “it’s not like everyone is getting it.”

She told The Journal: “People who foster children, if their income is below a certain threshold, I don’t see the rationale that they wouldn’t be entitled to the same as anyone else.”

She said that it would be an issue if “everbody and anybody” was entitled to the allowance, but this was not the case. “The threshold is quite low.”

Pension eligibility

Foster carers are not eligible for a state pension, “despite the fact that they are providing a valuable service to the children and the State,” IFCA’s budget submission said.

It said that “foster carers should receive credits for their years of service as a foster carer – including their years being available for placement on Tusla’s approved panel of foster carers.”

A spokesperson for private foster care agency Fostering First concurred with this: “It is time for Ireland’s Foster Carers to be recognised for the fantastic [work] they carry out, day in, day out. This includes an increase in the allowance for fostering which hopefully will be future proofed and linked to CPI and an entitlement to a state pension at the end of a fostering career.”

The spokesperson said that, given that such a high proportion of children in state care are living with foster families, foster parents are the “backbone” of the system.

“The role of a foster carer, while rewarding and fulfilling, is also onerous and challenging. Yet the families who provide this love and care have not seen an increase in the allowance for 13 years. Neither are foster carers eligible for a state pension at the end of their time as foster carers,” they said.

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