The Department for Education (DfE) has become the government’s first foster-family-friendly employer, giving staff that foster children extra support in balancing their work and care responsibilities.

From today, DfE employees who foster – as well as those who care for children of family or friends, such as a grandparent caring permanently for their grandchild – will be offered up to 20 days paid leave to attend training or meetings relating to their role as a carer.

Employees will also be entitled to additional unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected emergencies, such as welcoming a child into their home at short notice.

Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson and Chris Wormald, the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education, have written to other government departments to encourage them to adopt their own foster-family-friendly policy for staff.

Edward Timpson, who grew up with over 80 foster brothers and sisters, said:

We’re leading by example in becoming the first government department to introduce their very own foster-family-friendly policy. I hope this will encourage more employees to take that important next step knowing that their employer is behind them every step of the way.

Chris Wormald said:

By becoming a foster-friendly employer I hope we can retain those valuable and experienced people who may otherwise feel they are unable to combine their family responsibilities with work by offering flexible working options to those who care for our most vulnerable children.

Paul Adams, British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said:

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering very much welcomes the announcement of the DfE’s policy to offer special leave to foster carers and family and friends carers. This is a significant development that shows an understanding of the real challenges that come with these caring roles, and offers recognition and support to foster carers in work outside the home.

We are particularly pleased that this development also recognises family and friends carers, whose needs are just the same as foster carers in this regard. In taking this step, the DfE is showing the way to other employers who want to demonstrate a real and meaningful commitment to children in care, or living with family and friends. It also sends out the clear message that people in work can also be suitable to foster. We hope that employers in the public and private sector will note this development and follow the DfE’s lead.

The department is encouraging businesses to support their employees who foster – just as companies such as Tesco and O2 already do – and has developed some simple steps that businesses can introduce to support their staff to foster.

Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of reforms the government has made to improve outcomes for foster families. We have:

  • changed the rules so that children in care can stay with their foster families until their 21st birthday – enabling them to make the transition to adulthood and independence when they are ready, not at an arbitrary age
  • provided £775,000 to help fostering services attract and retain more foster carers from a wider range of backgrounds
  • funded Fosterline – a confidential, free of charge advice service for foster carers
  • made over £3.5 million available to councils over 2 years to develop a range of training and support materials for foster carers, kinship carers, residential workers and adoptive parents
  • streamlined the rules to make the foster carer assessment process clearer and more efficient
  • introduced a faster-track process for foster carers that want to adopt
  • changed the rules so that foster carers have the power to make day-to-day decisions about their foster children – such as haircuts and school trips – allowing them to get on with the job of looking after their foster child

Notes to editor

  • as a result of the DfE foster-family-friendly policy, employees who foster or who are considering becoming a foster carer will be entitled to:
    • up to 5 days leave during their assessment for approval in becoming a foster carer
    • an additional 5 days leave during the approval process or when they are caring for a foster child, eg for meetings, training or unforeseen emergencies relating to their fostering role, ie to accommodate an emergency placement
    • up to 10 days leave at the start of a planned permanent placement

Leave may or may not be planning in advance, and may be paid or unpaid. The type and amount of leave granted will be at the discretion of management, who will take into account the nature of the request and the needs of the business in addition to any statutory entitlement.

Our policy offers employees up to a maximum of 20 days special leave in a 12-month period. The maximum entitlement will be granted only in exceptional circumstances, where an employee has, applied to be a foster carer, received training and had a child permanently placed with them, all within 12 months. Typically, it is expected that employees could apply for up to 10 days in a leave year when being placed with a child.

  • family and friends carers are those who care for the child of a relative or friend where the parent isn’t able to provide day-to-day care, eg where the child lives with the carer rather than their parent

Fostering is a challenging task, and foster carers have to be extremely flexible and available to meet a child’s needs. It isn’t possible for every foster carer to work outside of the home, but those who do have told us that they need more flexibility and understanding from employers, who often don’t appreciate the challenges of fostering.

Employers need to be helped to understand the fostering task and to implement foster family friendly HR policies, which offer flexibility to foster carers in their employment, allowing them to adjust their hours when needed and recognising that there may be a higher incidence of emergency situations in looking after children with particular needs. We welcome the fact that the Department for Education is leading the way with a foster-family-friendly HR policy.

Having an employer that respects their fostering commitments can make all the difference to a foster carer. The Fostering Network is working with the DfE to encourage more employers to understand and respond to the needs of their foster carer employees.

  • Cathy Ashley, CEO, Family Rights Group, said

We very much welcome the Department for Education’s recognition, in its HR policy, of the needs of their staff members who are family and friends carers. This the first government department to take a lead and grant these carers, many of whom will be grandparents or older siblings raising children who might otherwise be in the care system, the same right in principle as foster carers to apply for special leave. We hope that other departments and other employers will follow suit.

  • Lynn Chesterman, CEO, the Grandparents’ Association, said:

Many grandparents and other relatives opt to raise their grandchildren rather than have them enter the care system but the reasons for them not being with their birth families are the same as those children living with foster carers. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that we hear the news that the DfE is to allow its staff the same leave entitlements whether they are to become family and friends carers or foster carers. I hope that other departments follow.

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