How to support employees who are foster carers

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This year Foster Care Fortnight runs from 15 to 28 May. It is The Fostering Network’s annual campaign to show how foster care transforms lives. Here, we take a look at some of the ways in which employers can support employees who have foster care responsibilities.

Research from The Fostering Network highlights that there are 43,905 foster families in England and nearly 40% of foster carers work alongside their caring responsibilities, but what are their employment rights for parental leave when they foster a child?

In short, the rights to leave that foster carers have compared to maternity leave for biological parents or adopted parents are limited, and much of the support employees who are foster carers receive is dependent on their employer’s policy around foster care leave. Having said that, foster parents have the same statutory right as other employees to request flexible working and will also be protected if they need to take time off to care for the children in their care.

  • Flexible working – Since the Covid-19 pandemic it has become commonplace for employees to work from home at least some of the time, which for parents and carers can be a huge benefit to reduce childcare costs and also means they can spend more time with their children before/ after school etc. Informal flexible working arrangements for some parents also include flexible hours during the working day, where they are able to flex their hours to allow for school drop off/ pick up. Employers should also look to extend these options to foster carers too, as while the foster children are in their care they are as responsible for the day-to-day care of their child/ children as a biological or adoptive parent. Of course, any employee with 26 weeks’ service or more can make a formal flexible working request that the employer will have to consider.
  • Emergency leave – Employees who are carers (whether that be for their children or sick or elderly relatives) are typically entitled to emergency leave if anything sudden were to happen to their dependants. If they haven’t already, it is good practice for employers to extend any enhanced emergency leave privileges to foster carers, so that they can take time off to deal with any serious issues that may arise to those in their care such as illness or injury. Foster carers would have the statutory right to take time off to care for their foster child as they are a dependant.
  • Support for employees who are training to become foster carers – As you’d expect, would-be foster carers have to go through rigorous assessment and training before they’re approved to foster a child. If you have an employee who is going through the process, which can require in-person sessions during the working day, then as an employer you should try and support employees where possible to be able to take the time off they require to complete the assessment/ training.
  • Mental health support for employees during and after their period of fostering – While hugely rewarding, being a foster carer can be an emotional rollercoaster. Carers deal with the emotions a biological parent would in terms of supporting their child, but also the added pressures of having to bond quickly with a child who may come from a difficult background which can make building a relationship with them more challenging. Carers also regularly deal with the situation where a child they have built a strong bond with leaves their care at some point, which can be an emotional time. Setting up support groups for parents is a great way for parents to support each other at work, sharing advice and their troubles with one another – and foster carers should be encouraged to join these groups by their employers. Many businesses also have Employee Assistance Programmes, where employees can speak to trained counsellors about any issues they are having, and foster carers should be made aware of these programmes so they can speak to someone if they are struggling.

It is also worth remembering that the opportunity to foster a child can arise quite quickly, compared to the amount of time expectant parents have during a pregnancy to make their employers aware of their situation – so it’s important that employers have policies in place that allow for speedy implementation if an employee fosters a child at short notice.

The above steps are all quite simple to add into a HR policy and in many cases just require tweaks to existing policies to include foster carers. While simple, the inclusion of policies around foster caring can provide great reassurance to existing and future employees alike that should they wish to explore foster caring, they are supported by their employer.

For more information

The National Fostering Agency runs information sessions about fostering for employers as well as people who are interested in fostering. Contact Annie Winter.

The Fostering Network is a charitable association for fostering providers and provides information and support to employers who wish to become fostering friendly employers. Contact Ellie Henderson.

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