'Exploited and ignored': 1 in 5 foster carers considered quitting over Covid pandemic, ITV News survey shows

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

  • Words by ITV News Producer Mark Mehta

More than one in five foster carers have considered quitting because of the coronavirus pandemic, an ITV News survey has revealed.

Most of the 1,022 foster carers who participated in the ITV News survey said they feel support from government during the Covid-19 crisis has been "inadequate".

Their answers shed light on the heavy toll lockdown has taken on their lives as they care for Britain's most vulnerable children.

The survey showed:

  • 22% of foster carers have considered quitting fostering altogether because of the pandemic

  • 27% feel reluctant or unable to foster due to fears of infection from Covid-19

  • 55% have reported a decline in their mental health

  • 68% feel they’ve had inadequate support from the government

With 66% of foster carers in England over the age of 50, many are vulnerable to Covid-19.

The survey shows that over one in four feel reluctant or unable to foster a child due to health fears.

This includes 68 year-old Janet Tansley, who has looked after over 150 foster children over 35 years - she recently handed in her notice because of fears over her safety.

“If I caught Covid, I wouldn’t have stood a chance, because I’m an insulin dependent diabetic.”

Janet asked if she could perform meetings between her foster child and its birth parents virtually, but after she was told she had to attend these meetings in person, Janet decided it was time to end her fostering career.

“I feel let down, very let down. It was a small thing for them to offer.

“After 35 years I wanted to finish my career on a high. I feel it’s really sad - that's because I haven’t been given the support that I asked for, I’ve had to go”.

Janet Tansley on why she was forced to quit forstering after 35 years:

Janet fostered Amanda Newberry from the age of eight, initially on a short-term placement before later adopting her.

Now aged 36, Amanda is married and has children of her own.

“It is a real shame that they're going to lose such a wonderful caring person.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without the guidance, support and the love from her.

“Not everyone gets that second chance. She's my mum and I love her to bits.”

The survey also showed the effect of the pandemic on carers’ mental health.

Two thirds of foster carers told us that juggling fostering and the stresses of the pandemic had worsened their mental health.

One carer told us how she had struggled with depression throughout the pandemic and had been prescribed sleeping pills.

As a single carer she took on two siblings in November 2019.

“I’m sad a lot of the time. I haven’t got dressed more than one or two days a month; I’ll always take the kids to school in my pyjamas”.

Her foster children came from a household where they had experienced neglect and witnessed substance abuse. She said the pandemic had exacerbated the emotional trauma they had suffered.

“They've become aggressive, frustrated, inconsolable at times and it's heart-breaking”.

62% of survey respondents said the pandemic had impacted on the mental health of the foster children in their care.

Before the pandemic hit here were thought to be 57,380 children living with foster children in England. It’s not known what the Covid-19 pandemic has done to this number.

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However Barnardo’s, the UK’s largest charitable fostering agency, has seen the number of children referred to them for fostering increase by 26%.

Ruby Palmer from Diversity Foster Care, a foster agency in south London, has noticed that lockdown has presented different challenges for children.

“During the pandemic we’ve seen a lot more of cases of abuse and neglect which is a classic symptom of being in lockdown.

“I think particularly with families being at home all the time, that intense environment has exacerbated mental health problems.”

Foster workers are classed as self-employed, so they do not get benefits like sick pay and annual leave.

Jane Collins, director of Foster Support, says many carers have been walking away from fostering.

“In the last year I've dealt with a number of foster carers who've come through the door… and they're out of the role within a year.

Jane Collins, Director of Foster Support, on the "churn of foster carers who walk away":

"They’ve walked away because they've not had the support or the protection."

“Can you imagine the trauma for those children who've lived in loving stable family for all those years and all of a sudden some social worker turns up on an afternoon and says, ‘right you're moving, off you go’? “Children need stability. They need long term foster carers and until foster carers have some protection, that's never going to happen.” Leanne Morton, from the Foster Care Workers Union, told ITV News: "Our members have been left demoralised, exploited and ignored by all levels of government. Our job is one of the most undervalued in society.

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“Although we provide professional 24/7 care to our communities' most vulnerable children we have no workers rights and are not viewed or valued as part of the professional Social Work sector.”

Responding to the ITV News investigation, a Department for Education said: “Foster carers make a lifelong difference to the lives of vulnerable children and are an important support system for these children during the pandemic.

“We have ensured that foster carers can get personal protective equipment should they need it from their local authorities, and we prioritised children in foster care to receive free IT devices and equipment to support their education while were learning remotely.

"Those foster carers who care for clinically extremely vulnerable children have also been prioritised for vaccines.”