THE social work chief of Scotland’s biggest council has warned industrial tribunals could destroy foster care in the UK, as he prepares to close a service for troubled young people.

Glasgow’s Integration Joint Board (IJB) approved the plan to shut the Treatment Foster Care (TFC) service, after an employment tribunal ruling in July that fostering couple James and Christine Johnstone should be treated as council workers.

Glasgow City Council has insisted the decision to close the service has nothing to do with the ruling – which it is appealing. It says that the service is being axed after an internal review found it was poor value for money.

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HeraldScotland:

However, as the plan was presented to the IJB for formal backing yesterday, David Williams, the council’s executive director of social care, gave a stark warning over the effects of such rulings.

Board member and councillor Archie Graham asked Mr Williams if he was worried about this verdict and another ruling involving the UK Supreme Court, which found Nottinghamshire council liable for abuse of a child by foster carers.

Mr Williams said he was very concerned that some foster carers were taking complaints about their status to tribunals.

Any tribunal which decided foster carers should be employees, without any requirement to consider the interests of children, could have devastating consequences, he claimed: “There isn’t an organisation or employer in any business across the UK who could employ someone to work 24/7, for 365 days a year, for very obvious reasons. It would mean – literally overnight – the end of foster care.”

HeraldScotland:

The TFC service was unusual in the amount demanded of participating families and the level of contact with council and health board staff.

July’s tribunal made clear the judgement on the Johnstones’ case did not apply to all foster carers. But that might not be the case in future, Mr Williams said: “I am concerned we get more judgments like that we have experienced in Glasgow and sooner or later someone will make a decision around the status of foster carers, full stop.”

Foster carers should be seen not as employees or workers, but simply as foster carers, he said. Decisions should be taken in the best interests of children, but employment tribunals cannot do this.

Mr Williams cited a recent ruling giving care staff doing sleepovers the right to demand the minimum wage. “We are experiencing the consequences of that decision now, which has massive implications for provider organisations and has led to a loss of earnings for members of staff,” he said.

“We now have a precedent for a decision being taken out of our hands in terms of the consequences of employment tribunals happening elsewhere in the country.”

Charities working in the provision of care for children said they also had concerns about the future of foster care.

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said treating foster carers as employees could fundamentally alter the relationship with young people in their care. “We believe it’s important that these children should be part of a family unit where they are cared for as a member of that family, rather than by an ‘employee’,” he said.

HeraldScotland:

A spokesman for Action for Children Scotland said: “We value the role of foster carers in providing alternative family-based care for children and young people, upholding their right to a family life.

“We have concerns that the judgement in relation to the Glasgow case will have implications for the future provision of foster care. In the majority of cases young people value their experience living as part of a family and this is something we want to continue to provide.”

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said treating foster carers as employees could fundamentally alter the relationship with young people in their care. “We believe it’s important that these children should be part of a family unit where they are cared for as a member of that family, rather than by an ‘employee’,” he said.