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Foster Parents: Employees or Volunteers?

Foster care. A term that we hear far too often and have become far too complacent with. When thinking about this term, the first thing that comes to mind are the children in the foster care system. The second thing that comes to mind are the foster parents and how incredible they are for taking care of these children who come from all walks of life. Many people assume most of the problems that arise from foster care are concerned with the foster children. Unbeknownst to many, there is actually a very prevalent issue emerging in the foster parent community. That issue? Employee rights.

James and Christine Johnstone, two foster parents residing in Glasgow, Scotland, are suing their city council to be recognized as employees under the law.

On March 31, 2017, BBC reported that Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone had been working as foster carers for the last six years, with one exception. In 2016, the couple did not receive a child to be fostered. Foster carers are only paid a small stipend when a child is in their care. Because Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone were not caring for a child, they did not receive any amount of compensation for the entire year. They are claiming unlawful deduction of wages.

In order for this claim to be successful in a court of law, the couple must have employee rights. Currently in Glasgow, foster carers are required to sign an “agreement” with the city council in order to obtain the responsibility, but this agreement is not considered a contract. Therefore, foster carers are not employees and have do not have employee benefits.

While this particular case is on a small city scale, this issue has far larger implications than many people realize. Whether those implications are logistical or ethical, they are extreme. Questions like: is it ethical for foster caretakers to be considered employees while simultaneously removing the moral reasoning behind such a decision? and is it unethical to not provide benefits for people who are providing a government service?  are posed.

Regardless of how the courts will rule in the coming months, it is clear that this decision will set a heavy precedent for cases like this in other cities and nations with foster care systems in place.

“Foster Carers Bid for Council Employee Rights.” BBC News. BBC, 31 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.


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