I read Sir Martin Narey's review of residential care for children this week with interest and welcomed much of what was in it but I also found myself disappointed. I was a little bit surprised (perhaps nievely so) to see the references to foster care in the review. I would have liked to have had the chance to offer my views if I had known. If the call for evidence included foster care, I must have misunderstood this.
I found some of Sir Martin's comments about foster care speculative and not reflective of my experience - they may be even unhelpful, I suppose time will tell. For instance, there are 15,000 vacancies with foster carers in England; every local authority has each other's children placed with independent and voluntary sector fostering provider (IFP) carers in their boroughs; placement processes tend to prioritise the cheapest first. In my view, these factors cannot be divorced from what Sir Martin raised and by doing so, we risk confirming some of the poor understanding that is already out there in the sector.
Certainly, commissioning is a significant contributor to the inefficient use of the foster care resource we have now, as is the split between in-house/IFP, and one local authority to another. If we don't tackle those issues, placements will continue to made in the semi-disorganised manner in which they are now in my opinion. I hope any future work will have the appetite to address this in a way that government has not to date.
Martin makes mention of the cost of placements, as he was quite right to do so. But, the question I have is how much cheaper does one placement have to be than another to mean it is the right one for that child? £50/week cheaper? £500/week cheaper? At the moment, just 'cheaper' seems to be the answer – is that how we should be thinking about meeting the needs of children in care? And this in a context of poorly understood data, little comparison of like-for-like needs or placements, and poor understanding/use of vacancies. Do we understand the link between meeting children's needs and economics? I don't think we do.
Apologies for not being more welcoming, but I think in some ways, Sir Martin has just made it more difficult to improve how we make best use of fostering. But I will reflect further on this review and look for the elements we can build on and perhaps reach consensus on.