I’m often struck by what I believe to be risk aversion in local authority commissioning of foster care from independent and voluntary sector fostering providers (IFPs). This is what I would describe as trying to lower or pass on risk at the expense of other important factors, such as the lived experience of children, or administrative factors such as efficiency or cost effectiveness. Of course, there's an appropriate level of risk to take into account when commissioning services for children - this is a very serious and important matter - but surely this should be against a backdrop of 93% of IFPs being good or outstanding with Ofsted and less than 1% inadequate.
An aversion to risk represents, in my mind, a distinct choice not to 'manage' risk, the latter being what I think of as accepting that a certain level of understood risk is inevitable if our primary goals are to be achieved (i.e. the best experience for children, the most appropriate placement, value for money, cost effectiveness - in that order, though not mutually exclusive, of course). All of this impacts negatively on foster care for children and carers, and makes it more costly than it needs to be. Perhaps we can all think of examples of this in foster care practice on a daily basis, but I may have been seeing a pattern in something quite specific - insurance cover. A few recent examples:
- Historical allegations of abuse: some insurers are covering up to £10m for an incident and others £10m aggregate. Some local authorities seem to be asking for IFPs to have indefinite cover for multiple incidents.
- Cyber theft: some local authorities are asking for cover in all cases, without providing any details about what these might be so that insurers can generate a quote. Some local authorities asking for £10m cover which some insurers deem to be excessive.
- Public liability: most contracts seem to pitch this at £10M but one recent tender asked for £15m. Why?
Now I know that corporate parents have ultimate responsibility for the children in their care and that is a no small matter. I also know that time and again social workers are vilified when something goes wrong, regardless of the facts and with little understanding of the challenges of their role. However, informed judgements are required here to understand and manage risk, otherwise, we will be wasting time and resources on things that may never happen. To be fair, some local authorities respond positively when we ask them about 'over-insuring', but if this is against a backdrop of risk averseness, then we won't address this case-by-case - a more wide-ranging change in needed. Getting insurance wrong is perhaps a symptom of something bigger.