NAFP members have their say on commissioning, 20 December 2017

The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) has today published a report on views from the independent and voluntary fostering sector in England, Scotland and Wales on commissioning of fostering services.

Approximately 50% of independent and voluntary sector fostering providers (IFPs) reported that they had not bid for a commissioning framework contract on at least one occasion due to the risk they felt the terms of the contract brought to their service.

Commissioning is not an end in itself, it is merely a tool to provide the service required. There are too many tools and not enough service.”

Respondents said that some local authorities appear to have a policy of only making ‘standard placements’ and that fees for extra support will only be agreed if there is later evidence this is warranted.

This isn't in the best interests of young people, who will be placed based upon the cheapest offer rather than a well matched foster placement which meets their needs.

The quality and completeness of referrals was described as ‘the weakest area of commissioning’. There was widespread concern that referrals do not always provide accurate information about a child or give clarity about what is expected from a placement.

We need transparency, consistency and effective referral details with the quality of data and requirements that ensures the best chance for the child to get a good match.”

NAFP Chief Executive, Harvey Gallagher said “Our members are really concerned about the lack of positive partnerships and this can vary even within one local authority. Attitudes and approaches can be influenced by those placement procedures which prioritise the 'cheapest first' option. Some IFPs tell us that they will not accept referrals from local authorities where relationships are fractious. Although there are pockets of good practice, we would like to see a significant commitment to meaningful collaborative approaches. This would enable local authorities and independent providers to work together to co-design commissioning approaches, contractual documentation and monitoring arrangements that would make commissioning much more effective.”

It is very fractured - many local authorities ask us for information they already hold, and each local authority will require information in a slightly different format.”

Providers prefer it when local authorities work together to establish and manage framework contracts or dynamic purchasing systems. Working with several local authorities creates efficiencies for all parties. The best local authority consortia often appoint a lead commissioner who can act as an important link between agencies to settle disputes.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  1. Invest in meaningful collaborative approaches to enable local authorities and independent providers to work together to co-design commissioning approaches, contractual documentation and monitoring arrangements
  2. Ensure partnerships events are more balanced and give the independent sector an equal opportunity to share messages with local authority colleagues
  3. Bring forward planning timescales so that consultation regarding the extension or termination of a commissioning arrangement can be more effective and meaningful
  4. Ensure framework contracts have an identified local authority contract manager lead (with deputising arrangements) with a remit to mediate fairly between parties and resolve contractual disputes
  5. Ensure monitoring arrangements balance an efficient data return with one-to- one provider-purchaser partnership meetings
  6. Consider how statutory review and case management arrangements can better inform the monitoring of provider performance
  7. Ensure placement procedures empower local authority placement teams to commence searches in the independent sector at the earliest opportunity – to enable greater choice and better matching – and to work together to make better use of vacancies across the sector
  8. Sector leaders should champion the need for trusting and positive relationships

How well are fostering services commissioned? Qualitative survey of views from the independent and voluntary fostering sector in England, Scotland and Wales, December 2017