NAFP responds to State of the Nation's Foster Care, 9 February 2017

Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, has today responded to The Fostering Network's State of the Nation's Foster Care 2016 report.

"I commend The Fostering Network on their State of the Nation's Foster Care 2016 report. It provides an excellent snapshot of what foster carers from across the UK, and from both local authorities and independent and voluntary sector fostering providers (IFPs), think about their role and how they are supported to do their very best for the children placed with them. The report is food for thought and begs further analysis and questioning.

I was dismayed to read that fostering allowances too often do not seem to cover the basic costs of caring for a child. This is something I have heard anecdotally, but to have this confirmed is tragic. It means that we're asking lots of foster carers to pay for a child's shoes, clothes and more when the state is the corporate parent of that child. We're in serious danger of stretching the good will of carers to breaking point and that could have dire consequences for children in care.

My organisation, NAFP, represents IFPs and the children for whom they care. With that in mind, I have picked out the key findings that highlight some of the differences between what IFP carers and local authority carers say about their roles. Other commentators will no doubt reflect on the wider report and the messages for local authorities.

  • Those fostering for IFPs were more likely to recommend fostering (63%) compared with those fostering for local authorities (54%) - overall, that is not as high as it should be. We need to understand why this is the case and do better.
  • Those carers working for IFPs were less likely (40%) to miss training opportunities than local authority carers (50%) - I would like to know more about why training was missed, e.g. practical reasons (too busy caring for a child), content (going over old ground).
  • Views about the types of support available were noticeably more positive from those working for an IFP than from those working for a local authority.
  • Foster carers moved from local authorities to IFPs and vice versa for different reasons. In general, they moved from local authority services to IFPs because they felt they would receive better support and training. Those who moved from IFPs to local authority services mainly did so because they wanted to receive more placement referrals and felt placement referrals would increase if they fostered for a local authority. This is true in some areas, largely because of the policy of local authorities to place children within their own in-house services first, though it does not guarantee that a child and carer will be the right match for each other. However, we have also picked up on a small number of cases where carers feel forced to transfer to the local authority for fear of a child being moved from them to an in-house carer (see our review of placement disruption).
  • Some foster carers were not comfortable working for profit-making fostering agencies, though it was not clear why the report linked this view to limiting their ability to move to another fostering service. There is a wide choice of agency for anyone wanting to become a foster carer or transfer agency, each with its own ethos and characteristic - carers should consider carefully which one is right for them.
  • There seemed to be some confusion on the part of IFP carers about which elements of their remuneration were fees (for the carer) and allowances (to cover the child's living expenses). The Fostering Network believe that all agencies should clearly distinguish between fee payment and allowances. I would like to know more about the thinking behind this – there is an argument that carers should be allowed to use their own judgement on how best to utilise the funds given to them.
  • Retainer fees were less likely to be paid by IFPs - my guess would be that the somewhat higher levels of vacancies within some IFPs as compared to local authorities (again, largely because of the policy of local authorities to aim to place children within their own in-house services first) can make it more difficult to finance retainers. Although we need a certain vacancy level within foster care to ensure there is a choice of placement, this has to be offset against the cost of maintaining vacancies.
  • Those fostering with IFPs were more likely to receive more information about a child prior to placement than those who fostered for a local authority.
  • 52% of carers who had taken children from outside their approval range had felt pressured into it. Local authority foster carers were more likely to feel pressurised in this way than those fostering for IFPs. This may go back to the 'in-house first' model, whereby the economics established by local authorities means they believe they must aim to fill up their own service first before looking elsewhere for a placement.
  • The survey found that over half of carers (56%) had received training on managing allegations. Those working for IFPs were more likely to receive such training (74%).
  • Foster carers from black and minority ethnic groups, especially black Caribbean carers, were more likely to foster for IFPs. There was also a slightly higher number of Muslim foster carers fostering for IFPs than for local authorities. It is clearly vital that carers come from a wide range of backgrounds so that we can find the most appropriate placement for every individual child. Again, the range of IFPs may make it possible for some to be more attractive to some carers.
  • Local authority carers were more likely to foster alone than those fostering with IFPs (I take this to mean as single carers).

I am aware of the relatively smaller number of IFP carers responding to the survey, but I believe that the report describes an independent and voluntary fostering sector that supports its carers well. Ofsted judgements reflect this, with 85% of IFPs being good or outstanding and just 1% inadequate (local authority fostering services do not receive a separate Ofsted inspection judgement). I am proud of what foster carers do for children and I am also proud of how IFPs demonstrate amazing levels of care and service that help children to thrive."