We have seen a number of local authorities around the country make a strategic decision to increase the capacity of their own fostering services, which is all to the good and could offer greater choice for children. However, at the same time, they also have an objective to restrict the use of independent sector placements to only children with complex and specialist needs. Our concerns with this strategy include:
- A number of unnecessary placement moves. Unless a child has complex and additional needs, some local authorities state that they will not place a child in an independent foster care placement on a long term basis. Even where an IFP carer proves to be a good match for a child requiring long term care, this is being contracted as short term and kept under review until such time as a suitable in-house vacancy arises. By definition, this builds in a placement move for child, widely accepted as something to be avoided, if possible. The uncertainty of the length of placement makes if very difficult for IFP carers to form critical attachments to progress the work that has been commissioned. Our members have been informed that where children are in placements for less than 12 months, these will be kept under review with a plan to move the child in-house. There is concern that children may have been moved predominantly for financial reasons, even where remaining with their IFP carer would have been in their best interest.
- Pressurising IFP foster carers into changing their fostering service. Our members have reported that their foster carers are being approached by council employees and are being advised to transfer to the local authority fostering service if they wish to continue caring for the children placed with them. One carer reported that they had been approached twice by a council and told that if they did not agree to a Special Guardianship Order, the children placed with them would be separated as the council would not support their ongoing care in an IFP placement.
- Commencing the transfer or assessment process without notifying the IFP concerned in breach of the Transfer Protocol.
- There is a real danger that children may not be matched to the ‘most appropriate placement’, as required under the Children Act. Some local authorities prioritise placements with in-house carers or with IFP carers who have shown a willingness to transfer over to the council as long term carers. Members feel that these two factors are priority criteria over other factors such as skills, experience and specialist knowledge which would ensure a better placement match.