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Local Authority Fostering vs Independent Fostering Agencies

50 replies

MyLadyAnita · 17/05/2014 22:33

One of the well known IFA's in our region has done a large recruitment drive in our local area for foster carers.

Nothing unusual about that but what took me aback a bit was the IFA's opinion of the Local Authority fostering services. In the advert I saw the IFA promoted its own foster carer training as superior as it was delivered by independent experts and accredited. The advert actually said that this differed from the LA whose training was done in-house mostly by its own LA SW's so was mostly not accredited and not to the same standard.

The adverts also said that the support and availability offered by the LA SW's was poor compared to what this IFA could offer i.e. the IFA could offer 24 hour round the clock support by SW's who knew the fostered children and fostering families really well, that the IFA SW's were stable in their jobs and had small case loads so could give lots of time to the foster child and foster family. The inference was that LA SW's were overworked, did not stay in the job long so changed frequently and did not know the fostering families well nor the children in foster care and clocked off at 5pm. It was put a bit more politely than this but that was the general gist.

Do all IFA's have low opinions of Local Authority fostering services?

OP posts:
fasparent · 18/05/2014 10:25

Think you have too be open minded Many IFA's are independent Company's, Charging LA's Double the amount for a placement referral and a discount on taking siblings' for example.
Most LA training is well structured engaging NHS and CAMHS and the professional Academic sectors, also College's, and Accredited child care providers. Have been with LA for 38 years and are still required too do 3 training sessions a year, also attend a support group / training session every month.
As for over worked most LA carer's are very well trained many problems they are able too address , support is in the main very good and unlike years ago are treated now a little better.
Private is in competition with LA's not I believe is in the best interest of the child. Cash before Children !!!,

suzylee73 · 18/05/2014 21:32

I work for an IFA and yes in my experience that is exactly how the LA is seen. I haven't spoken to every LA carer but the ones I have are lowly paid for the job they do.
I get an allowance which is for the child and then a wage of around 120 per week as well which is mine. Until all LA's provide a reasonable wage then Independents are always going to be here leeching all the money.
In 10 years I have had the same SSWs but about 8 LA social workers

poocatcherchampion · 18/05/2014 21:43

this sounds about right. IFAs are the competition and they charge an awful lot. las will always look to their own first.

IFAs make significant profit too as they charge a lot and historically have got away with it.

unfortunately until placements become outcome focussed for the child the quality provision argument doesn't always stack up.

fasparent · 19/05/2014 10:26

Children will be placed out of area with IFAs , know a SSW who's has many FC's scattered over several LA area's.
See many charity's becoming FC and Adoption providers alongside private providers, some SEN Schools doing the same some even changing use too Residential children's homes , System is becoming so fragmented,
Probable solution Should perhaps become part of NHS Primary care system , with total control with LA's and a Professional paid and training structure for all FC's.
IFA's make money from children in care, should be more put into family interventions, and support , keeping children with their family's if at all possible.

Stinkle · 19/05/2014 15:33

I've fostered for both the LA and an IFA. I'm currently with an IFA, it was either that or I quit fostering completely to be honest.

It totally depends on your area. Mine isn't great

Fostering for the LA I got no support from my SSW, emails were ignored, phone calls weren't returned, I never had supervision, no training was given, important information that I needed to keep my own children safe was withheld, I was expected to act as an authorised adult without the training (against LA guidelines). As for my YP's SW - never did a stat visit, etc, etc). I was completely unsupported and it got to the point where I was going to give 28 days and quit.

I'm now with an IFA. My SW is there for me when I need him, he returns calls, answers emails - I've sent emails at 11pm expecting him to pick them up the following morning and he's replied to them straight away, my YP's SW is just as useless but at least I have support from my SSW, extensive training is given, supervision every 4 weeks. I have a OOH service with people who actually answer the phone when I need them

Of course, it totally depends on your LA, yours may be fab, but given my experiences I'd never foster for the LA again, unless some pretty major changes were to take place

Stinkle · 19/05/2014 15:38

Sorry, I managed to cut a huge lump out of my post.

My SSW is only responsible for 15 YP, his case load is so much smaller so he is able to support us all so much better and he knows all the YP individually.

I understand that the LA is totally overwhelmed, I really do, but on a personal level I really couldn't continue with them. It's just not safe, and I couldn't keep my YP safe

I know a lot of LA carers who are quitting completely or considering switching to an IFA

suzylee73 · 19/05/2014 19:15

We have lots of ex LA carers at the agency and they never have anything good to say for the local LA sadly

I'm lucky that my IFA is a charity and any profit is invested in it's services and various community projects so I don't feel too bad about what they charge.

It's true, LAs do look after their own which means us private carers often get very challenging placements hence the need to pay us properly. It's a self perpetuating problem.

Fathertedfan · 19/05/2014 21:53

We work for an IFA and have done for 6 years. The support is fantastic, you can get hold of a social worker at a moment's notice, our supervising SW is fab and very child orientated. We have access to a psychologist, educational specialists (who have helped get children back into school when they have been excluded, get educational assessments etc), support workers who do sessional work with difficult placements. We have a number of foster carers who have recently 'defected' from the LA, mainly due to reduced fees, which made it impossible for them to carry on fostering, but also due to the lack of support and the fact that matching didn't appear to take place with the families.

scarlet5tyger · 20/05/2014 13:01

This whole topic makes me want to cry. How sad is it that the care (from the system, not from the foster carer) and support a child receives comes down to whether their foster carer is with an agency or a LA. Yes, every child matters. Sadly it seems money matters even more.

I foster for my LA. I agree the support my friends receive who work for IFAs is better. They agree that it's shocking how much of the huge fee paid to an IFA actually goes to the agency, not the staff. We all agree that there should be ONE system with all carers being paid equal.

bottersnikes · 20/05/2014 15:41

I agree with stinkle - support and level of services can vary hugely from LA to LA. We're with our LA, and our SSW has always been fantastic. The SW were all good bar one but we just ignored that particular one :)
Most foster carers do a great job and they feel that is best supported with an IFA, then so be it; it's unfortunate on a wider economic scale but we have to think about ourselves and our children.
This makes for interesting reading:

Candycoco · 20/05/2014 20:15

I foster for my LA and I get brilliant support from my SSW. She's really lovely and will always call/email me back, and I have my 4-weekly supervisions booked in for the whole year! She really advocates for me and my foster child and I find her very approachable and supportive.
However I do know other Foster Carers who do not get such great support from their SSW so I really believe it is pot luck, not just as clear cut as to whether you foster for LA or independent agency. There are good and bad social workers everywhere you go!

fasparent · 21/05/2014 15:48

Bottersnikes and ALL you can reply too GOV. Consultation by way of petition
too Children England http// Think Michael Groves has underestimated this one.

fasparent · 21/05/2014 15:56

sorry or just Google Children England

MyLadyAnita · 22/05/2014 16:02

From some of the responses like the ones from bottersnikes, stinkle, scarlet,suzy and Father the IFA's low opinion of LA fostering services is justified.

Shocking really. The children deserve better than a hit and miss service. In any other industry heads would roll if the service was so poor.

I am still puzzling why LA's cannot match the levels of support and training offered by IFA's. Surely SW's working for both LA's and IFA's are equally committed to protecting children? Why are LA SW's so poor at supporting fostercarers?

OP posts:
fasparent · 23/05/2014 00:00

Simple Math's shortage of Foster Care, LA's are charged market rates by IFA's, funds come out of their annual budget's, cuts have too be made too finance this. But will not be sustained in the long term hence need for Foster care system too be reformed too achieve a level playing field for ALL children , selling off Children's services too the private sector's is
beyond belief

NanaNina · 23/05/2014 20:40

Aaaah those of you that know me, will know that reading the OP I think raised my blood pressure!! Agree of course with fasparent and scarlet5tyger

OK MyladyAnita here's what the IFA omitted from their advert.

We are a business and our main motivation is to make big profits for ourselves and our shareholders

We can provide a better service than LAs because we sell the families that we recruit to LAs (we have to as we don't have any children, but we keep that quiet when we are recruiting) at a very high cost - this ensures that we can pay our carers a better rate than LAs offer better support because our social workers are not overwhelmed with caseloads like LAsocialworker are and so have the luxury of carrying small caseloads ............but mostly our excessive charges to the LA ensures that we the directors make very handsome profits ...........and YES we are aware that our high charges deplete LA budgets (which are already under considerable strain) more and more but we don't care about that ............ there are profits to be made from children.............

SO Yes ladyAnita it is shocking - it's shocking that we have a government that totally supports private enterprise and the making of big profits and this can be seen more and more as they push ahead with the privatisation agenda. And yes they are now trying to sell off Children's Services (it's already happened in Devon and Doncaster) to "any willing provider" - SERCO and G4S and such like will no doubt be tendering even though they are both under investigation by the serious fraud office for over charging, and another big private company is under investigation for sexually abusing women in Yarlswood Detention Centre, but I digress.............

I think fasparent has answered your query about why LA social workers can't provide the same service as LA social workers, but allow me to make a few more points in response.

  1. The training offered by LA children's services does depend on individual LAs (as it will by individual IFAs) but in the main it is carried out by experienced and competent social workers who specialise in foster care. The training is usually "Skills to Foster" produced by "British Agencies for Foster & Adoption" (BAAF)

  1. Yes of course LA social workers and IFA social workers should both be concerned with protecting children, but as has already been pointed out IFA social workers will carry very small caseloads (ask how many families they have per social worker....) whilst LA social workers carry very high caseloads, and also often have statutory responsibilities that can (at the present time) only be carried out by LAs, but of course this will change when Children's Services is "sold off" to ensure profit is made out of abused children. YES that's what I call shocking

  1. LAs nationally are trying to run a service with high vacancy rates (in the inner cities 30 - 40%) as there is a major problem with recruitment and retention. They aren't "poor" at offering support, as I hope the foregoing has explained.

Having said all this, I don't blame foster carers for working for IFAs and I wonder sometimes how LAs manage to retain any foster carers, because there have always been budget constraints, but since the coalition took an axe to all public service budgets, the LA service is "on its knees" - and more and more cuts have to be made.

I think I've said enough - but hope you are no longer "puzzled" LadyAnita but if you are I will happily respond!!

This is not good for my blood pressure to be raised on a Friday evening!!
NanaNina · 23/05/2014 21:40

Suzylee You say you have had the same SSW for 10 years and 8 different LA sws, but presumably you are talking about the particular social worker for the child/ren placed, so they will be different.

You also say you have very "challenging children" so "need to be paid properly........." This isn't necessarily the case. The thing is when a LA need to place a child and they have no "in house carers" they have no other option but to buy an IFA family, and this can be for a "challenging child" or a particularly easy child. The fact that there is a national shortage of LA foster carers (surprise surprise) means that more and more children will be placed in IFAs.

LA carers need to be "paid properly........." do they not?

MyLadyAnita · 23/05/2014 23:03

Howdo Nana! I have read some of your previous posts and bow to your knowledge and experience. Same for fasparent.

Are market forces so very bad?
I have been looking at the staffing levels of even the largest IFA's in our area and they rarely exceed half a dozen in total (Sunbeam which is one of the largest IFA's in Sheffield has 5 front line staff including 1 Director). Even if the Director pays himself top dollar would he be on any more than the Heads of Fostering Departments at the LA? The LA has considerably more SW's plus admin staff, secretaries, Education SW's, Psychologists, LAC nurses and a number of levels of management all on good salaries. With so many more staff, costs of running LA operations and overheads must be higher and a major drain on LA resources. Most LA's appear to have around 50 to 100 staff on the payroll compared to the average IFA's five staff. Is this not what is depleting the LA's and leaving no cash in the coffers for the foster carers support and training?

If IFA's can offer foster carers and foster children better care and support by lower operating and staff costs can that be a bad thing?

Sorry if I am not quite "getting it" but being a mother myself I don't care so much about the politics as I do about the children in foster care. The very least we can do for them is provide a strong, safe and responsive service that is there for them and not one that is sinking under the cost of salaries and overheads.

OP posts:
suzylee73 · 24/05/2014 00:19

Sorry I didn't explain it very well. I have a long term placement (6 years) and that child has had 8 different social workers in that time.

I am lucky that I work for a charity and not a money grabbing agency. A family member does foster for one though and it's scandalous how much they charge when less than 30% covers the carers fee. Because they charge so much and offer "specialist foster care" the placements are the most challenging you will ever see. They are leaving to work for the LA (thank god) but the LA in their area is very good.

The LA in my area is one of the worst in the country sadly and I would never consider moving over.

That said I would love to see the system unified (not through privatisation) so all carers were paid, trained and supported the same. I did hope that SGO's would provide some financial relief for LA's but it doesn't seem to be as popular with carers as I thought it would be.

All said and done on some level money is a big issue but for us carers its really all about the love :)

NanaNina · 24/05/2014 01:05

No sorry LadyAnita you are notgetting it. Your comparisons aren't logical.

IFAs don't need a large number of staff because their remit is simply to recruit, train and approve foster carers and then sell them to the LA at an immense cost, and provide a support social worker to the families. I don't know the actual rates now as I retired in 2004 but I know that 10 years ago, IFA rates were excessive and a real drain on LA budgets, and that was before all the recent cuts.

The personnel that you quote as being employed by the LA are in no way all connected to the Fostering Service. Not all of the posts you mention will be in Children's Services. LA social workers have a very wide remit and have statutory responsibilities and LAs organise themselves in different ways but all LAs will have a Child Protection Team, a Children with Disabilities Team, a Duty and Assessment Team, a Fostering and Adoption Team, family support Team etc. Some of the personnel you mention won't be employed by the LA Children's Services, although I think in the years since I retired some services previous outside of LA SS Departments have been incorporated into the support services, so LAC nurses and psychologists may be part of an Integrated Support Team and social workers are now placed in schools although employed by Children's Services.

Child protection is an extremely important part of LA Children's Services and is a very stressful job and when children are removed from parents and the LA social workers have to request the court make orders so that they are not returned to unsafe homes, there is an enormous amount of work attached to that, and the same is true for all of the other Teams that I have mentioned. There is too much detail for me to go into here, but please be assured that your comparisons are fundamentally flawed - the reason that there is "no cash in the fostering coffers" as you put it is because of historical budget constraints, budgets further depleted by having to pay excessive costs to IFAs and this coalition taking an axe to already constrained budgets.

As far as salaries are concerned for the past 15 years of my employment for a LA I managed a Fostering and Adoption Team of 10 workers (and we covered a large geographical area) and my final salary on retirement in 2004 was approx. £30,000 (after 25 years in the job) My son at aged 25 was earning that in IT after 5 years in the job, and I drove a Ford Fiesta.

There were several IFAs in the area in which I worked and the directors were driving Porches and one of them owned a string of race horses (and they don't come cheap!) I imagine that if I was still in my LA post I might be on £35-£38,000 and there is absolutely NO way that an IFA director is going to be on such a salary. Suzylee says that less than 30% of the charge to LAs goes on carer's salaries, so that leaves 70% of whatever the IFAs charge LAs to be spent on their 5 employees, overheads and their own salaries. The problem is IFAs will not divulge what they charge LAs (and certainly not to their families) for obvious reasons. I only knew because I worked for the LA and I know it was excessive. IFAs don't even explain to applicants how the system works, that they have to "sell" their families to the LA.

I don't know how better to explain it and it's late and I should be in bed!

fasparent · 24/05/2014 11:30

Very Good posts Nana Nina, Must add that UK Social Care and NHS Services are Paid for out the Tax we all pay , and are a 100% public service.
The best service and envied world wide. That is the problem lots of off shore , and private orgs and sad too say 3rd sector charity's . see this as a money pot., want a share of the cherry.
Take money out of the mouths of baby's, After 38 years as a foster parent doubt if I would repeat, I too was employed in the finance sector for many years before all this , have a very professional knowledge how thing's work, and know the probable outcomes if this continues. Its a disgrace and beggar's belief. SAD DAYS. There are solutions if one can get past the men in suits and wig's.

Candycoco · 24/05/2014 19:49

My LA have their annual statement of payments paid to Foster Carers published online. In this document it says "to purchase a placement from an external provider costs in excess of £100k per annum". No wonder they are so overspent on their children's services budget.


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KneesoftheBee · 24/05/2014 19:57

I work for an LA and agree with everything that Nana has said.

I know a couple of SSWs who left the LA to work for an IFA. They came back as a lot of what they saw went against their principles.

MyLadyAnita · 25/05/2014 14:46

Aaah. Now I understand a bit more clearly. I did not appreciate that these fostering agencies did not actually "have" any fostered children but sold foster carers to LA's. There is not a level playing field to start with.

I still think it is cheeky (rude) of the IFA to promote itself by putting the LA down. To anyone like myself who is not a foster carer it is misleading and a bit disrespectful.

OP posts:
fasparent · 25/05/2014 15:34

Yes all IFA's are answerable too LA's who place children with them and can bring them back into LA's Control and care if it is necessary, like being too far from home Town for example, or too expensive may be.,
Change in legal status, can be moved for many reasons.
They may be placed short term until a suitable matching LA placement is found also.

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