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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 · 25/05/2014 15:52

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.

NanaNina · 25/05/2014 21:29

Now I can agree with that post MyladyAnita..........! I think the fact that the IFA "ran down" the LA demonstrates that the directors are utterly without principle and only care about profits.

suzylee73 · 26/05/2014 00:53

All said and done when I had a major problem in the middle of the night my IFA Social worker was at my house but the LA didn't even answer the phone.
I have heard stories about LA carers dipping into savings to help cover cost because the pay is so low. I have heard so many negative things from LA carers I could never say to someone that working for the LA is better.
Until LA's can offer what my IFA offer it's a no brainer for me.

fasparent · 26/05/2014 10:02

Yes we do dip in our own pockets time and time again, as all family's in hard time's , also helps our charges see we live in the real world, and understand values, we also continue with care well after leaving care have several able and disabled adults, who we still support preparing care package's, personal budget's. etc. etc. , all without payment , doubt
if this would continue if all went private. Ex FC came round yesterday for example with their children and took ours swimming.
Its not just about fostering but their future life outcome's and value's afraid you can not buy these things.

suzylee73 · 26/05/2014 10:51

That's true once they leave the jobs not done. For some of the kids your the only parent they will have and they will always need you. I love going to their house for a cuppa and seeing them staring their own adult lives, money can't buy that Smile
Private carers are no different in the way they care for children

NanaNina · 26/05/2014 14:22

Suzylee I agree that there isn't any difference between IFA carers and LA carers, other than the fact that all families are different of course. And I don't blame carers fostering for IFAs, but I think it has to be understood that the reason the LA can't provide the sort of service that IFAs can is for all the reasons I have already outlined in detail.

I recall a time when IFAs were just beginning to "sprout up" in the Shire county in which I worked, and over time of course they mushroomed and we lost some of our carers to these IFAs and it was a very "hot potato" amongst carers. The question our carers kept asking was "if the LA can afford to buy an IFA carer at an excessive cost when they have to, why can't they pay us the same as IFA carers." A very reasonable question. I was a middle manager in Fostering & Adoption at the time and put these issues to the senior management group, as did some of my colleagues, but the response was always "because we don't have the capital to pay all carers IFA fees........." needless to say this response fell on stoney ground as far as our carers were concerned, and rightly so.

As time went by a group of us middle managers became more and more incensed at the LA's refusal to budge on this issue, although we could see the rationale behind their reasons - there simply wasn't sufficient money in the budgets. I remember one meeting when I had had enough, and suggested that they make us redundant - the whole of the fostering service, and "contract out" all the fostering service to an IFA. There was a deathly hush...................little did I realise at the time that I was actually ahead of my time in some ways, as now the issue of "contracting out" of public services to private companies is commonplace. And yes the latest gem is to "contract out" Children's Services.

But back to the issue of LA carers and since this coalition swung a mighty axe at the already constrained budgets, I read on the Fostering threads of the way LA carers are badly treated as the budge constraints bite more and more and the cuts have to come from somewhere. It isn't the fault of the LAs it's the fault of this tory govt who want to push the privatisation agenda as far as they can in case the are a one term parliament.

SO when Children's Services is contracted out (and the changes in the legislation are already being made) so that it will become lawful to contract out services that previously had to be held by the LA, then the fostering service will by definition be contracted out to whichever IFA the corporate giant (be it SERCO or G4S or ATOS) sees fit.

Watch this space!!

fasparent · 26/05/2014 15:00

My point Nana Nina Example have slashed early years budget by £137
moved £37n too Train 1000 consultants(privatise) too train in new pathway plan for Personal care budgets, services run by private sector, for children leaving care and with disability's leaving education. Have just completed 9 months training as a (LIVE) pilot project with an LA and is up and running in actual practice. Say no more it's absolute rubbish, was run by a private consultancy. Take's all the personal touches out of old services , carer's are always agency staff or strangers
not nice having too rely on this for your personal care, bathing washing,
etc. encroaching on ones very personal dignity and feelings. for a young adult.
We have all seen how care for the elderly privatisation has worked out.
I am not involved, just Ghosting new service with EX FC Disabled young
adult, so can speak my mind ., and is out of our area.
Private Orgs will all ways bid for these contract there are current over 2 dozen bidding for this one most out of area.

MyLadyAnita · 28/05/2014 10:36

With my new understanding of the difference between IFA's and LA's, I am still wondering if it would be such a bad thing for child protection to be out-sourced and privately run.

I have worked in healthcare run by the NHS and also for privately run services (adults with mental health issues and care of vulnerable elderly). I have seen myself that private care was better for the customers. In the NHS, and I would imagine this applies also to the LA fostering service, I have observed a pervading atmosphere of staff watching each other's backs and often covering up for poor care, poor food and lack of stimulation. In the NHS I saw little accountability outside of the regulatory bodies visits. Relatives' concerns are fobbed off. Anyone who is in doubt that large publicly run organisations fall prey to their own dysfunctional systems only needs to read the Francis report into the Mid Staffs hospital scandal.

I have seen for myself that care is much better when done by private organisations as the customer is "paying". The residents and their relatives are invited and welcomed to be involved in the care plans and resident's meetings and even structuring the activities. The staff really are accountable to residents and families as well as the regulatory bodies.

I have never seen private care homes putting down the LA run care homes in the way that the fostering IFA has done. I do think that it was rude and unnecessary as we must always have choice.

If fostering services were outsourced to private agencies there may be teething problems as would be expected with change but is it not time to say that the LA system is not working. Private care is much more regulated and accountable. Service Level Agreements are taken very seriously so stat visits will happen (hopefully) on time and actions plans actioned.

I think everyone agrees that the children deserve the very best we can give as they are the next generation and their early years are vital to their adult wellbeing.

I have read a lot of posts on here and it seems that LA fostering services are very hit and miss and are in crisis (running on skeleton staff and no cash in the coffers). We cannot have another Baby Peter Connolley. We need to find a better, more accountable and more open service whether LA or private.

OP posts:
bottersnikes · 28/05/2014 11:00

I absolutely agree with you, MyLadyAnita. The system as it is has many good points, and many hard-working staff, but it is not good enough for all those children who are suffering and deserve a better life. It can work, and there are hundreds of examples of children whose lives have been turned around by the care system and the amazing people who dedicate their lives to it.

The question arises of who would pay for an improved service and would they be prepared to put in the amount required to significantly increase the number of both recruited and retained social workers and foster carers? Any privatisation / outsourcing would inevitably result in foster carers becoming employees with a fixed pay structure etc rather than the poorly paid volunteers that we currently are; a massive issue that would need to be looked at carefully.

I hope that the current government (and whoever takes the reins next year, should a change happen...) realise both how much needs to be done and also how many people out there are and will be willing to be involved. Improvement is not just down to the "system"; we all need to play our part too!

scarlet5tyger · 28/05/2014 19:32

Sorry I've only had time to skim read page 2 of this thread, but just wanted to comment on MyLadyAnita's statement that "we cannot have another Baby P." Whilst there's nothing wrong with what you're saying there have been many many "Baby P's" since his death. Several have hit the headlines, but for each front page death there are dozens more that don't make the papers.

NanaNina · 28/05/2014 20:28

Absolutely scarlet and I've never quite understood how a minority of these cases make the headlines and others don't. I think there are many people who think like MyLadyAnita when they hear of child deaths and whilst this is understandable, it needs to be understood that there isn't any way that risk to injury or death to a child can be eliminated because while ever there are parents/step parents so damaged themselves, sadly, very sadly these injuries and deaths will continue. I get very exasperated after a case has hit the headlines and the Chief Execs and Directors of Children's Services come on TV talking about "learning the lessons" and "improving child protection procedures" etc etc., instead of being brave enough to say that no matter what, risk can never be totally eliminated.

The same sorts of things happen in the NHS and people die because mistakes are made, wrong drugs given, or sometimes wrong organs removed. GPs often miss the signs of cancer in their patients and by the time it is diagnosed, it is too late. I am not trying to throw criticism about, but trying to demonstrate that where humans are concerned there will always be a risk of something distressing happening. It's just part of the human condition.

AS it happened Peter Connelly was examined by a consultant paediatrician just days before he died and didn't carry out a full examination because, she said, the child was "irritable." Hmm.... the teachers in the Daniel Pelka case didn't see the signs of abuse even though he was actually in school, whereas many children who are being abused are kept away from school.

Bottersnikes You say that outsourcing foster carers would inevitable result in them becoming employees with a proper pay structure etc" and whilst I agree that this is long overdue, I'm less sure that this would happen. IFAs don't treat their families as employees and that's a private initiative.

You raise the interesting issue of who would pay for the service and deal with the retention of social workers etc if the service was out-sourced. I think we have already seen how outsourcing education has turned out, with Acadamies and Free Schools, and the signs are not good because the main aim of these corporate giants and conglomerates of corporations (one company "managing" 38 Academies in the North of England) is to make profits for themselves and the shareholders. OFSTED reports have found much evidence of Academies that have not achieved the aim of the majority of pupils getting 5 GCSEs at A - C levels. I don't have exact figures, but certainly the issue of Free Schools has been much in the news of late with unqualified staff and several changes of head teachers in one term, and some Free schools actually being closed down. Gove is some sort of megalomaniac in my view and thinks he knows better than experienced and committed teachers.

There would be more funding of course if Children's Services were outsourced as the govt is happy to throw billions of pounds of taxpayer's money at "any willing provider" regardless of whether they are under investigation for fraud. HOW this money would be spent is another matter..........and how it would protect more children is questionable to say the least.

fasparent · 28/05/2014 23:10

Know what you mean NanaNina DS an Adult with severe CP is in sheltered assisted accommodation , LA has gone private has too buy in his services for care , it STINKS , Carers working 72 hour shifts, some moonlighting with other Org's, working a sleeping night , then off too their other job. Inconsistency of regular staff, having strangers come in frequently (female ) too wash, dress, shower him get him up put him too bed, all with no experience of his condition and his fragile skeletal conditions. All this encroaches on his personal dignity and is effecting his self esteemed. all they are saying at the moment is they are in process of review with new contract provider's which is out too tender never had any problem before with the LA. Its all political with the social democrat LA.

fasparent · 29/05/2014 09:32

With respect must add too my post, DS is with out of area LA but close by, and that most of the staff a decent respectable people doing their best of the situation, Many forced into this working life style by economic situation's plus poor pay and conditions., Many move on when looking for better alternative's and security, hence lot's of staff turnover, not too include sickness and holidays.
Every new system looks good on paper but in practice can be quite the opposite.

bottersnikes · 29/05/2014 10:10

I suppose any changes made would depend on who is accountable / responsible / has ultimate authority over the role of social workers, foster carers, child psychologists etc and whether they would all be seen as part of any private organisation (and therefore official employees) or whether they would be commissioned on a case-by-case basis and could be treated more like "consultants" with flexible fees and conditions.

You're quite right, NanaNina, risk can never be completely eliminated, it's about managing that risk. What is distressing is when we read in the news about one social services department closing 140 cases because they don't have enough social workers to process them; that's not managing risk, that's blatantly encouraging it!

Most of the staff too, whether in LAs or IFAs are dedicated people, "pioneers" (cf the Fostering Network's latest research about the kind of people involved in child protection and care) who just want to make things better. Let's hope that stays the same whether care is managed publicly or privately.

NanaNina · 29/05/2014 21:32

It was Birmingham City Council that had to close 140 cases. After I retired I carried out kinship assessments and SGOs for BCC as they were totally under resourced then in terms of staff and finance (and I retired fully in 2009) and I felt incredibly sorry for the social workers, as they were struggling with totally unmanageable caseloads and the managers didn't seem to have the competence and experience to assist the social workers, some of whom were relatively inexperienced.

The staff vacancies then were around 30% (and this was 5 years ago) and there were large numbers of agency workers who were faced with trying to pick up very complex cases (sometimes 5 thick case files to read) and again very little support. They was no admin support at all so it was hugely difficult for the social workers and for people trying to get through to them. It sounds like there is still a big problem with recruitment and retention and if there aren't social workers to take the cases, then there is no alternative but to try to work out which cases are the lowest priority and close the cases. I had been used to working in a Shire county where there were relatively few problems. However that isn't the case now - since the govt have slashed the budgets I am told by ex colleagues/friends that the buildings have been sold off and social workers are having to sit in car parks on their laptops.

I have absolutely no confidence that outsourcing will bring about any improvement in the service.

fasparent · 24/06/2014 16:31

BIG NEWS Government has done a U Turn on privatisation of Child protection privatisation consultations. Grove now says there will be no privatisation of UK child protection services.
Seems people power still works. NO doubt their will be a back door private agenda policy though .

scarlet5tyger · 24/06/2014 21:56

That's excellent news!

JacobMalloy02 · 02/10/2014 16:15

As a manager for an IFA, I feel that the sentiment being expressed about how we operate is ill informed. Yes, most work for profit, but this should not necessarily be seen as a dirty word. Profit means we keep case loads low and quality high ensuring services to children are kept to the highest standards. I make no apologies for this.

Just also to confirm, we do not sell carers to the LA. We place children withour carers as the LA cannot place with their own for various reasons.
We do run as a business which ensures we are efficient and effective, again I make no apologies for this.

I would like to address the issue of costings though as many here do not understand the business model vs the LA model. We charge the LA about £800 per week per child. About 50% goes direct to the carer which also includes payments for the children’s savings, clothing pocket money and activity’s to name a few.

50% goes to run the agency which of course includes wages. However, we protect our staff case load and have numerous other over heads. Please do not think £400 is profit, as running an organisation which is so heavily regulated is hugely time consuming and costly.

Another thing to consider is the costs to the LA when they place in house. The Care cost calculator is well known to LA’s and IFA’s. This suggests (and has been well researched by Loughborough University) that the actual cost of placing children is cheaper in an IFA than the LA. That may surprise you, but when the LA quotes it costs about £300 per child per week, they do not add their on costs such as building rents, wages, admin, director wages, pensions (I could go on…) our on costs are absorbed by the remaining 50%

We are regulated by Ofsted and work under the Children Act 1989 and Fostering Regulations 2011 and our SSW have statutory duties – I hope that clarifies.

To maintain balance to this argument, we work with many LA’s – some are very good and some are not so. My experience is that this is often down to the individual SW on a case and not just a sweeping statement about a LA. Likewise, there are some good IFA’s and some poor ones.

So if thinking about fostering, my advice, LA or IFA, do your research. Go and talk to both and get a sense of what suits you best. Ask questions and above all ensure that fostering is right for you.

I hope that helps to balance the views regarding IFA’s?

suzylee73 · 05/10/2014 10:42

How refreshing to see a post with factual information regarding IFA's. I for one am bored of seeing IFA's being accused of being money making vultures.

I foster through an IFA and there are no fancy offices or expensive cars in the carpark. We are child focussed not money orientated.

Harriet1963 · 07/11/2014 10:20

This reply has been deleted

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Darnley · 09/11/2014 06:57

Thank you for that well informed post. I too am involved in an IFA and am sick to death of ill informed assumptions about how we work.

As you say, some LAs are very good, others not so and the same is true of the private sector.

My car is fairly old and brought from eBay...

sideshowbob2 · 22/11/2014 12:08

are there as many independent adoption agencies as local adoption agencies and are the difference the same as for fostering??
as i have always wanted to adopt but i live in a one bedroomed council flat and have been told by the council i have to be in the local adoption process before they move me, is this the case for independent adoption agencies??


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JacobMalloy02 · 16/12/2014 16:31

I am sorry, I cannot comment in regard to adoption - not my area of expertise and would not want to give conflicting advice. I am sure a quick google search of local agencies and a phone call may help. Otherwise you could try British association for adoption and fostering for advice.

Hope that helps.

sideshowbob2 · 16/12/2014 19:53


escteach · 09/07/2015 19:14

Wow what a lot of angry messages I'm sure it was a justified question (wasn't it)

I think a lot of agencies are not for profit charities so are they the same as the money grabbers or the LA and it is only a question honestly

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