Independent fostering agencies are private organisations that recruit, train, and support foster carers.
Foster carers in the UK can register with either a local authority (LA) or an independent fostering agency (IFA), like us. Their choice depends on what feels right for them.
Whether you choose to foster with a council or with an IFA, you will still be changing children’s lives. However, it’s a good idea to be aware of the common differences between private and council fostering before deciding which route is best for you.
We must caveat that we cannot speak for all local authorities or all independent agencies, we are speaking generally.
What is the Difference Between Private and Council Fostering?
First let’s start with what is not different.
All agencies and local authorities should have a rigorous assessment process in place. With Family Care, the application process usually takes about 4-months to complete.
During lockdown, some IFAs have been fast-tracking fostering applications by advertising 4 to 6-week assessments. Can a 4 to 6-week assessment really be thorough enough?
We complete our fostering assessments as quickly and efficiently as possible, but they are not a tick box exercise that can be sped up by sheer will.
The assessment is about ensuring new applicants are properly prepared to start their fostering career, and to support a child. Fostering will be demanding, and agencies have a duty of care to their foster carers.
Fostering regulations state that assessments should not take longer than 8-months. By the end of our assessments, carers are well prepared for what the role entails.
Putting lockdown to one side, generally the application process is quicker and more efficient with an independent agency.
Once approved to foster, councils and private providers both offer the same types of fostering. Whoever you foster with, you should also receive training and be allocated with your own supervising social worker.
So, what’s different about them?
These are some of the common differences between private and council fostering, and three top questions you should ask:
Support and Advanced Training
This is probably the biggest and most important difference.
Local authorities are stretched to their limit and regularly facing budget cuts of some kind. The knock-on effect is that council foster carers sometimes don’t receive the level of support they need.
LAs simply don’t have capacity to offer the same support levels as agencies like Family Care. This is partly why over three quarters (76%) of fostering enquiries are made to independent agencies.
“I have had more support in a few weeks that I did over many years when I fostered for the local authority”
Foster Carer quote from our last Ofsted report in 2018
Fostering with us, you will receive local support and advice 24/7. We host regular peer support groups in local areas, and we provide advanced therapeutic support and training.
That means we have in-house therapists providing direct support and advice to our carers. They can work with children too, but our philosophy is that by training our foster carers to use therapeutic approaches, we provide the child with 24/7 therapeutically informed care.
Family Care’s therapeutic approach is underpinned by the Secure Base Model. The model was recommended in the government white paper Care Matters (2007) as a basis for training foster carers. It has also been incorporated into the Skills to Foster preparation programme, produced by the Fostering Network (2009, 2014).
In addition to therapeutic support, you can access Diploma qualifications up to level 5 if you are interested in this.
We also have a dedicated support worker team for young people. Local support workers provide welcome visits to children, organise various children’s activities, and provide ongoing support to our foster families.
“Foster carers and children are well supported by enthusiastic support workers and have easy access to therapeutic support.” Family Care Ofsted, 2018
Some local authorities pay foster carers no allowance. Some will pay the governments national minimum rates, and some pay a bit more than that.
So, how much do private fostering agencies pay?
Often much higher than with the council, but the truth is it varies.
Fostering allowances depend on factors such as the age and needs of children in your care and the number of children you look after. If supporting one child, our families typically receive between £380 – £440 per week.
The governments national minimum rates are between £132 – £231 per week and we use this as our baseline ‘boarding-out’ fee. The remainder is a professional fee based on the carers registration, skills, and experience.
“The IFAs in our sample spent significantly more than local authorities on carer allowances and fees: on average about £125 more per placement week”
Foster Care in England, 2018
Age of Children
Historically, the age of children being cared for by private fostering agencies has been higher than with the council.
That is because local authorities find it more difficult to find homes for older children compared to babies or toddlers.
We do receive requests for these younger age groups, just not as many as for older children. The average age of a child with our families is 10.
We encourage our foster carers to be as unrestrictive as possible when considering age ranges. In recent times we are seeing a rise in referrals for younger children, but the more flexible you can be, the better.
Our fostering advisors can talk to you more about this and discuss what age range will work best for you. Give us a call on 0800 5 677677 or submit an enquiry online.
Regardless of age preferences, you should always be in full control of the matching process. The final decision must always be yours.
The local authority is responsible for supporting their foster carers, and accountable for the success of children’s placements.
But as you know, local governments are also responsible for other vital services.
Among them are well known functions such as schools, housing, planning and waste collection, but also lesser known ones such as licensing, business support, registrar services and pest control.
Councils have ownership for budgeting all these services.
With private fostering agencies, they are focused solely on training and supporting foster carers.
As a family owned company, Family Care is led by a set of shared values summed up by our strapline – healing pasts, building futures.
The placements we make for young people are carefully considered, and matched by dedicated placement officers.
“Placement stability rates are good. Many children benefit from long-term, stable placements, allowing them to feel part of their foster family. This sense of belonging enables children to thrive.”
Family Care Ofsted, 2018
However, many large providers are now owned by private equity firms and venture capitalists (VCs). The top 6 fostering agencies account for over half (51%) of all IFA households.
This kind of ownership can be problematic, as often these VC’s are working towards a five-year plan to sell on the agency. This can lead to a great focus on cost saving which ultimately can be frustrating, disruptive, and unsettling for carers and staff.
The way they operate has led to public debates about the cost of private versus council fostering, but the relative costs are quite similar.
What we hear from foster carers doing the heavy lifting, is that they care most about the support they receive. As a result, many families are transferring from local authorities and large VC backed providers to agencies like us.
Whichever way you go, make sure you clearly understand the support on offer, and you are happy with it. The children in your care deserve nothing less.
3 Questions to Ask When Enquiring About Fostering
To help you decide which provider is right for you, here are 3 top questions to ask:
- What support will I receive? Who provides the support?
Get details of exactly what this looks like. Are there in-house support workers? Are there in-house therapists? Is there a support services team for birth children, foster carers and young people in care? Family Care provide all of this with a stable support team you will get to know on a first-name basis.
- What training do you provide? Are there opportunities to get professional qualifications?
On-the-job training should always be provided free of charge. But are there also opportunities to complete Diplomas or NVQs? Is there advanced therapeutic training? Are qualifications funded, or will you have to pay for them? Family Care provide and fund all of this for our foster carers.
- How many social workers do you have per foster family?
Commonly known as ‘caseloads’, this is the amount of foster carers being supported by one supervising social worker (SSW). The higher the ratio, the less time your SSW will have to support you. Some IFA’s and LA’s have caseloads of 25 to 30 carers per SSW! Family Care have a maximum of 12-14, depending on the experience of the social worker.
Local Fostering Agencies
We support foster carers in the North West and the Midlands. From Lancaster and Fleetwood, to Stoke, Crewe and Coventry, we’ve got you covered.
You might think it’s important to live very close to a physical office with bricks and mortar. However, you won’t have to visit our office very often. When you do, whether that is to attend a training event or meet with our in-house therapists, we cover your travel expenses.
And let’s face it, sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the house, especially in these times!
As a foster carer you will be busy with many competing demands, so we hire local venues for training and support groups. We also host some at our offices in Preston and Wolverhampton.
Prior to COVID-19, we had support meetings in Liverpool, Wigan, Birmingham, Telford and Wolverhampton. They are virtual for now, but hopefully that won’t last too much longer.
Your allocated supervising social worker will also see you monthly, and this takes place in your own home.
Having said all that, if you think it’s important to be close to a physical office, pop your postcode into this searcher for a list of providers local to you.
Why Foster with a Family Owned Fostering Agency?
Family Care is a fostering agency dedicated to improving children’s lives, not shareholders lives.
We are not owned by a private equity firm, as many of the biggest IFAs are. We are owned and run by the same family which set us up in 1988.
To achieve the best outcomes for the children we look after, we know foster carers need high levels of support, full training, and industry expertise.
Get in touch with our fostering team today for a chat or to request an info pack.
We are waiting to welcome you.
Healing pasts | Building futures