Being a foster carer comes with a lot to think about and a lot of paperwork too. Add to that moving from one provider to the other, and it can all seem daunting. We have our own way of making the process as simple as it can be for our foster carers and have put together some pointers that will help overcome some of your concerns about changing.
1# The Incentives to fostering can seem too good to be true, there must be a catch?
It can often sound a bit like that and that is because as a society, we are so used to misleading advertising. It isn’t unexpected that any incentives offered by fostering providers may also seem too good to be true. Some people think that you can only foster for a Local Authority and are unaware that they have a choice of also choosing an IFA (Independent Fostering Agency)
Most fostering agencies and LAs are all committed to trying to provide the best service for their foster carers and the children in their care, and thus they have to spend a lot of money and time on incentives and ways to retain their foster carers. This may take the form of golden hellos (a fee paid to the foster carers for transferring), higher weekly payments, guaranteed weekly payments, greater access to professional development and training, as well as increased levels of support for families and carers. If you are thinking of applying to be a foster carer or you want to transfer from your current fostering service you should speak to other foster carers from the agencies that you are interested in potentially working with. They should be able to tell you that the incentives that their provider offers really are not too good to be true and tell you the realities of working for that specific agency or local authority. In fact, when you meet them you should find it difficult to stop them talking about the amazing children they are privileged to look after and the level of specialised support foster carers get to help them do this!
Local Authorities will often try to dismiss IFA’s by claiming that they are all money focused and ‘for profit’ only. The independent review of Foster Care in England (February 2018) concluded that:
“IFAs in our sample spent significantly more than local authorities on carer allowances and fees. IFAs spent more on placement management, which includes training and supervising social workers who have fewer foster carers to manage. IFAs also spent more on recruitment activities. Taking account of these differences, the cost differential between local authorities and IFA costs narrow considerably to the point where, in some instances, there is very little between them.”
2# You might lose a child if your circumstances change
This would be a rare scenario but it is, unfortunately, a frequently used ‘scare tactic’ as used by some local authorities and fostering services when a carer mentions that they may look to transfer somewhere else. The Fostering Network Transfer Protocol which agencies and local authorities adhere to with all transfers is a clear reminder that children should remain in their placement if this continues to meet their needs, and this protocol should form the basis of any discussions with Local Authorities and fostering services about children remaining with their foster carers when their foster carers transfer to another service.
3# You might lose your community network
As Sir Martin Narey mentions in the recent review of foster carer in England document a relationship-based approach is always going to be the most successful for both foster carers and children in their care. Positive relationships with foster carers, other professionals and children should be key to the work done, on a daily basis for any fostering provider. A constant change of social worker or other professionals within the foster carer’s and the child’s network will have a significant impact. All too often these changes can trigger a sequence of events which eventually leads to a breakdown of the fostering placement itself. A good fostering agency should offer a range of opportunities for foster carers and children to widen their community network and shape the future of the fostering service, including getting to know the agency’s committed team, other foster carers and the children. These opportunities should include regular family activities for foster carers and children as well as more formal and informal systems of support such as support group meetings, coffee mornings and childrens forums etc.
4# There will be loss of income during the changeover
This is another of the scare tactics deployed by some local authorities and fostering providers. A good fostering service will make sure that there is a detailed plan in place which has been devised with the foster carers and ensures that the changeover happens as quickly and smoothly as possible without a loss of income during the process. As foster carers in the UK are self-employed (and only approved by one agency/LA at a time) not having a child in placement and the resulting lack of payment is a worry that all carers face. Some of the more creative fostering agencies have realised this and have attempted to help lessen the worry through offering the opportunity to work in the provider’s residential care teams during the assessment process, or at times when children are not in placement. This is not possible with every agency or local authority however, but it can be a great opportunity for new and existing foster carers to work with looked after children as well as removing the stress of not being paid when a child is not in placement.
5# Children might not come from your area.
The careful matching of children to foster carers should be the core consideration of any fostering service and local authority. The needs of each child should be carefully considered, as well as the skills of the foster carers and the circumstances of their individual families, before proceeding with a match. Good independent fostering agencies (IFAs) will specialise in certain aspects of their service such as therapeutic care, parent and child placements, children with disabilities etc and children will usually be referred to them for this reason. It can be compared to sourcing the best possible healthcare- If we had a heart problem we would seek out the best heart consultant in the land even if they were a considerable distance away- why should it be different for children who require the best care.
6# Having to go through the process again is a chore
Transferring to a new fostering service can bring with it the chore of starting afresh with the process. A good fostering agency will understand that this requirement often feels like a hurdle and will work with foster carers to plan how the process can be made as simple as possible. Being able to access your original assessment and having a skilled professional completing the assessment can usually drastically shorten the timescales of assessment and can be as quick as 6 weeks. A good fostering service should be able to evidence this and allow those who are interested in transferring to be able to talk this through with their carers who have been through the process.
7# Independents only get difficult children
Only 30% of Local Authorities are judged as good or above whereas 91% of IFAs are judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. IFAs can work with more challenging children and are often better equipped to do this than local authorities, for example, many Local Authorities have ceased with non-statutory services such as their TRP Therapeutic Reparenting Program which means that children and families will only receive minimal support from an overstretched CAMHS service. This has resulted in a number of issues for foster carers such as lack of appropriate support and professional development as well as a lack of essential support for the child. This can often be seen through a huge deficit in vital resources including ASD, ADHD assessment, medication, individual and family therapy. A good fostering service will provide this as standard and generally as they have a far smaller number of children in placement than the local authority, they are able to provide a more bespoke and focused structure of care for each child and support for the foster carers.
Sir Martin Narey’s recent independent review of Foster Care in England (February 2018) highlighted:
“foster carers are more satisfied with supervising social worker support from independent fostering agencies. And our own analysis of costs suggests that supervising social workers from IFAs have smaller caseloads and that IFAs invest more money in supporting and training carers. So, we do not believe there is any question about the quality of care provided by independent agencies.”
The Fostering Network estimates that at any one time there are approximately 6000 foster placements required. A good fostering agency will work very closely with foster carers to consider their skills, experience, knowledge and family circumstances before matching them to a child. They will allow prospective foster carers who are considering a transfer to talk with their foster carers and if appropriate some of the children in their care. They should be able to evidence good placement stability for children, content foster carers as well as evidence that the children in their care are happy, safe and feel supported.
8# The concern about vacancies & placements
A good fostering provider will only have a small number of foster carers with vacancies at any one time. Most will have a very high number of child referrals each month, against a maximum of maybe one or two foster carers who are in a position to offer a placement. This can be due to the agency offering more longer-term placements and the overall stability of children in placement (meaning vacancies do not arise very often).
Prior to transferring to an IFA, many local authority foster carers have expressed their dismay at having a lack of children in placement, feeling lost in the huge LA fostering service or not being able to effect any real change due to bureaucracy and time it takes to get a decision from a social worker or team manager.
A small number of providers may have additional bespoke options such as step down programs (when a child moves from a residential to fostering placement). These programs can give foster carers even greater choice when analysing and assessing referrals as a potential match. This is one example, but there may be similar programmes in different agencies.
Do you have Questions, comments or would like further information?
You may still have a lot of questions that you want the answer to such as:
- Who do you talk to about it?
- What should you be looking for?
- What can you expect?
If you are ready to talk to someone in confidence and with zero pressure, you may want to start by talking to our fostering manager who can answer your questions.