What are Fostering Agencies?  The Difference Between Private and Council

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 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 thorough assessment process in place.  Fostering regulations state that assessments should be completed within 8-months, but at Family Care this usually takes about 4-months to complete.

Generally speaking, the application process is quicker and more efficient with an independent agency.  However, some private providers advertise ‘fast-track’ assessments that take 6-8 weeks, and to us, that is too quick!

Fostering regulations state that assessments should be completed within 8-months, so can a six-week assessment really be enough to prepare someone for fostering?

We complete our assessments as quickly and efficiently as possible, but they are not a tick-box exercise.  Fostering can be a very demanding and challenging role, and the assessment should prepare applicants for the reality of supporting a child in need.

With Family Care, the application process usually takes about 4-months to complete


Once approved to foster, councils and private providers both offer the same types of fostering.  Both should provide full training to their foster carers, and allocate a supervising social worker to each family.

So, what’s different about them?



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.  As a result, they usually cannot offer the same level of support as independent fostering agencies.  In the past 12-months, 79% of all fostering enquiries have been made to IFAs.


“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


The benefits of advanced therapeutic support and training are felt most by the children in your care.  They deserve the best care we can give them, so make sure you are happy with the support and training on offer.

At Family Care, we have a team of in-house therapists directly supporting our foster 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.

The benefits of this are backed up by plenty of research (1, 2, 3).

We also have an established therapeutic model of caregiving which everyone receives training on – the Secure Base.  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).


Diagram showing the Secure Base Model
All foster carers and staff receive training on the Secure Base Model



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 governments independent review of the fostering system in England (2018) showed that agency foster carers generally receive higher allowances that council foster carers.


“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



Enquire with a local fostering agency today 


Boy with Jetpack


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 (accurate as of May 2022).

We encourage our foster carers to be as flexible 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 fostering arrangements.

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, whereas private fostering agencies’ sole focus is training and supporting foster carers.


Founder of Family Care, Ged Williamson
Ged Williamson founded Family Care in 1988.  His two sons Phil and Andy took over in 2014, allowing Ged to focus on the Williamson Children’s Trust


As a family owned company, Family Care is led by a set of shared values summed up by our strapline – healing pasts, building futures.

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

Fostering in England, 2018


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 Family Care.

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.



Enquire with a local fostering agency today 



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?  Do you provide advanced training?  Do you fund extra qualifications?  Good agencies will provide and fund all of this.

  • How many social workers do you have per foster family?

Commonly referred to as ‘caseloads’, this is the number of fostering households being supported by one supervising social worker (SSW).  The higher the ratio, the less time your SSW will have to support you.  Believe it or not, 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.


The Family Care Group logo


Your Local Fostering Agency

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.


Why Foster with a Family Owned Fostering Agency?

We improve children’s lives, not shareholders.

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.


Healing pasts | Building futures
Since 1988

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109 children come into care every day in the UK...