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. Some private providers advertise ‘fast-track’ assessments that take 6-8 weeks, but 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.
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 can be an area of difference between all agencies providing fostering services, including both IFA’s and LA’s. It is important that any person considering fostering has access to appropriate support and training to undertake the role of a foster carer, this includes access to therapeutic and specialised training.
In the past 12-months, 78% 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 2018 Ofsted report
The benefits of specialist therapeutic support and training are felt most by the children in your care. They deserve the best care we can give, 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 as and when needed. 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.
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).
Foster carer allowances differ to some extent between all IFA’s and LA’s. Some organisations will pay the governments national minimum rates, and some pay a bit more than that.
So, how much does Family Care pay?
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.
An 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”
Age of Children
Historically, the age of children being cared for by private fostering agencies has been higher than with the council, although in recent years IFA’s are seeing an increase in referrals for younger children.
Local authorities struggle to find homes for older children or for younger children with more complex needs. The average age of a child with our families is 10 (accurate as of December 2022).
Although we are seeing a rise in referrals for younger children, we encourage our foster carers to be as flexible as possible when considering age ranges. 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’ can focus solely on training and supporting their 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.
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. At the same time, they want to be part of an organisation that shares their values, and as a result many families are transferring to smaller 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.
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 specialist training to meet the specific needs of young people? 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. 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.
Your Local Family Fostering Agency
Family Care supports foster carers in the Northwest and the Midlands. From Lancaster and Fleetwood, to Stoke, Crewe and Coventry, we’ve got you covered.
Our physical offices are in Preston and Penkridge, but most of our time spent together will be in your home. When you do visit our offices, whether that is to meet the team, to attend a training event, or to meet with our specialist support teams, we cover your travel expenses.
As a foster carer you will be busy with many competing demands, so we hire local venues for training and support groups. You will receive a full calendar ahead of each year to plan your training, with scope to complete a fully funded Level 3 Diploma in The Children and Young Peoples Workforce.
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 and start your fostering journey with Family Care.
Healing pasts • Building futures