Councils need to review their foster care services more
thoroughly, or face escalating costs and shortcomings in services,
according to a report published by the Social Services
Inspectorate, writes Jonathan Pearce.
Based on inspections in seven councils – Derby, Hampshire,
Kingston-upon-Thames, Manchester, Poole, Staffordshire and
Stockton-on-Tees – between July 2000 and March 2001, the
report says the majority of councils had examined their services
using the National Foster Care Association’s 1999 national
standards, and most had prepared action plans to develop their
But the reviews in general were not well-enough informed about
children’s needs, were almost exclusively focused on the
councils’ directly provided foster care services, and showed
a “weak understanding” of the costs of such services.
Given the rise of fostering services in the independent sector
– there are now at least 125 agencies – councils need
to develop better relationships with other providers, as well as
improve service commissioning skills within children’s
Gerri McAndrew, executive director of The Fostering Network
(formerly the NFCA), said the report did not come as a surprise and
reflected concerns the organisation had had for some time. “It is
about time that the fostering service is given far greater priority
if it is to meet the needs of the increasing number of children in
foster care,” she added.
But Rob Hutchinson, chairperson of the Association of Directors
of Social Services’ children and families committee, denied
some of the report’s criticisms, pointing to “general
underfunding of children’s services nationally” as a major
problem. He stressed that most councils knew the costs of their
services, but welcomed the focus on fostering as over two-thirds of
looked after children are placed in foster homes.