Court to review whether councils fail children by favouring in-house fostering services

Judicial review will look at whether councils can favor internal foster providers and still meet their duty to find the "most appropriate" placements

Picture credit: Image Source/Rex Features

A judicial review is to examine whether three local authorities failed to comply with the Children Act 1989 by favoring in-house foster placements to those offered through voluntary sector providers.

The Administrative Court approved the review following an application brought by the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP), which represents voluntary and independent fostering providers.

The review will examine whether Bristol, Leeds and Suffolk councils complied with their duty under the Children Act to place looked-after children in the “most appropriate placement available”.

The NAFP believes that unless local authorities consider in-house and external fostering providers on a level playing field then they will have failed in their duty to find the most appropriate placement.

Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of NAFP, said: “Our concern is that the current placement finding processes used by many local authorities, including the defendants, is unlawful and means that children will be missing out and may not get the very best home we can offer them.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), however, said the NAFP’s actions are driven by money not the needs of looked-after children.

“This judicial review is nothing to do with the interests of children but is entirely about the financial interests of these providers, who often charge taxpayers double or more what councils pay for in-house provision,” said LGA spokesman Councillor David Simmonds.

“This review does a disservice to the many independent providers who work closely alongside councils to provide placements for children when in-house options may not be suitable.

“However, where social workers know that a council foster carer will be able to provide a stable, loving environment for a child, this legal action will only result in unnecessary delays in making that placement. This will be costly to the taxpayer and, most importantly, costly to the child.”

The judicial review hearing will take place in early November.

More from Community Care

10 Responses to Court to review whether councils fail children by favouring in-house fostering services

  1. Jazz August 7, 2015 at 12:20 am #

    Ideally, foster carers should be chosen on how they can match a child/young person’s needs. But this can only be attained on a ‘level playing field’ of how much a standard placement costs. Accordingly, one would hope that LA ‘in house’ foster carers were paid the same as voluntary and independent ones. But they’re not, the latter in particular being much more expensive for LAs, i.e. private profit making companies tempt LA foster carers away to work for them and of course adding company profits (e.g., for their shareholders) on top of a placement price. The ongoing dilemma for LAs is the financial cost of placements which is going to get worse through Goverment policy pushing financial cuts, continuing austerity and the privatisation of children’s social care.

  2. Anon August 7, 2015 at 1:47 am #

    If the NAFP really do want children and young people to have the ‘best’ home, perhaps they will consider advocating the capping of their member’s charges for placements, as I feel that as with most things in CSC, the bottom line comes before the needs of the child.

  3. Anon August 7, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    I think a costing exercise from LA’s to take into account all of the ‘hidden’ costs including buildings rent or running costs – HR services – admin recourses [paper-printing IT support] – Pension contributions for their workers – wages for their chief exec and all Staff etc will probably show like for like costs for both IFA’s and LA’s having recently done a similar thing. However I would much rather charities or other none for profit organisations worked in this area of social care

    • Stuart Holmes August 7, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

      ‘Anon’ should be careful to not confuse ‘charity’, ‘voluntary sector’ and ‘not for profit’. My experience of ‘not for profit’ organisations is they are very much FOR profit but they disguise it as bonus payments or any other similar ‘you name it’ devices so they look to be making no profit while still giving significant financial riches to their owners.

      And even actual ‘charities’ aren’t always what people think the term means.

      Problem ere is the present government and their rightist predecessors who are determined to make operating as difficult as possible in any way possible for the Local Authorities with whom they see themselves as ideologically opposed.

      Ooops – delete the ‘see themselves’ bit.

  4. Essie August 8, 2015 at 11:23 pm #

    The huge cost to Local authorities of agency run foster carers means it is not a level playing field from the beginning…..if there was a bottomless pit of money then of course LAs could choose agency run carers, however the reality is those agencies charge such astronomical fees to county councils that there just is no level choice because the budget would be empty and children would still need placements – of course children’s needs should be the priority but running out of money won’t help anyone ! I also hope this is not suggesting that in-house foster placements are a second best option, there are many highly skilled in-house foster carers providing top quality placements – if the government provided an adequate budget there could be more of them too !!

  5. level playing field August 11, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    THE LGA has either not done its homework or is opposing this for the sake of seeking to keep things in-house which don’t need to be delivered internally. Any independent study of fostering has found that costs are similar between in house and agency providers yet with the current policy of in-house first, the independent agencies get children referred to them who have more difficult needs because the Councils can’t meet those needs themselves (ie their carers won’t offer them places) so not comparing like with like anyway suggesting the independent sector is actually providing a more cost effective service. Of course, if Local Authorities could meet their fostering needs from their own in-house provision, the independent sector of fostering providers wouldn’t even exist. Each sector needs the other and a level playing field benefits all, most of all the children who are then placed with the most suitable carers to meet their needs with no evidence of increased costs.

  6. STUART HOLMES August 12, 2015 at 12:02 am #

    Who else remembers when private fostering agencies didn’t exist and Local Authorities managed perfectly well with their own foster carers?

    Will advocates from the ‘independant’ i.e. managed by some commercially motivated unelected individual instead of by the same organisation that has responsibility for the children and their welfare please also be aware the choice of ‘in-house first’ is not just about money (though we all know there’d be more of that to spend on support and preventive services so fewer children come into care inetheefirst place) but is also about quality and the ability to keep a closer watch on what’s happening in the foster home and so many benefits that follow therefrom.

  7. Sandy beach August 12, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    Interesting court case and some interesting comments and comparisons.
    In comparison to the placements stating they feel they are not being chosen due to the finances of the LA I can concur with this, as for placement matching? I’m not sure this has really ever taken off due to financial pressures.
    I agree with variety and different needs and placements and competition to an extent is healthy, but having worked in private care have seen both exceptional provision, and have left another company after trying to raise awareness of practise. Although not foster care it is still a market I agree needs to be adapted and I’m not sure a profit basis is the best place for care in this way.
    I have also noted foster carers especially in LAs who I really wonder why they want to foster as they are unable to assist with anything or seem interested in the children who seem an inconvenience to their busy life’s, or don’t seem to provide any better care than the parents but LAs are so desperate for placements they won’t deal with the issues, as they will lose the carers.
    Possibly the way forward is to have a sliding scale of staff in and provision / responsibility that is signed up to for each placement. Which tallies with a set fee?? I don’t know but I know I have raised issues and haven’t seen change and some of these kids need better.

  8. Imelda August 14, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    It is incorrect to state that private fostering agencies charge double for a placement with one of their carers. Private agencies have the same overheads as councils and hence, if you add the cost of a ssw, office – light, heat, rent, rates, phone, database systems, insurance, managers, recruitment teams, finance, payroll etc, then private agencies are actually charging about the same and possibly even less per placement. It just looks like PFA’s charge more, as they include all this in their bill to LA’s.

    • Jazz August 20, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

      I remember when private fostering agencies didn’t exist. That was prior to 1996 … the penultimate year of Conservative marketeering legislation which began in 1979 with Thatcher. Those of us who lived through it know what damage was done to our public services and not just social services: the welfare state, manufacturing, healthcare, community care, industry, the lot. Extraordinarily, from 1997 (because socialism is supposed to stand for ‘social’ – in the broadest sense – ‘justice’, equality and profit benefitting all), from 1997 New Labour continued and one can say colluded with putting profit before people of any age, from the cradle to the grave. I know the rhetoric about costs being the same for LA and private company placements when all other factors (e.g., admin; HR; buildings) are taken in to account. I’ve worked in all the sectors. But logically that means if LAs provided foster care like before 1996, placements could be cheaper because the overheads of the private companies let alone profits would not be there. The word we all need to be aware of is power. Beware – we all need to realise that ideologically, since 2010, the Conservatives are ever more determined to continue where they left off in 1997, smash the power of Public ownership including LAs through austerity cuts. Then the UK will not be an equal society and it may be that only the rich will be able to buy the best placements for their children! Like what’s happened with community care and the vulnerable and elderly since 1990 with the ‘Community Care’ Act … Just an analogy but we all need to be mindful of the ideology behind any profit when it concerns care of others.