Foster carers have raised concerns that local authorities are attempting to break up children’s placements to save money.
A small snapshot survey by the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) found some carers for independent fostering agencies believed their placements were being threatened for financial purposes.
This has involved local authorities attempting to move children to ‘in house’ placements and pushing for special guardianship orders (SGOs) or adoptive placements, the 9 foster carers claimed.
Councils breaching law
The Association’s report stated: “It is evident from this survey that there is a small but significant number of cases, spread over a wide area, where children had a stable and beneficial placement threatened for purely financial reasons.”
The report concluded that the local authorities involved in the cases were in breach of law, regulations and guidance, while foster carers said councils were threatening good attachments and children’s placements for “no justifications except it was cheaper”.
“We were told ‘the carers have been told to take an SGO…Or adopt them’ if they don’t ‘the children may have to be moved to in house foster carers,'” the report said.
Criticism of IROs
The level of independence possessed by Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) was also challenged by respondents.
IROs, installed to scrutinise and challenge council care plans, told carers they were part of the team within local authorities so “their hands were tied and they couldn’t do anything”.
Criticisms made about IROs include that they agreed with social workers, agreed budgets come first and had no influence.
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the NAFP, said that despite the small sample size, the survey reflects the experiences of foster carers and agencies across the country “for some time”.
“The most distressing part is that the needs of children seem to be some way down the list of priorities in some cases, certainly behind the drivers of short term cost savings and finding permanence outside of the care system,” he said.
Gallagher welcomed efforts by Government to encourage support and permanence through long term fostering, but is concerned about IROs being torn between the priorities of their local authority and what’s best for children: “Sometimes these two things are not the same,” he said.
A spokesperson from charity The Fostering Network, said “that a fostering placement, regardless of whether it is with a local authority or independent fostering provider foster carer, is right for a child then it should be supported and encouraged to flourish”.
They added: “The only reason a child should only ever be moved is if it is in their best interest.”