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.