Children’s services directors have urged the government to crack down on moves from private fostering agencies to poach council-trained carers with ‘golden hellos’.
Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said directors were increasingly concerned that fostering agencies were offering carers up to £3,000 to “jump ship” from local authority services before selling back the carers’ services to the councils at an inflated rate.
Hill told Community Care: “We think it is very sharp practice because we’re recruiting, training, assessing and approving those foster carers.
“We’re not saying this is incredibly widespread but it has certainly come to our notice in recent weeks and months that it is happening and it is happening in more than one place. We just think that is morally absolutely wrong. That isn’t to say we don’t think there is a role for the independent fostering sector – there absolutely is – but there are some practices that really alarm us.”
Hill brought up the issue in his keynote speech to the ADCS conference and his concerns were met with widespread applause from directors.
He urged ministers to consider lessons from Scotland, where laws state fostering agencies which are profit making cannot approve, review or terminate the approval of foster carers. Only a local authority, or voluntary agency acting on their behalf, can do this.
Hill said: “It just seems to us that this idea of a golden hello of £3,000 then charging higher rates back to us in a very short space of time is just immoral.
“I know the independent fostering sector will say ‘don’t tar us all with the same brush’ and I’m not seeking to do so. But I would say back to them – if you are really standing by a proper set of values then you have got to get your act together in terms of making sure the sharks are not in the marketplace.”
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Agency of Fostering Providers, said the practice of offering financial incentives was “a bad idea for all sorts of reasons”.
He said: “Most significantly whatever money is spent on foster care, we want it to be spent directly for the benefit of children rather than just moving around the workforce we’ve already got. We also need new foster carers, we don’t want to just recirculate existing carers.
“Sometimes there are good reasons why a carer might want to transfer from one agency to another, because they are dissatisfied or they don’t get the support that they need. But the idea of a financial incentive being the key reason is not something we’d support at all.
“We need to consider the bigger picture too. Local authorities sometimes pressurise foster carers to move in-house or risk the child being moved to an in-house carer. So I agree with what Dave Hill is saying about the financial incentives, but I’d also like ADCS to speak out against that kind of practice. Let’s everybody get our house in order.”
Children’s minister Edward Timpson used his speech at the ADCS conference to announce a new care leavers strategy and a commitment from the government to undertake a “stocktake” of fostering, which would consider the way the market worked.
Hill said he welcomed the minister’s commitment and hoped the stocktake could bring “some common sense back into the system”.
He also welcomed the government’s pledge to trial a ‘Staying Close’ scheme that would guarantee support children leaving residential homes for three years up to the age of 21. Hill’s predecessor as ADCS president, Alison O’Sullivan, campaigned strongly for such a move during her year in the role.