Directors urge crackdown on ‘immoral’ profiteering from fostering

ADCS president says moves from private providers to offer carers 'golden hellos' should be tackled

Association of Directors of Children's Services president Dave Hill. Photo: Nick Strugnell

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.

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15 Responses to Directors urge crackdown on ‘immoral’ profiteering from fostering

  1. MG July 8, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    In my professional experience it is more likely that local authority social workers ‘poach’ foster carers from independent fostering agencies. Local authority social workers are not given advice and guidance in relation to ‘poaching’ and so frequently will advise IFA foster carers to join the local authority. There is also insufficient response from local authorities when staff are found to be poaching IFA foster carers (i.e. nothing is said when it is reported). I agree there should be less profiteering by IFA’s / not for profit IFA’s are an excellent resource. However, i don’t think we should overlook the Local Authority’s role in poaching.

  2. Del Toro July 8, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    So long as foster carers are self employed they will be susceptible to market forces. Many local authority retained foster carers are not particularly well supported and it is for the moaning Directors of Service to up their game and secure this increasingly valuable resource.

  3. Sean Ferrer July 8, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    As a care-experienced adult, both I and my foster parents find the notion of ‘buying love’ repugnant. Now 42, with several years’ experience supporting fostering agencies to recruit new carers, I am clear that the shady practice of poaching is all about one agency’s bottom line and does nothing to improve national care placement sufficiency. It is sloppy recruiting practice and is never a part of the strategy I work with fostering agencies to develop. I wrote in more detail about this issue:

  4. John Barnes July 8, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Wouldn’t a simple solution be to make the approval of all transfers be carried out by another local authority not agency or local authority involved. That way they can check no money has changed hands and reasons for transfer are valid.

    Be clear some local authorities are just as bad at poaching as some Independant agencies. They should all be held accountable for this.

    Please don’t punish smaller agencies who do not and cannot afford to do this.

  5. Lisa Birchall July 10, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

    The same protocols should be on local authotities to stop using temp agency workers. They earn more than a contracted individual. They also do not know the child and does not show any committment to children.

  6. Nabu July 11, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    I have worked in fostering service in voluntary, local authority and independent sector and all three are guilty of said practice. It is therefore unfair to slander the name of the independent sector. I have never come across foster caters who do the role for the money as this is an aspect that is rigorously assessed during the assessment period and I truly resent the comments made by Hill. He seems out of touch with grass root realities and base information on minority’s. Also I work in Scotland and the assertion he makes about foster cater approval in Scotland in inaccurate. Foster caters are approved for registration by the agency they will be associated with and the local authority are informed of the cater registration in their respective local authorities.

    This retrict is not helpful in moving our profession forward. I would prefer that we work in collaboration with each other and learn from each other in terms of sharing strengths and good practice instead of slandering each other.

  7. LongtimeSW July 11, 2016 at 11:01 am #

    Yet another side to the creeping privatisation of social work and social care support services be it children or adult sectors – the pattern is clear. Tar the Public sector as rubbish – impose private sector agencies on the service who’s first incentive is shareholder profit – public sector gets worse because it is starved of finance – – end of public sector – past example of where this has failed is Virgin Health care in the South west walking away from primary health care and leaving it to the public sector/NHS (who have the Statutory Duty)

  8. Anita Singh July 11, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    Perhaps if LA’s were more supportive of both the foster carer and the child in LA foster placements, they would be more likely to retain them. The time available and quality of supervision of LA foster carers is of poor quality as they often overload their own SSWs with the number of foster carers to supervise, as well as paying their in-house foster carers peanuts for doing the job. Perhaps this is why their own foster carers are so ready to jump ship to private agencies. Foster carers are not in it for the money and it is important to remember they have often given up jobs and businesses to become foster carers. We need to treat foster carers as professionals, as just like social workers they came in to it because they want to help others but still need to pay the bills.

    Also private fostering agencies often provide far better support to children in their care through provision of their own in-house therapeutic services, which are almost non-existent now through CAMHS, as you have to jump through so many hoops to get it and then wait months before the service is forthcoming. Whilst it costs more to go to private agencies, you also need to look at what you would be getting for your money and whether it matches up to what you would get from the LA.

    Lastly this government is not committed to the public sector – they want to privatise everything, so perhaps that is why there has been an explosion in the private sector all round with fostering agencies, social work recruitment agencies, adult sector home care services etc etc. and they have been angling to do the same with the NHS by introducing privatisation through the back door, so really whose agenda are we working to?

    • Maud Ambrose July 11, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

      Here here and I would like to know why there is such a discrepancy in allowances between city council and regional councils such as Devon and Cornwall ????

  9. LAworker July 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Why is there a market when there is only one purchaser? No need for any profit here. Multiple management costs, multiple marketing budgets. There could just be LA run regional collaborative agencies that can utilise the skills of their carers to develop the service to meet the needs of the children. There’s no difference in cost or quality from the voluntary agencies than profit making IFAs to my observation so I include them all together and LAs can deliver fostering very effectively already. Most LA fostering teams are the size of agencies so could scale up and employ carers as partners with all the additional savings from not having to pay profit.

  10. Maud Ambrose July 11, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    In the council foster care we have been told that a lot of private Carers are coming over to council. Is that where they are coming from.?? We are having a cut in the children’s money unless we take more than one child and they are wiping out the salaries of the more advanced Childrens Carers to pay incentives to new Carers most of the city councils workforce are unhappy about the changes which have been wrapped up in a blanket of improving things for us. In fact that’s not the case but new Carers are being enticed with more money taken from existing Carers children. This is all wrong when is an independent body going to review these bullying tactics of so called managers of a voluntary workforce who have no recourse no rights and are not formally employed, no pensions and do the work they do 24/7 for around 3.50 per hour including supporting a child keeping the heating on and feeding and clothing them. If you love working with children you are held to ransom to say nothing not complain of you are eased out of your job and in the meantime you are punished by the withholding of placements till you do as you are told and out up and shut up. That is the real city council way if a private agency offered me three grand I’d jump at it to properly look after a child with the money. But I bet you the council would find a way of not placing with me one private after all they still chose who has the child not the independent agencies. The city council rule it all there is no room for opinions if you want to stay if you swop you still can’t win

  11. Maud Ambrose July 11, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    I would place a bet that my opinion will never get posted

  12. exfoster carer July 12, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    As an ex-foster carer still working in the environment, albeit in a different role, I have worked on both sides – independent and local authority. I started in the independent sector, and then moved to the local authority. The practices I encountered in the local authority made me give up being a foster carer. Understaffing in social work produces a use of agency workers, who have no buy in, and leave after a short time due to overwork, leaving carers and children feelling unsupported. The supervising social workers are often pressured by the placing social workers to put pressure on carers to accept unsuitable placements, not to challenge decisions made which may be counter the the child’s best interests, and other such practices. Not having somebody who was independent from the authority to support me as a carer was a massive issue – if I was feeling unsupported, there was nobody ‘on my side’. Getting therapy and other services for children in local authority care is extremely hard, and working with an agency that had these services in house was a valuable resource. More than once I was not paid on time, and told by the social worker that ‘it’s not about the money’. I am sure that people working as social workers want to help those who need it – surely that is what we are all wanting to do – and I am sure that they all need their salaries, just as foster carers do, to keep roofs over heads (including the heads of our foster children). Ministers need to look at their foster carers as the valuable resource they are – people who give their lives (not just their working days) to caring for our most vulnerable children and young people. It is about time they are valued and people stop portraying them as money centric carers. I do not understand why it is wrong for carers to want to be paid better for doing a great job – in any other profession it is not frowned upon. But the job I do now is recruiting those foster carers, and I can tell you that most of the carers moving agency, or from local authority, are all only speaking about lack of support or lack of services for their young people. Money is nearly always a side issue. Wake up. This country cannot afford to lose carers, it needs many, many, more. Stop demonising independent agencies, and review the local authority practices that put children at a disadvantage and treat carers as little more than bed and breakfast opportunity for children that need and deserve services they do not provide. And Maud, just to let you know, most independent agencies work with more than one authority, and having moved lots of carers across (no enticement required), they don’t get turned down for placements by their ex ’employers’.

  13. Fostering Worker July 13, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    As a current SSW and ex fostering inspector I can clearly say there are good and bad Local Authorities and good and bad IFAs.

    There are two large companies I know who undertake the practice of paying transfer fees, one floated on the stock exchange and the other private equity based (owned by an investment company in the city). This practice is about building their carers bases, achieving ‘market domination’ and improving shareholder/investor returns. Most of these companies are registered offshore and have complex structure to minimise their tax payments – despite the fact the public purse pays them. They usually have SSWs with higher caseloads given staffing is one of their highest costs. I have also witnessed a significant decrease in standards in these companies often accepting carers transferring to avoid ‘issues’ being addressed. The recruiting agency being less concerned about the issues than the out going agency, particularly if they have placements transferring with them.

    In my agency we have also experienced carers being bullied into transferring to the LA with threats of the young people being removed if they didn’t transfer. In many cases there are strong loving attachments and the young people have lived with their carers for years. These carers leave us despondently not wishing to give up on the young person, but knowing that after they transfer they will receive nothing like the support they do from us. A friend who is a SSW in an LA has 30 carers and 40 children on her caseload. I am not sure how anything other than sticky plaster can be applied with the time she has ( in my work I have 12 carers and 14 children). This is the true effect of austerity across public services.

    Most LAs are not in a position to throw stones.

    • MG August 2, 2016 at 9:40 am #

      This is exactly the kind of practice i saw. I had the opportunity of moving from IFA to LA as a supervising social worker (as i wanted experience in both). Case load of FC’s jumped from 12 up to 30 – with children living all over the country. As you say – the level of work you can complete would be akin to putting a plaster on issues.

      What worries me is i have witnessed LA’s (i wont name which) making it an official target to move children from IFA’s to LA’s. I can understand this if it is a bridging placement. However, this is worrying for children in long terms placements and completely disregards issues regarding attachment etc.