Government to investigate how foster care can be improved

The Department for Education has launched a stocktake and consultation on current foster care provision and how it can be improved

adult and child
Photo: YakobchukOlena/Fotolia (posed by models)

The government has launched a consultation to identify how current foster care provision can be improved.

The Department for Education has appointed Martin Narey and Mark Owers to review the status, role and function of foster carers in relation to other professionals. The stocktake will also examine what works best in fostering and how the experiences of young people can be improved.

The consultation, which runs until 16 June, seeks the views of practitioners, academics, foster carers, children in care and care leavers. It comes after the education committee’s fostering inquiry heard its final evidence last week. The committee is investigating the recruitment and retention of foster carers, the stability of the current system and foster care market.


Children’s services leaders have expressed concerns over fostering agencies using ‘golden hellos’ to incentivise foster carers to leave council-run services, then charging councils inflated rates for the carers.

In a speech earlier this month, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alison Michalska said the sector should look “long and hard at the costs of fostering placements”. She said the fostering stocktake would also play an important part in reducing the use of long distance placements for children in care.

“75% of children in care are in foster placements, many of those placements are out of the immediate local authority area. Sometimes that’s necessary and a good thing for the child concerned; often it’s because of a lack of more local placement capacity.”

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said the stocktake would help the government better understand current provision “so that every child gets the stable, nurturing home environment they deserve”.

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11 Responses to Government to investigate how foster care can be improved

  1. Borstal Boy April 24, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

    Oh not again, is Narey on a retainer with them? Is there no one else suitably qualified to do this work? Why him? Again

  2. Tim McArdle April 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    This was a poorly written article. I assume the person writing doesn’t know much about the sector and did some loose research to be able to plump out the wording? There are many issue within the fostering sector. The one point added in reference to the independent sector is negative with absolutely no context.

    1) I agree golden hellos are wrong and I would not employ then in my independent agency.

    2) There probably is not enough said about underhand practice by councils poaching carers. This is constant and unethical. I wonder if the Directors of children services want to issue a statement about that.

    3) Councils are letting down their children left right and centre and the independent sector have top step in and fill the gap. Also, it should be noted that the independent sector have toabide by the Fostering Regulations, Children’s Act and National Minimum standards to be able to provide services. Local authorities can continually fail and it doesn’t matter.

    It is currently the worst I have ever seen services for children by local government. I suggest there be a lot more introspective review than suggestions that there are issue in the independent sector. Yes there are some issues as agreed, but simply one small issue amongst hundreds of others that need to be looked at in the sector.

    Lazy journalism

    Tim McArdle

    • Kevin Jarvis April 27, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      Hello Tim,

      Could I just clarify. When you say “it should be noted that the independent sector have to abide by the Fostering Regulations, Children’s Act and National Minimum standards to be able to provide services. Local authorities can continually fail and it doesn’t matter”….are you implying that Local Authority Fostering Teams routinely disregard the mentioned legislation? Those are the measures that they are inspected against as well. I don’t think the issue is about the quality of the services provided, but unfortunately the cost – particularly in these cash strapped times.

      I agree with you that the Independent Sector does have to step in to fill the gap and I can honestly say that the Local Authority Teams I have worked in would have been lost without the support of our colleagues in the Independent Fostering Sector, but for the first time in a very long time even they themselves are struggling to recruit and find placements, and the costing of placements has always been an issue with some agencies. It’s heartbreaking for Social Workers when the only placement that can be found is 50 miles away from a child’s home. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s a symptom of a real crisis looming.

      So I think you’re quite right, the article misses some of the more pressing issues within the sector. Recruitment and retention of foster carers, matching considerations, the increasingly complex issues of the children being accommodated and how best to meet their needs. The growing trend for substitute care within families and the issues which this brings. Case law and changes in legislation which are altering the landscape of fostering and other forms of care.

      It will be very interesting to read the committees findings.


      • Mark April 28, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

        I don’t think Tim is suggesting LAs don’t have to comply with Regulations, but rather that the consequences of not doing so are far more serious for an IFA than for a LA.

        We don’t need large corporations with an approach to maximising profit. We do need small to medium sized private IFAs with good control systems that yes, make a reasonable profit. Profit is not a bad word especially when it provides better outcomes for the children.

        • John Simpson May 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

          Part of the difficulty for IFA is that although the legal requirement for providing Care plans , PEP etc are set out in Care Planning Regulations, Ofsted seem intent on blaming the IFA’s when they don’t receive them, despite the legislation stating the duty is on the local authority, NOT the IFA.

          In addition, local authorities are not averse to offering ‘Golden Hello’s. Currently this appears to be Central Bedfordshire’s published strategy!! Offering £2k for transferees. When IFA’s did this, all hell broke loose (and rightly so!). Also note some local authorities also offer non cash inducements i.e. they pay the foster carers council tax bill. Where is the line?

          Another area where there is current contention is fee capping (Hertfordshire). For IFA’s this cold mean they choose not to be part of the framework contracts , rather negotiate with spot purchases. I’m sure this is not what LA’s would want but why would an IFA agree to a contract price if it doesn’t meet it’s internal costs?

  3. Molly April 24, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    I’m pleased to see this is finally happening and truly hope that restrictions will be put in place, although I will be honest I’m not hopeful of this.

    There is a gross profit being made out of societies most vulnerable children.

    I am confident that poor practice of foster carers is not appropriately challenged within the private(for profit) fostering sector as carers equal profit and independent agencies will protect their profit at all costs. This is not an attack on those social workers who work in the private sector as individual practice is often very good but move up the ladder and unethical practice is soon apparent. There are also exceptional foster carers working in the private sector, the problems are not as a result of individual SW’s or FC’s.

    The issue of course is ‘unethical’ does not mean illegal and when you have money to splash around you can silence anyone.

    Take the profit out of fostering.

    • Tim McArdle April 25, 2017 at 9:21 am #

      Your description about what is “soon apparent” and “your confidence” comes from where exactly?. I sit there with fellow Directors time and time again and we are aghast at the way children are being treated by the state sometimes. We do our absolute best to plug the gap as much as possible and advocate for the children. I can’t speak on behalf of every independent organisation because everyone is an individual and I am sure there are questionable individuals, but in the same way, you can’t speak about the independent sector as if you know everyone involved.

  4. Terry Unicorn April 24, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    If local authorities respected and rewarded their foster carer workforce appropriately they would recruit and retain more effectively thereby not needing as much out of area provision. Bradford Council have taken £440,000 from foster children’s allowances under the guise of cut backs but budgeted a similar amount for a projected increase in out of area placement costs, in effect, the children are subsidising the incompetence of Children’s Services and/or the Council Executive who are blaming each other.

  5. Paige Worrall April 25, 2017 at 10:28 am #

    This is an excellent step in the right direction. Some of these points need immediately addressing and rectifying across the board. Great work. See you there.

  6. T Rowe April 25, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

    Recruitment of foster carers seems to be a worldwide issue, there could be some useful research completed by using joint funds rather than everyone do independent research to cover similar issues. I acknowledge there are some specific issues for example here in Australia the recruitment of indigenous carers but there is much to learn by sharing experiences.

  7. Debra Gibbs April 26, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    Whether Independent Agency or Local Authority Fostering Service, I hope that this stocktake considers carefully the need for independent support for foster carers subject to allegations and complaints to be client led and not funded for just a token 10 hours. Also Restorative Justice work when allegations are found to have been based on mistrust and misunderstanding. It is brutal and shortsighted to leave children and foster carers with these unresolved issues.