In view of some recent publicity regarding Independent Fostering Providers we have come to the decision to make our position in the market clear.
For those who do not know us AFA Fostering is a fiercely independent agency wholly owned by the two Directors Graeme Duncombe and Nigel Pickering, both qualified social workers with decades of experience. We opened our doors nearly six and half years ago having set up the agency to provide a high quality of care, where children and families come first. This is still our ethos. We are not a large Agency and do not intend to become one.
Today’s news headlines that some agencies are offering “golden handshakes” to foster carers to transfer to them come as no surprise. We are absolutely clear that the practice is reprehensible. It shows a lack of morals and integrity from those offering such “incentives”. We question why such an offer has to be made to any foster carer as it suggests that the recruiting agency is unable to recruit its own foster carers through the good reputation it should have earned. We also question the motives of foster carers who are willing to collude with this practice. Surely they should be well enough supported and be provided with a good enough allowance that they needn’t be bribed to join another organisation in this way. We find word of mouth by far the best way of having good potential foster carers apply to AFA.
Foster carers do have, and should have, the right to foster for any reputable organisation. It is up to that organisation to provide an excellent level of support and training and a realistic level of allowance such that no carer would consider leaving through financial inducement.
At AFA Fostering we are contacted by foster carers regarding transferring from local authorities or other IFPs. It is usually the case that such carers are having issues with their agency and we would suggest that those involved attempt to resolve those issues in the first instance. Sometimes it is simply a lack of quality support provided to the carer and in such cases we will sit down with the carer and discuss a possible transfer.
The world of foster care is now a very confusing and complicated place for people who have a genuine desire to make a real difference by becoming foster carers. Local authorities are being hit by swingeing cuts that can make supporting foster carers difficult. At the same time various senior figures throw out quotes regarding the amounts charged by IFPs with wildly inaccurate comparisons with the apparent cost of local authority provision. The National Audit Office report “Children in Care” 2014, showed the immense variation in costs and that the cost of a local authority placement may well be no less than that of an IFP placement. In practice in the real world a number of IFPs including ourselves are at least no more expensive than local authority provision and provide foster carers with decent allowances and low social worker caseloads to enable good quality support. This puts the child first.
It is unfortunate when soundbite headlines hit the national press and all IFPs tend to get put in to the same basket. There has become a tendency by a few to want to bash all IFPs for reasons best known to those people. They will all have their own agenda. Foster carers can have a very tough time of it as well as very rewarding experiences. It does not help when some local authorities threaten the futures of some children who are in secure and stable placements when they tell agency carers that unless they transfer to the local authority or take out a Special Guardianship Order the children placed with them will be moved on. This practice is at least as immoral as that of the offering of a Golden Handshake as it is a threat to the future of a child who has found stability and is emotional blackmail aimed at foster carers who only want to do the best for the child in their care.
We have no doubt that IFPs with the right motives have driven up the standard of foster care to vulnerable children massively over the last few years.
In common with a few other IFPs we are fiercely independent and proud of it. We are not owned by private equity. We have not set up to sell on. We are not totally driven by profit and we certainly do not partake in any form of practice that will see tax payer’s money disappear through foster care placements in to the hands of private equity or find its way offshore as is happening now that some big businesses have become involved and smell an opportunity to make a quick turn around and a lot of profit. We are, however, required by local authorities’ governance to make some profit. It must also be remembered that the not for profit sector still has to make a surplus to reward staff and carers.
We choose to put as much back in to the business as we can. This means better training, support and supervision for all staff and carers thus meaning we can do all we can to deliver the best possible outcomes to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. By doing this we hope those people will get the opportunity to play a valued part in society when they reach adulthood.
Graeme Duncombe Nigel Pickering 5th August 2016