Today we celebrate 13 years since AFA was set up by directors Nigel and Graeme, and here they share about the agency’s evolution and progress over the years…
Asked about what inspired them both to start a fostering agency, Graeme said: “It wasn’t so much an inspiration; it was more an exasperation. Having worked with the local authority, it was becoming a bit of an unwieldy dinosaur, we were being diverted from looking after foster parents and children.
Later, when we were working for an independent agency, that then became preoccupied with satisfying the inputs of venture capitalists and private equity, and at that point we felt that we could approach fostering differently and make it a success. We wanted to create a fostering agency that focused on the children’s needs and that we could run in a way that aligned with our own goals and ambitions.”
Nigel: “Graeme and I were both the same in many respects. When we met we got on really well and we talked about football and the ways in which we felt childcare should be delivered were pretty similar, so we had a common interest and a common direction in the way that we were doing things.
We found within the local authority we would develop services, very successful services, but then somebody who had a totally different role and had nothing to do with building those services but who wanted to further their own career then changed and restructured what we had developed and we lost control of it.
So, we moved to the independent sector because we were told “here is a chance to do it as you wish to do it” and in fairness we were able to do that, but then somebody else’s direction and wishes changed and the management and structure and focus of that organisation then became very different to our own goals and ambitions.
We were left in the position that actually if we want to do it in the way we want to do it then there’s only one way to do it. That really was the whole reason AFA got set up because no one can tell us, apart from Ofsted obviously, what to do and how we should do it. We make the choices and the decisions and we actually think it’s a good way to do it, not necessarily always right, but it works for us and it appears to work for the people who have come on the journey with us.”
Graeme: “Especially the carers and children. A child is a child from nought to 18, whereas the politicians and the venture capitalists—call them what you will—their longevity tends to be three to five years, therefore the consistency to see a child right through needs to be maintained. Changes in policy, decisions, processes, procedures or personnel can all disrupt a child’s journey, but AFA aims to keep the children’s journey consistent and stable.”
What are the top qualities you look for in your staff team and why are these qualities important to you?
Graeme: “Resilience, determination, and a willingness to adapt and grow.”
Nigel: “A good sense of humour!”
Graeme: “Yes, that takes some doing! It’s also about wanting the best but also acknowledging there are times when the people who work for us are human beings and they’re going to be struggling with something. So, it’s about “give and take”. If people respond when we as a company need them to respond, in an appropriate way, and do go the extra mile then that’s fantastic. Likewise, we are more prepared to respond to any difficulties, issues or crises that they might have and get them through that and out the other side so they can provide a good service.”
AFA’s values are “Quality, Integrity, Respect.” How are these values applied in practical ways within the agency?
Graeme: “Quality of social work, and quality of work in terms of professionalism. Quality of outcomes for children. Integrity is about honesty, about doing things correctly.”
Nigel: “Trust. Trust in relationships. That’s where the integrity is. People need to trust us, kids trust us, they trust our foster carers. That has to be there, otherwise they’re on a hiding to nothing.”
Graeme: “And that integrity and trust has to run right through to every level and strata of the agency such that if something does go wrong, when something does go wrong, then we know that it’s going to be fixed, or addressed, with honesty, openness, and in the most professional way. We’re dealing with people, our whole business as we’ve said so many times is about relationships and if you can’t have integrity with that, in other words with other people, then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Nigel: “If something goes wrong we need to acknowledge it and put it right, not cover it up. So many organisations try to cover up mistakes, and that is just so wrong, that’s when your integrity goes out of the window. Whereas if we’ve made a cock up we admit it and say how it happened and what we’re going to do to sort it out. While we might not be able to guarantee it won’t ever happen again, we will try to alleviate that problem.”
Graeme: “And a major issue at this moment in time is about cover ups, coming from the very top so integrity is going out of the window, therefore we have to stand up even higher. Respect is important for everyone we deal with, be they a child, a carer, a parent of a child in care, a local authority worker, whoever, so treating them with respect the way you would expect to be treated yourself.”
How do you see the future of the agency, and what plans do you have for its continued growth and success?
Graeme: “Through my crystal balls! As to the future of AFA, no one can predict the future, but as far as we’re concerned the future for AFA is for it to continue to provide the same service, same quality, integrity and respect as it has always done.”
Nigel: “And the agency is absolutely solid.”
Graeme: “If Nigel and I were to drop dead tomorrow, who knows what could happen then, because you can’t say, but the foundations are built firmly, and if the whole organisation has that ethos of quality, integrity and respect then hopefully it will continue along those lines.”
Nigel: “For our strap line “quality, integrity, respect”, we’ve not changed it from day one, and we’ve never felt the need to change it, because actually what would we change about it? What’s different? That will never ever go away, you know? Those are the foundations of everything that you would want to do as an organisation.”
Lastly, how would you explain to a child in your care what AFA does?
Graeme: “AFA provides the safest possible environment for you to thrive. To help you as a child to address the issues that have happened in your past so that you can face the future with confidence.”
Nigel: “To give opportunity, to help you meet your maximum potential as you may not have had those opportunities before.”