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How do independent fostering agencies work? (and other things you need to know)

15.01.21

With more than 8,000 children in the UK waiting for a stable, caring home where they can thrive, it’s a fact that foster carers’ services are under pressure.

Here’s more about how independent fostering agencies (IFAs) work with local authorities to provide UK fostering services.

Thanks to Pam Larsen, Regional Director for the North West, West Midlands and Northern Ireland for Outcome First Group (National Fostering Group’s parent company) for this detailed insight.

Why are independent fostering agencies fit needed to fulfil foster carer services?

IFAs developed in response to demand for foster carers across the UK. Local authorities have their own foster carers, but they don’t always have sufficient numbers to meet demand. They commission IFAs to provide foster carers for children they’ve been unable to find homes for.

Agencies like ours tend to be on local authority frameworks, which allows them to easily commission us to provide foster carers. We have built strong relationships with local authorities across the UK, working in partnership with them to get the very best for children in care.

If a local authority tells us they are short of carers in a particular area, we actively work to recruit foster carers with the right skills and abilities in this area to support their children. This is important for child wellbeing as it means they don’t need to move to a different school and can maintain regular contact with birth families, where appropriate.

Ultimately, local authorities and IFAs both want the very best for children and young people and working in partnership enables us to deliver the best outcomes for children.

What sort of children does an independent fostering agency look after?

Local authorities have their own in-house foster carers and always try and place children with their own foster carers before coming to an IFA like ours.

We receive children of all ages into our foster placements, from 0-18 years and with varying needs, however the greatest demand is for those children belonging to large sibling groups.

And, because our carers receive such extensive training and support we are more able to support children who are harder to find homes for – such as children who have been traumatised, or those who present with behavioural issues or have additional health needs.

So, what kinds of foster carers do independent agencies need?

At National Fostering Group, we need foster carers of all skills and abilities. We look for people who are resilient and confident and willing to undergo training to help them manage the challenges they may experience.

Often, people who have had adverse childhood experiences themselves are ideal as foster carers because they have developed strength and resilience. Above all, we look for carers with “stickability” who will provide stability for our fostered children.

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It’s important to point out that no carer works in isolation and we are there to offer very high levels of support to help them with any difficulties. With the right support from foster carers and social workers, most children make great progress.

  • All prospective foster carers need a spare bedroom and to be able to provide a clean, warm, safe environment for the child/children.
  • We match foster carers to children depending on individual circumstances, so for example, people who work can be considered as foster carers for older children and teenagers.
  • It can be helpful to have carers with safeguarding experience who can support traumatised, neglected or abused children, although this is not essential.

One of the best ways we find to recruit foster carers is through word of mouth. People who foster already are often the best people to identify others who have the potential to be good foster carers.

How do you support foster carers?

As an IFA, we have the resources to provide the highest standards of support and training.

  • Our foster carers receive 24-hour support so they can pick up the phone to us at any time of the day or night and speak to someone, often an individual who knows them and their family.
  • Every foster carer is assigned a supervising social worker who supports them from day one and they also receive psychological and educational support.
  • Our aim is to upskill foster carers and give them the confidence to deal with all kinds of situations through core training, such as therapeutic parenting, plus bespoke training chosen by the foster carers themselves.
  • In most regions, we provide a Helping Hands service, where experienced carers provide support to less experienced carers. This is a very effective way to support foster carers and, overall, our stability rates are excellent.
  • Our children benefit from the wraparound support services we provide which assist them to overcome difficulties and begin to thrive.

Who has responsibility for the wellbeing of foster children?

Local authorities have ultimate corporate and statutory responsibility for children in care. However, as an IFA, many of the statutory requirements are delegated to ourselves.

We work within fostering regulations and standards and childcare laws, as well as having a moral responsibility to achieve the best outcomes for children.

How does National Fostering Group fit within the structure of UK fostering services?

We are a national IFA, providing not just fostering but also educational and residential care and supported living for adults. We are a centre of excellence and committed to providing continuous improvement and sharing best practice.

National Fostering Group is also involved in research to improve our understanding of the lived experience of foster children and strategies we can use to support their development. We’ve been careful to retain the local identity of the many different agencies that make up our group, maintaining our local offices and a family friendly approach.

Our size means we are able to offer unparalleled support and training opportunities for foster carers. Recently, for example, we introduced regional wellbeing hubs, which provide psychological support across the UK.

We also now train all our foster carers in therapeutic parenting to help them manage more difficult behaviours. The needs of children change all the time so it is important that we stay ahead and continue to meet their needs.

About Pam Larsen

Pam started with the Outcomes First Group in 2006 after working as a senior practitioner in child protection within a local authority for 20 years. She manages seven fostering agencies across her region, ensuring they provide a high quality service that is compliant with all regulations and laws.

The greatest rewards of her role are seeing the children develop.

“The children really are at the centre of everything we do, at more than just a superficial level,” she said. “We ensure their voices are heard across the group, whether individually or as part of a youth council or children’s group.  Children and young people are involved in every aspect of the service that impacts them, helping to shape the service we deliver.

“They contribute to the assessment process and panel, drawing up questions and specifying any training they believe is needed. Their role is pivotal.”

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National Fostering Group is the largest IFA in the UK. Established 20 years ago, we have vast national resources and a fantastic track record with Ofsted. Discover more about your local independent fostering agency team or get in touch to see how you can become a foster carer.

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