NAFP Statement on Children's Social Care Implementation Strategy – + published 2 Feb 2023
Foster care and independent fostering agencies (IFA) are vitally important for children in care. As representatives of IFAs who care for 96% of children living with IFA foster carers, the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) welcomes the Government's significant efforts to respond to three challenging and complex reviews. We are committed to working with national and local governments to make the most of this opportunity.
We should not forget that fostering works well for the majority of children in care. The Independent Review of Children's Social Care last year missed the opportunity to make that point, loudly and clearly. The relentlessly negative public debate around care negatively impacts the many thousands of children and young people who are settled and thriving with stable long-term fostering families. We need a system that tells children what they can achieve, not the reason they will fail. These messages also put off prospective foster carers. It is therefore imperative that the Government places the positive story that is foster care at the heart of this program.
Children's social care in England is vastly underfunded, and lasting change cannot be sustained without significant investment in services over many years. However, this money must be spent wisely. The funds identified in the Government's response are to be welcomed, but the small pilots they will support may not be ambitious enough - they should go further. It is key that robust, independent evaluation takes place to learn from these pilots.
IFAs are filled with many excellent foster carers, social workers, administrators and managers doing great things for children in care, cost-effectively for the public purse. 93% are good or outstanding in their Ofsted judgements. Without IFAs, their fantastic foster carers, and their staff who work tirelessly, our social care system would have collapsed years ago. Most local authorities acknowledge this. There are many examples of excellent local authority/IFA commissioning relationships nationwide. The CMA study realised that there was a real-term reduction in IFA prices from 2016 to 2020. We are on a journey together to evolve a commissioning system that is genuinely collaborative and efficient. Further government-funded support must build on these local authority/IFA collaborations.
Regional Care Cooperatives (RCC) are the radical idea in the Care Review, and we support the need for radical thinking. Every local authority operates in different ways, even within regional consortia, and this over-complicates commissioning and introduces bureaucracy. The closest model to the proposed RCCs is regional adoption agencies (RAA) - DfE's final evaluation report (2022) paints a mixed picture of their success. We need to learn the lessons from the RAAS before setting up similar structures. However, choosing from a broader range of placement options with better matching will contribute to better outcomes for children. We welcome the opportunity to be a part of establishing objectives and evaluation for the RCC pilots.
Enabling children to live with foster carers in their local area remains a challenge, even though every local authority has IFA carers living within their boundaries caring for other local authorities' children. This is a by-product of a reactive system, which too often finds itself firefighting rather than making timely decisions. More cooperation across local authorities is needed with regard to referrals to IFAS. RCCs may be the answer to this - that remains to be seen.
The single most significant consideration for IFAs when placing a child in foster care is the match between that child and the foster carer - not profit. If financial oversight of the independent sector by Ofsted helps to further reassure local authorities about value for money, over and above the significant effort they already put into commissioning, then that is no bad thing.
We have previously campaigned for the Government to make a pay award to foster carers and welcome new efforts to address this.
However, the raising of the National Minimum Allowance, whilst a positive step, will only benefit a small number of foster carers - most are already remunerated significantly above this low level. A more impactful change would be for HMRC to positively consider 'qualifying care relief, the tax system for foster carers last reviewed in 2010. This would be a huge boost to foster carers - morally and financially. We are calling again for the Government to make this happen.
We welcome a greater entitlement for young people to remain in Staying Put arrangements up to the age of 23. This will offer support at a vital time for young people moving into further and higher education, apprenticeships and employment. But it must be backed up with a level of funding that has historically been insufficient to implement Staying Put effectively. At a time when there is a widely recognised shortage of choice in foster care, the government has chosen not to make Staying Put an opt-out. Sufficiency of provision should not impair the offer of Staying Put to any young person. Still, we do need to understand the consequences on placement choice for other children and young people.
We would therefore ask the government to undertake an impact assessment of both Staying Put to age 23 and as an opt-out on sufficiency in foster care
Every local authority and IFA are trying to recruit and retain foster carers. IFAs are generally more successful at this than local authorities. We would like to see an independent evaluation of these past efforts to inform plans that include local authorities and IFAS.
NAFP welcomes the opportunity to co-design such projects in an environment where we can learn from each other. The potential for including outcomes for children in care within a new children's social care framework is a significant development. While the five outcomes from Every Child Matters have been introduced, its patchy implementation and subsequent failure to be upheld serve as a reminder that to be successful, focus must be placed on statutory duties to plan and review care across all areas. Quality assurance without excessive bureaucracy is vital to ensure that all children in care, whatever their circumstances, are supported and the impact of services tracked. In light of this, it is essential that any new framework does not add unnecessary chaos or pressure but works to provide consistent and quality services across the country.
NAFP stands ready to work with local and national governments to make the most of the opportunities offered by these new approaches for the benefit of care for experienced children and young people and to inspire the next generation of foster carers.