In the UK, currently an additional 9,000 foster carers are needed to meet the demand for placements. These placements are usually done either through local authorities or public agencies. A report by consulting firm iMPOWER shows that fostering through local authorities, in-house fostering, could save local authorities nationally up to £150million a year. To find these foster carers, councils should transform their recruitment into peer-to-peer recruitment, as foster carers are ‘atypical people’.
Fostering or adopting children refers to the taking in and bringing up of children that are not your own. Often these are children whose parents are not able or willing to raise them their selves. As a result, fostering or adopting will give these children the opportunity to a better life now and present them with a stability that will help them secure a better future.
Even though many people in the UK are willing to foster or adopt children, this number is not high enough to match the demand for foster placements and adoptive parents. UK-based consulting firm iMPOWER, dedicated to the reform of the public sector, estimates that an additional 9,000 foster carers are needed to meet the present demand for placements. To address the shortfall in foster carers and prospective adopters, iMPOWER has set up the fostering and adoption reform programme ‘Family Values’. This programme, which runs from January 2014 to May 2015, consists of a network of local authorities that work together to apply a behavioural approach in fostering and adoption. As part of the ‘Family Values’ programme, iMPOWER recently released a new report that is focussing on fostering: ‘Fostering Futures’. In this report, the firm offers “a new way of thinking about fostering services and how we improve the life outcomes for vulnerable children.”
Local authorities vs. private agencies
Fostering and adopting are usually handled by local public agencies or by private agencies, both providing different advantages to the children and society. Placements via local authorities (LA) operate locally, and will hence usually place children closer to home. Placements via independent fostering agencies (IFAs) often operate across local authority boundaries, hence providing additional options that are not efficiently developed on a local level.
One of the key findings of the iMPOWER report is that even though IFA’s can specialise and achieve scale, in-house fostering, fostering through LAs, turn out to be less expensive than those through IFAs. According to iMPOWER, this results from the same local economies of scale for LAs and the profit margin to be achieved for (most) IFAs. On 31 March 2013 around 52,500 children were in foster care in the UK, of these 68% (35,700) were placed with LAs and 32% (16,900) with IFAs. The report shows that on average each LA provided foster placement is as much as £17,000 per year cheaper than the average placement by an IFA, and that by increasing the number of LA placements with 18%*, from 67% to 85%, local authorities could save £150million a year on a national basis. This number could even be as high as £0.5 billion over the course of the next parliament.
According to Jeremy Cooper, Director at iMPOWER, for this increase in council (local authority) foster carers a radical change is needed in the way councils recruit and treat prospective and approved foster parents. Recruitment campaigns should move away from expensive mass media campaigns to a more targeted ‘peer to peer approach’ as foster parents are ‘atypical of the wider population’. Activating the foster carers as agents of recruitment themselves, will set up a network stimulus effect that will enhance the growth and resilience of the foster parents groups. The report shows that peer-to-peer recruitment has doubled the number of in-house foster carers in just 2 year one council.
* This 18% increase in in-house foster placements is the equivalent of 9,000 children.