When you decide to learn more about foster care you will have two choices; foster with the local authority or with an independent fostering agency (IFA). But what’s the difference?
All children that come into the care system are the legal responsibility of the local authority (local councils). The local authority will consider the best arrangement for children through assessing their needs. If it is best for a child to live with a foster carer, then the local authority will try to place the child either with one of their own foster carers or, if they do not have a foster carer with a space in their home who can meet the child’s needs, then the local authority will also ask IFAs if they have a suitable foster carer. This may be because the child has additional or complex needs that their foster carers are not able to support, or it could be that they do not have available foster carers that live in the right location.
Local authorities and IFAs work closely together to support children in foster care but there are a few differences between a local authority fostering service and an IFA:
- Lots of IFAs have invested in therapeutic training programmes and offer ongoing and extensive training to their foster carers
- The age of the children and young people cared for by IFA foster carers tends to be slightly older than those children living with local authority foster carers
- Fostering allowances (expenses to cover the costs of caring for a child) and fees (remuneration for the foster carer) vary between local authorities and even different IFAs, but the fees IFAs offer tend to be higher than those offered by local authorities
It’s really important that anyone thinking of becoming a foster carer considers all their options, so getting information from the local authority in which they live about fostering for them and a number of the IFAs also covering their location.
If you are thinking of fostering you might want to meet with several fostering services to consider which is the best match for you - this way you can consider if the support , training, social events and activities available for you, your family and the children for whom you will care for will suit your needs. However, once you have decided to foster for an agency you cannot foster for anyone else at the same time.
You may prefer a small agency or a larger service.
If you foster for an IFA you are likely to receive information about children needing fostering from a number of local authorities, so there may be more opportunity to match a child to your family. If you foster for the local authority you will receive information about children in their area.
The priority for both local authorities and IFAs must be about matching children with you and sharing the information with you to make an informed choice. Then you will be supported throughout the arrangement by your own supervising social worker and the wider services available in the agency.