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The Difference Between Independent Fostering Agencies and Local Authority

When you are considering becoming a foster carer or thinking of transferring agencies, it is important to decide whether you want to foster with a Local Authority (LA) or an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA).

What is an Independent Fostering Agency?

Independent fostering, sometimes known as private fostering, are agencies that work closely with local authorities to find suitable carers for children. IFAs were introduced to help meet the needs of the increasing number of children entering the care system. There were (and still are) not enough foster carers to provide homes for young people, so IFAs were designed to ease the pressure on Local Authorities by placing children that needed extra support with experienced and knowledgeable carers - which includes teenagers and those with complex emotional and physical needs. This has changed over time and IFAs today place children who have a range of needs with families who are able to care for them.

Red Kite Fostering is an example of an Independent Fostering Agency. We work with the Local Authority to place children with foster families that are able to meet their needs. We recruit a range of carers, including those with long-term experience and brand new carers who are just starting their fostering journey. There is no shortage of children who need loving homes, so if you are a new carer we will do our best to make sure you will not be caring for a child that does not match your skills or experience.

What is Local Authority Fostering?

Local authorities are councils, and they’re legally responsible for the safeguarding of all children in the care system (including those placed through IFAs). They represent a county or a borough, such as Herefordshire or Powys, and, like all fostering providers, they place children and young people with families that will care for them whilst they can't live with their birth family.

The main differences between LAs and IFAs will vary between agencies, but there are a few common differences that you should be aware of to help you make your decision.

Fees and Allowances

All foster carers receive an income, which can vary depending on the level of experience and training they have, the age and level of need of the child they care for and the fostering provider themselves.

Foster carers receive an allowance to cover the costs involved in caring for a young person, such as food, clothes, travel and all the other bits and pieces that go into raising a happy and healthy child. Both LAs and IFAs pay a fostering allowance which assists with daily expenses.

On top of this, foster carers often receive a fee to recognise the skills and time they provide. This amount varies a lot with consideration to the level of skills a foster carer has and the foster care provider. Typically, IFAs will pay a larger fee compared to LAs. You may also be entitled to additional credits and benefits including tax relief and exemptions, universal credit and income support.

Here at Red Kite Fostering, we pay our foster carers fees and allowances in one bundle, and this amount can vary from £400 to £750 per child per week.

Number of Foster Carers

For the most part, Independent Fostering Agencies tend to be smaller and more close-knit than Local Authorities. The size of IFAs varies a lot, but many of our Red Kite carers appreciate being part of a smaller agency that knows carers and children individually.

Speed of Placement Process

If you register with a Local Authority, it is unlikely you will be without a child in placement for long. Councils generally place children in-house first, with IFAs stepping in afterwards if they’re having difficulties finding a suitable match. This is important to consider as it will affect the regularity of the income you receive; you may not have any foster children staying with you for a period of up to a few months if you register with an IFA. We encourage you to ask questions about the continuity of placements before making an application.

Types of Fostering

The frequency of placements within an LA means that short-term placements tend to be more common than in IFAs. Independent Fostering Agencies are typically more flexible with the types of fostering they offer and can discuss these with you during your application.

It is useful to note as well that the type of foster care you are approved for can change if there is suitable evidence or you have specific reasons to change this. You will be required to attend Panel again if you wish to change the type of foster care you are able to provide. For example, you may initially be approved as a respite foster carer, but if your circumstances at home change so that you are able to commit more time to care for a child, then you can be approved for short or long-term care at a later date.

Geographical Scope

Although Local Authorities tend to place children in homes faster than IFAs, the scope of a Local Authority typically stretches to the local area. Independent Fostering Agencies on the other hand will serve a wider geographical area. While there’s no pressure to look after children outside of your locality, fostering through an IFA may require extra travel for contact, meetings, appointments and school runs - this is part of the reason why IFAs tend to offer larger fees and allowances.

We work with Local Authorities in Wales and the West of England; predominantly Powys, Herefordshire and Shropshire but we will also consider families in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and other surrounding regions.

Choosing between a Local Authority and an Independent Fostering Agency is a personal decision that takes into account a variety of considerations.

What's best for you and your family will be different for another. We simply hope that when you are deciding, you are able to make an informed decision and have clarity on what will suit you best.

Below are some examples of questions you can ask to help you decide:

  • What training do you offer? Do you have an existing schedule?

  • What support will I receive and is it ongoing?

  • Will the same social worker that handled my application become my supervising social worker?

  • Do you have any fostering opportunities within my local area?

  • Are foster placements regular? How long do they usually last?

  • How much is the fostering allowance?

  • What types of foster care do you offer?

  • What is the average age of the children you are looking to place?

  • Are you looking for specialised carers?

  • Do you have respite foster carers on-hand to help?

  • Am I entitled to any other benefits?

Are you considering being a foster carer?

We are an Independent Fostering Agency that prioritises care and compassion to help foster carers make important positive differences in the lives of young people. If you have further questions, our friendly and professional team is always on hand to help.

Get in touch by calling us on 01544 231657 or you can send us an email via our handy contact form. There is no obligation to make an application if you are not ready yet or are still undecided.


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