What is the role of an independent fostering agency?
When the responsibility of a looked-after child falls to local authorities, it is reasonable to ask what role does an independent fostering agency, or IFA, play in foster care.
Independent fostering agencies work closely with local authorities to meet the heavy demands placed on care services, which could become overwhelming without this support. They are also there to meet the needs of foster carers and help them develop as professionals.
This is achieved in a number of ways:
There is a huge shortage of foster carers nationally. During 2014, it is estimated that 8,600 additional foster families would be needed to meet the needs of the care system in the UK. Finding people who are willing to foster is a significant challenge for local authorities and agencies are there to help provide a solution to this problem.
Foster caring is a professional role and it requires a level of training. A quality agency will offer this training to new foster carers before they are approved. This helps prepare them by providing the knowledge and confidence they need to deal with any experience they encounter during fostering. Regular training should also be available to experienced foster carers to ensure professional development is ongoing.
Advice and guidance
It is important that foster carers have someone to turn to if they ever need further advice on how to handle a situation. A good agency will have someone available for their foster carers to talk to at all times – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. An agency’s social workers should also stay in regular contact throughout a placement to provide guidance where required.
If a foster carer ever needs additional support, out of hours, then a good agency will provide that. For instance, if a child is experiencing problems going to sleep at night, a support worker may visit over a number of evenings to help in the home as the foster carer finds a way to overcome this challenge. A supportive agency will also provide respite care if a foster carer ever needs to take a break for any reason.
Anyone raising a child will experience both ups and down from time to time, so it is important that foster carers are supported through both the good and the bad. The better agencies will facilitate forums so foster carers can come together and support each other through these times. A quality agency will also ensure that a clinical nurse is available for foster carers to talk through any personal issues they may have.
It is also the role of a fostering agency to ensure that foster carers are financially supported through foster care payments. Fosters carers receive a maintenance allowance to cover the cost of raising a child but agencies will also provide additional ‘reward’ payments. These payments should recognise the level of skill and experience of a foster carer and encourage ongoing development as a professional.
* If you would like any further information about the role of an independent fostering agency, please contact our team through our website or by telephone on 0845 0740076.