WORCESTERSHIRE County Council has spent £46.5million of taxpayers’ money on Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA) in the last five years.
The £46,590,903 paid between 2012 and 2017 was spent on payments to agencies so they could place children with foster carers and monthly payments for the care the children received.
The figures was revealed after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Standard.
We approached several Worcestershire-based IFAs but they did not want to comment on the payments.
In a review of Foster Care in England for the Department of Education carried out last year local authorities and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) claimed costs of placing children with IFAs was ‘excessive’ and significantly more expensive than in-house placements.
The report also found, despite the large number of providers, there was little sign of healthy competition between them.
Coun Peter McDonald (Labour) claimed an in-house fostering service could slash costs by 50 per cent.
“Four years ago they said they would look into bringing the service in-house but still nothing has been done.
“The county council seems intent in these times of austerity to be giving taxpayers’ money away to boost the profits of private firms.”
Coun Fran Oborski, the chairman of the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Panel, said some children who had very specific needs and really needed specialist care were better off with independent fostering agencies but they were exceptional cases and the majority could and should be cared by county council foster carers.
“The county is recruiting more of its own foster carers but we still need to recruit a lot more.
“The problem is there are so many independent fostering agencies in this county.”
She added fosterers used to receive more money and better support from IFAs but in the last couple of years the tide had turned and more carers were moving across to the county council’s register.
Our FOI also showed during that five-year period the authority shelled out £76,400 in compensation or damages to three looked-after children and their families because of an unsuitable placement, with the highest single payment being £40,000.
Coun Andy Roberts, the authority’s Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Children and Families, said the council was fully committed to doing the right thing and providing the right support for children and young people across the county, allowing them to lead happy, healthy and safe lives.
“Foster care continues to provide much-needed family care experience to children and young people who can’t remain at home.
“Fostering can be an incredibly rewarding experience for all involved.
“We’re always looking to expand our Worcestershire fostering scheme and increase the number of suitable foster carers who can provide short and long-term home placements available to looked after children.”