For many carers, the first step in thinking about becoming a foster carer involved talking to your friends and family about the idea. After that, you approached an independent fostering agency or your local authority to find out what was involved in foster care.
Maybe you realised it at the time, but it is possible that you didn’t, that one of the things that should be considered when becoming a foster carer is choosing which fostering agency to join. If you have thought about transferring or wondered if you should have checked into some other agencies before approaching one, you can appraise your situation and think about transferring your skills.
If you are already an approved foster carer and would like to transfer to another agency, and if you didn’t explore the choices available, now is the time to look at the available providers. You may find a better fit for your fostering abilities.
To understand that not all independent foster care agencies (IFAs) are the same and they have different skills and styles, it helps to know how the foster care system evolved over recent decades. Until the 1990s, local authorities were in total charge of the provision of foster care. As the demand for more foster homes grew, local authorities were not able to keep up with the need for more foster carers. A change in legislation allowed IFAs to provide foster placements.
The way the fostering system works is that local authorities take children into care. The local authorities still provide their own fostering services, but they also pay IFAs a fee for placing children with foster carers. For the local authority, this is an economic solution to the problem of not having enough carers of their own. IFAs have one focus – to provide the best possible care for looked after children. Local authorities provide foster care as part of their overall duties.
According to statistics, in 2015 about 30% of all looked after children in the UK were placed with an IFA. Since then, there has been an increase in placements with IFAs. An IFA is subject to the same rules and standards as are local authorities. These rules and regulations are laid down by legislation such as The National Minimum Standards 2011.
This fostering national minimum standards document was published by the Department of Education. It set out the minimum standards and regulations for children, looked after children, and adoption. Along with the Fostering Services Regulations 2011, it forms the basis of the regulatory framework that regulates and monitors fostering services as set out by the Care Standards Act 2000.
Furthermore, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people. It also looks after services providing education and skills for learners of all ages.
When you begin looking at IFAs and wondering about changing from your current situation to another IFA, comparing the rules and regulations will not help you a great deal. They are the same for all IFAs and all local authorities in all councils across the UK.
There is an interesting relationship between the local authorities and IFAs. The local authorities are the ones who take the children and young people into care. Thus, an IFA is a local authority customer, offering to arrange to work with the local authority by providing foster care.
The local authority provides its own foster care but the government has set up a situation where the local authority no longer has a monopoly on providing foster care. Local authorities were desperate to have help in providing foster homes because they just could not keep up with the demand.
Fostering is not an optional service. There is a moral duty to children and young people as well as a legal duty. If local authorities are stretched to the limit, they are grateful to work with IFAs.
The dual approach to foster care has some excellent upsides. The private sector competition forced some local authorities to do better with the services they provide. That is one good thing. Another is that the competition is not just between an IFA and the local authority but among the various IFAs.
Because the IFAs are vying for position with the local authorities, there is a fair amount of competition. They all have to remain inside the circle of standards, which are monitored by Ofsted. This sets the basic standard and to compete, IFAs have to expand their services and work on providing optimal support to their carers. The result of this is that there can be great differences among IFAs.
Ofsted can tell you if an IFA meets the standards of a good or excellent IFA. A quick exploration can tell you how big an IFA is. Some are national, some serve specific geographical regions, some are registered charities, and some are companies.
When you are starting out to train as a foster carer, you have slivers of information about the different opportunities in your area. Of course, every foster carer has a different reason for fostering, different aspirations, and different personalities. It might even be that the caregiving type of personality you have is the same trait that might make your sense of loyalty to a choice you made more rigid than it needs to be.
It is worth your while to take a look at other IFAs in your region. When you started, it was challenging enough to take the first step. Chances are that at the time, you didn’t have the knowledge needed to compare IFAs. The new world with its new language, and all that F Form assessment stuff, and the training – who would have time to look around?
Some things remain the same regardless of which IFA you choose. For instance, the demographics of foster children and young people is nationwide, not set by an individual IFA. When you joined your IFA, did you inquire about the number of referrals that they receive from the local authority? Do you have a good idea of the types of referrals that they receive?
Here is a question for you. If you are discontented with your current IFA, does it have anything to do with the types of placements you get versus the types of placements that you prefer? That’s not a particularly difficult question, but this is: Are you realistic about the types of placements that are available irrespective of the IFA with which you work?
The reality is that children in care tend to be older and they often have challenging behaviours. There is no way to plan ahead for the needs of the fostering system or the time of the year when a child is taken into care. If you are looking into transferring to another IFA, think about your reasons for wanting to transfer.
Once you have done that, or possibly before you do that, it has to be said that not all IFAs are created equal. Some have better allowances, better training, better support, and a more family-type of network.
The first point to make is that changing fostering agencies is a quick and seamless process. There are transfer protocols in place to guide how fostering services should handle a transfer situation. The Fostering Network set up the first transfer protocol in 2004. These have been reviewed and revised.
Currently the protocol for England (reissued in 2015), Principles Governing the Transfer of Foster Carers 2015 – England, state that the “primary consideration in all transfers must be that ‘the welfare of the child is paramount’ as enshrined in the Children Act 1989.” This addresses, among other aspects, the child’s permanence plan. It is designed to protect the child from “unplanned endings.”
When foster carers are considering a transfer to another fostering service, the protocols recommend that the new service address the following points (wording taken directly from the document):
If you are thinking of transferring and have considered and discussed the protocols, you might wish to consider a move to Capstone. If that is something you would like to think about, there are some things about Capstone Foster Care that are worthwhile taking into consideration.
One of the aspects of Capstone is that it is small enough to be personal but big enough to be secure. Or carers often say that they appreciate the friendly family feel of Capstone while we can also provide a full range of professional support because while we are small, we are also large.
Our founder and CEO, Richard Compton-Burnett is extremely involved in fostering. His experience prior to founding Capstone was in business and finance. During that time, he spent a lot of time helping smaller companies grow and he ran a charity.
With Capstone, he has the best of both worlds. He manages an organisation in a competitive environment and he has an opportunity to provide a valuable and life-changing service to disadvantaged young people. His attitude and promotion of good values is a large part of the reason Capstone has grown into a friendly, personable agency that can remain small and personal while also expanding into a nationwide entity.
This is important. If you are familiar working with an agency that has grown so fast that it has outgrown the family feel, you can begin to feel insignificant. You might begin to wonder if you are really making a difference. Fostering is challenging work and you need to feel appreciated and treasured. The work you do is important. Capstone has managed to grow and yet stay true to it’s core company values.
If your current agency has grown and changed, it may no longer be consistent with the values that attracted you in the first place. The sense of what is important may have changed within the agency and you may feel confused about what is now most important.
To grow in the ways that increase an agency’s value, it is not a matter of size but of resources. To that end, Capstone has recruited staff teams and management who come from other agencies, bringing with them lots of experience in how to do things right. This helps us maintaining personality and a family feel.
Some people flourish in large organisations, others prefer a small organisation. It is important that you feel comfortable that your choice suits you and the way you work. With Capstone, we are both large and small at the same time.
It’s our mission to make sure foster carers are valued for the skills and support they can offer. We have always started our relationships with foster carers with appreciation for their skills, their personality, and their willingness to make a difference in a child’s life.
Another factor that our carers’ appreciate, is that we do everything we can to match their skills with an appropriate child’s background and needs. The result of this is that you are rarely without a placement. Communication is at the heart of success and we work at letting our carers know what’s happening. It’s not a matter of us and you. It’s a matter of being on the same team.
We think we are successful in meeting our goals and maintaining our mandate. Ofsted thinks we’re good at what we do and recent inspections across our group reflect this.
If you are interested in transferring to a personable team where your voice is important, your skills are recognised and utilised, and you have immediate support 24/7, it is time to get to know more about Capstone Foster Care.