Off the back of an updated report published on 22nd July, sector leaders have issued yet more warnings about the the risks associated with fostering provision and sufficiency issues across England.
Ofsted data demonstrates that two companies accounted for one-third of independent placements (as at 31 March 2021).
Ofsted said the Outcomes First Group, whose fostering arm is known as National Fostering Group (formerly the NFA Group), and Nutrius UK, whose fostering service is known as Polaris, accounted for 31% of independent fostering agency (IFAs) placements between them. As of March 2019, 35% of children in foster care were placed through IFAs.
Ofsted’s paper focuses on private ownership of children’s homes. It comments that:
“viewing the data year-by-year shows a slow and steady increase of private investment into the ownership of children’s homes. A similar pattern is seen among independent fostering agencies, with the number of fostering places provided by private companies increasing steadily. This incremental increase is sometimes obvious, such as when one company announces its purchase of another. But often it is not easy to identify, even by triangulating data from Ofsted and from Companies House.”– Ofsted data: largest providers of children’s social care
Other findings reported by Ofsted include:
- The largest private owners of children’s homes have continued to grow. These companies now own a larger number of homes and offer a larger number of places through these homes.
- The top 10 companies accounted for 33% of all private children’s homes
- The 21 largest companies owned 880 homes, which is 38% of all private children’s homes. These same companies accounted for 45% of all growth in the private sector this year.
- Just one in 8 private children’s homes (239 or 12%) was a single provider that is not in the ownership chain of a larger company.
- The 7 largest providers accounted for 61% of all private independent fostering agencies places in England as at 31 March 2021 (21,600 out of 35,600 places).
In comments reported by Community Care, Yvette Stanley said:
“Demand for children’s social care services continues to outstrip supply, and the need for placements for the most vulnerable children is only likely to rise in the wake of Covid-19,” said Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care.”
“The domination of the fostering market by a small number of operators creates an additional concern that the loss of any of the bigger providers could leave major gaps in supply. We worry that the narrowing of the market on top of the sufficiency issue is storing up trouble for the future.”Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care. In Community Care
Edwina Grant, chair of the ADCS health, care and additional needs policy committee, has also echoed Stanley’s concerns about the overall lack of foster carers, adding:
“Children’s services have long operated in a mixed economy with a range of providers involved in the delivery of children’s services locally, however, we are concerned that the trend towards consolidation and the concentration of placements in the hands of a small number of providers represents a level of risk in the system, should any of these providers fail no single local authority could step in meaning vulnerable children would suffer the greatest consequences.”Edwina Grant, chair of the ADCS health, care and additional needs policy committee. In Community Care
Responding to the figures, Community Care report that NAFP head Neil Gallagher said that the numbers quoted by Ofsted referred to the total number of children foster carers were approved to care for, not the numbers living in households and, in reality, the total capacity was not available because of the need to match children to carers. Gallagher also referred to oversight of the market to ensure adequate competition.
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