Councils face legal challenge over fostering arrangements

10 Aug 15

Three councils are to face a judicial review following concerns that the authorities are favouring in-house foster services over those from external providers.

The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers was last week granted permission to bring review proceedings against Bristol City Council, Leeds City Council and Suffolk County Council in respect of the placement of looked-after children. Hearings are expected to take place in November.

The NAFP, which represents independent and voluntary sector fostering providers, is seeking to challenge councils’ compliance with their duties under the Children Act 1989. The legislation imposes a duty on councils, as local authorities, to place looked after children in the “placement which is, in their opinion, the most appropriate placement available”.

However, the group has alleged these authorities fail to provide a ‘level playing field’ where placements are considered with both in-house and independent and voluntary sector providers. Unless councils consider both in-house and independent and voluntary sector providers at the same time, they could be in breach of their duty, the group stated.

“We want to ensure that every child in care gets not just a good placement, but the placement that is right for them, the placement that can best meet their needs more than any other,” NAFP chief executive Harvey Gallagher said.

“Our concern is that the current placement-finding processes used by many local authorities, including the defendants, is unlawful and means that children will be missing out and may not get the very best home we can offer them.”

“This has to change so that we are able to do better for children in care and give them the best possible opportunity to thrive in a loving home.”

Responding to the legal challenge, the Local Government Association said that the judicial review had nothing to do with the interests of children but was “entirely about the financial interests of these providers, who often charge taxpayers double or more what councils pay for in-house provision”.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, added: ”This review does a disservice to the many independent providers who work closely alongside councils to provide placements for children when in-house options may not be suitable.

“However, where social workers know that a council foster carer will be able to provide a stable, loving environment for a child, this legal action will only result in unnecessary delays in making that placement. This will be costly to the taxpayer and, most importantly, costly to the child.

“With most councils still maintaining high quality foster care provision for a wide range of children's needs despite 40% budget reductions, we will robustly contest this case as taxpayers do not need to be ripped off any further.”

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