Welsh children overlooked by independent fostering agencies
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
Foster agencies are taking children from England over those from Wales due to plans to prevent firms from “profiting from child abuse”, councillors have been told.
The Welsh Government has a policy of eliminating profit from care by the end of its current term in 2027, meaning it will prevent privately-run care homes and Independent Fostering Agencies from providing placements on behalf of local authorities.
That will mean by 2026 it will be illegal for Welsh local authorities to place children in independent residential care homes, and by 2027 they will no longer be able to use placements through Independent Fostering Agencies, some of which are ultimately owned by financial institutions.
Diane Corrister, head of children’s services for Monmouthshire County Council, told its people scrutiny committee, while the authority supports the policy, it also presents it with a number of challenges.
She told councillors: “The Independent Fostering Agencies are held by hedge funds, there’s nothing wrong with the people working within them, however the ownership of them are making profit on the back of child abuse basically. The government has been very keen and clear this is their agenda by 2027.”
According to the Welsh Government more than 80 per cent of care homes for children and young people in Wales are run by the private sector and around half of the fostering agencies are provided by the private, independent or voluntary sectors.
As a result Ms Corrister said there is funding for councils to create their own residential units.
Ms Corrister also said the council isn’t sure at present whether the prevention on placements in independent residential care will only apply to homes within Wales or also those outside of the country.
Councillor Tudor Thomas, the cabinet member for social care, said the council is working with others in Gwent in response to what he and officers referred to as the “eliminate agenda” which is “putting pressure on every authority across Wales”.
The Labour councillor said there would likely be more cooperation between councils in Gwent particularly in providing for children with “very complex needs” of which there may only be one or two at a time from a small authority such as Monmouthshire.
Cllr Thomas added: “In a recent meeting with the minister, Julie Morgan, we said quite clearly while every authority across Wales agrees with the eliminate agenda, and I do on a personal and political level, it is putting a pressure on and we are seeing a change in the market in the sense that the people who provide care for profit do not really want to come into Wales, or if they are in Wales, they want to take children from England.
“It is an issue we will have to tackle not just within Monmouthshire but across the five authorities in Gwent.”
Charlotte Drury, the council’s head of family support, said agencies are opting to take youngsters from England rather than Wales.
She said: “We are starting to see it now, is IFAs (Independent Fostering Agencies) are choosing to take English children over Welsh children because of the eliminate agenda, so they have a choice of taking a child from England where there is no eliminate agenda or taking a child from Wales with the risk of losing that placement within the next two years they will take a child from England, including in Welsh placements, over a child from Wales.”
Conservative Councillor Rachel Buckler said Ms Corrister had made a “very strong statement” to accuse firms of “making profit of the back of child abuse” which she said was “incendiary”.
The Devauden member asked: “I would like you to explain, of the independent care givers in Monmouthshire what percentage are hedge fund owned and what are local, independent care givers. I feel that was a very strong statement.”
Ms Corrister said the comment about profiting from child abuse was made by Welsh deputy minister Juile Morgan and is the Welsh Government’s position.
The committee was also told about support the council offers to foster carers and that it has run a recruitment campaign since the end of last year which has had an eight per cent “conversion rate” from initial inquiries.
Ms Drury said she wasn’t “worried” at missing the 12 per cent target due to the high drop off rate and recognition that becoming a foster carer isn’t suitable for everyone who initially inquires
Chairwoman Cllr Sue Riley said the committee was “happy” with the council’s updated corporate parenting strategy.
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