Fostering Agencies vs Local Authorities
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, one of the first things you need to decide is do you pick a Fostering Agency or a Local Authority, both options have their own advantages - let's find out more.
IFA vs LA: What’s the Difference?
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, one of the first things you need to decide is whether to apply with a local authority (LA) or an independent fostering agency (IFA), such as ISP.
Both options have their own advantages and it’s a good idea to take the time to understand the differences between them, so you can decide which is the best choice for you and your family.
Fostering local authority or private agency
While both options are necessary, there are some key differences between fostering with an IFA and LA. The most significant being that independent fostering agencies are private organisations that are solely focused on recruiting, training, and supporting foster parents and the children in their care.
Other differences between fostering with a local authority and a private agency include:
- Age of children
- Fees, perks and other benefits
- Training and support for foster families and children
- Geographical scope
- Specialised care
Both local authority and independent fostering agencies should provide full training to their foster parents, and have a dedicated supervising social worker for every family. Because local authorities are extremely stretched, working across all children’s social work services including child protection, fostering and adoption, they generally cannot offer the same high level of support and training that IFAs can.
In fact, many IFAs struggle to offer the same level of support and training that we do. Our specialist Therapeutic Pathway training programme, designed by our Head of Therapy, is just one of the many ways we strive to provide the very best resources and support to our foster families.
Whether you choose an LA or IFA, both will have a thorough assessment process in place. Fostering can be demanding and challenging, and while this can take up to 8 months, the application process with private fostering agencies tends to be quicker and more efficient. At ISP for example, we have a dedicated team who will support you throughout, aiming to complete your fostering assessment within 6 months.
What is an IFA?
Independent fostering agencies were set up to help local authorities, as the demand for loving homes for vulnerable children was increasing, and the LAs didn’t have enough foster parents to match them with.
Private fostering agencies, like ISP, stepped in to assist and help find suitable homes for these children. ISP was in fact the very first independent fostering agency in the UK. It was set up in 1987 by a group of passionate foster parents who recognised that there was a lack of integrated services and support available through their local authority to help the children in their care thrive.
The main benefits of fostering with an IFA include:
- Fostering allowance and rewards - these tend to be more generous than fostering through a LA.
- Age of children - IFAs tend to have older children (aged 5+) needing to be fostered.
- Training and support - as IFAs have more time and resources, the level of specialised support and training is significantly higher.
- Location – many IFAs work with a number of local authorities, increasing the referrals you may receive (if your location is right for the child, of course).
Independent agencies work closely with local authorities to find suitable foster carers for children. While local authorities place children from a specific area, independent agencies have a wider geographical scope working with a number of LAs, giving more opportunities for vulnerable children to be placed in loving foster homes.
One of the benefits of becoming a foster parent is receiving a fostering allowance. The allowance you receive depends on several factors, and the difference can vary when you foster with the local authority and private fostering agencies.
If you’ve been wondering how much do private fostering agencies pay, in general, fostering allowances with IFA are often much higher than those of local authorities. Our foster parents can receive up to £29,000 fostering allowance per year for each child – and £31,657 if they’re based in London – most of which is tax-free. We also offer a range of additional perks and benefits, such as holiday and summer activity allowance, school holiday, respite cover, and clothing payments.
The level of support foster carers receive with an IFA is generally high and tailored to individual needs. Local authorities often struggle to match this due to time and funds. With IFAs such as ISP, foster parents are supported 24/7 by social workers, and have access to in-house therapists, educational specialists and fostering advisors, plus 22 nights of respite.
Which fostering agency should I choose
When looking into a career as a foster parent, it’s important to ask lots of questions and speak to both private agencies and local authorities to find the right fit for you. Whichever route you decide to go down, remember that transferring foster agency is also an option if you’re not happy with your initial choice of agencies.
Whether you choose to foster with a local authority or an independent agency, you’ll still be changing children’s lives. Creating a safe environment for some of the most vulnerable children in the UK.
If you are looking for a more therapeutic fostering experience, speak to one of our friendly advisors today and discover what it’s like to foster with ISP.
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