What is the role of an independent fostering agency?

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What is the role of an independent fostering agency?

Put very simply, the role of an independent fostering agency is to find foster homes for local authority ‘looked after children’. Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) have been in existence for over two decades providing fostering solutions. They came into being as local authorities could not keep pace with the demand for foster homes for children in the care system.

Also local authorities are responsible, not just for fostering, but child protection and adoption as well. Because of this, The role of Independent Fostering Agencies is important as they concentrate exclusively on fostering relieving pressure on local authorities.

In the UK, there is currently a shortage of over 9,000 foster families. Independent Fostering Agencies play an important role in the ongoing search for new foster carers. They have a commercial interest in identifying the best potential foster carers that they can. The agencies then provide the support and training to guide new applicants from initial enquiry through to being approved as foster carers. An independent fostering agency will work in close partnership with a local authority who will provide them with referrals for children and young people. Central to the role of the independent fostering agency is to offer specialist fostering services to local authorities.

Their remit is to match foster carers to placement referrals as closely as possible. Independent Fostering Agencies get a high proportion of referrals for children and young people with challenging behaviour or complex needs – or a mixture of both.

A range of legal requirements need to be met by independent agency fostering providers; this includes registering with Ofsted. Providers and managers need also to demonstrate that they have taken into account the national minimum standards for fostering services; as well as the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services*

*Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services, Department for Education, 2013; www.gov.uk/government/publications/children-act-1989-fostering-services

Functions of an independent fostering agency

The main functions of an independent fostering agency are to recruit, assess, approve, train, support, supervise and review foster carers who will then be put forward to look after children local authorities are responsible for. To fulfil the role as an independent fostering agency, certain key elements have to be in place: in summary, these are to have –

  • a registered provider and, where the provider is an organisation such as a company, a person known as a ‘responsible individual’ who will represent the agency to Ofsted;
  • a registered manager;
  • a statement of purpose (SOP) that defines the overall aim of the independent fostering agency and the children they provide care for;**The law sets out the information this must contain;
  • a children’s guide, which is a summary of the statement of purpose, the complaints procedure and the address and telephone number of Ofsted in a form that is age appropriate to the comprehension and the communication needs of the children an independent fostering agency provides services for.

**The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Regulation 3 (1); www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/581/regulation/3/made.

An independent fostering agency will be an integral part of The Team around the child (TAC). They will provide training and support – as well as supervising social workers able to cover all types of fostering as listed below.

  • Emergency Placement
  • Short-term Placement
  • Long-term Placement
  • Short-break
  • Leaving care and supported lodgings
  • Parent and baby/child
  • Support care
  • Respite care
  • Remand care
  • Sibling group
  • Specialist Fostering requiring therapeutic care
  • Fostering a Disabled Child
  • Bridging Placement.

The role of an independent fostering agency in meeting specific challenges

An agency has to be able to provide high quality services that assume a significant number of referrals they receive will be for children with additional needs. The agency needs to provide the targeted support to meet these. Such needs may cover areas that include education, health or social welfare. It has been estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of children and young people will at some points have additional needs. These could be associated with:

  • parental conflict or lack of parental control/support/boundaries
  • disruptive or anti-social behaviour
  • poor attendance or exclusion from school
  • experience of bullying
  • involvement in, or risk of offending
  • disabilities
  • post sixteen – disengagement from education, training or employment
  • ill health, poor nutrition, lack of medical/dental care
  • neglect – poor personal care and inadequate clothing
  • substance misuse/anxiety/depression
  • experiencing/witnessing domestic violence
  • teenage pregnancy and parenthood
  • child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Of all the children and young people who have additional needs, a small but significant proportion will have more serious or complex needs which will qualify for statutory involvement. These will be:

care leavers, children and young people for whom adoption is planned, children who are the subject of a child protection plan (CPP), children and young people with complex special educational needs, children and young people with complex disabilities or complex health needs, young offenders involved with youth justice services – both community and custodial and children and young people diagnosed with significant mental health problems.


No two independent fostering agencies are the same. They all share the same objective – to find lasting and permanent foster homes for children and young people. Each agency will have its own distinct philosophy and ‘culture’. The ‘culture’ at Rainbow Fostering is dedicated to enabling young people to thrive and achieve their goals. These are children and young people seeking a home who have often not had the best start in life. Their behaviour can be challenging, but providing them with support and stability can enable them to flourish. To achieve this, we commit to providing our carers with outstanding support and training. By enabling our carers to reach their full potential, our young people can reach theirs. We have carers who open their hearts and homes – always working to create the best outcomes for the children and young people in their care.

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