Fostering agencies set 'increasingly scandalous fees', council boss says

Redbridge Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

Redbridge’s people directorate – which covers education, social care and public health – overran its £107m budget for 2021-22 by £5m - Credit: Ken Mears

Foster care agencies are charging councils “increasingly scandalous” prices, a Redbridge director told a meeting.

The number of local children in care is on the up, rising from 176 last April to 226 at the start of this year.

Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that, last year, Redbridge Council was being charged up to £9,980 a week for every child in care.

At a people scrutiny committee meeting last week, the council's corporate director of people Adrian Loades warned that the foster care market is “broken”.

He told councillors: “There are an increasingly narrower range of providers offering placements and, effectively, they are operating in a monopoly. 

“The fees they are charging are, in my view, increasingly scandalous. Through these fees, they are taking money away from the care of children.”

At the same time, Mr Loades said, there has been “a very genuine increase” in children who need to be taken into care.

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He added: “Post-pandemic we’ve seen a whole host of pressures on families, who previously would have been able to manage with support or a child protection plan.

“The increase of mental health needs in children and adults and the increasing impact of poverty on families… has created significant complexities.”

Mr Loades said at “London level” councils are starting to work together to commission more direct placements, which can be less costly than finding placements for children through agencies.

A recent report on the children’s social care business by the Competitions and Markets Authority found than two-thirds of England’s 80,850 looked after children are put into foster care placements, costing councils in England around £5.7billion a year.

Redbridge’s people directorate – which covers education, social care and public health – overran its £107m budget for 2021-22 by £5m, much of which came in the children and families service.

It came as part of an overspend of £10.2million on day-to-day services, a council report revealed.

But deputy leader Kam Rai announced the council’s final position for its general fund was an underspend of £1.6m, after the council moved £11.8m from its corporate budget to plug the gap.