Choosing a fostering option: Independent fostering Agencies or Local Authority?

So you’re seriously considering fostering? If you’re like those who have gone before you, you are probably feeling confused right now. Who should you work with – an Independent Fostering Agency or the Local Authority?

If you have questions pounding around your head about which is option is best for you, don’t worry. Most potential foster carers have exactly the same dilemma as to who to choose, and there is no right or wrong answer. At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision based on your individual circumstances, but to help clarify what each approach brings to the table, read our short guide.


Local Authority Fostering Agencies

LA’s are legally responsible for all children in the care system in their area, and therefore oversee all legislation in line with the guidelines set out by Ofsted. At one time all fostering was managed by the LA, which means that the LA knows the business of fostering intimately. There is nothing they have not seen or experienced before!

Placements with the Local Authority are guaranteed, particularly with short term or respite positions. With so many cases on their books, they operate on an ‘in house’ placement first, so you will never have an empty bed.

LA’s offer children of all ages, from the very young to the older teenagers, so you can choose the age group that best suits your family commitments.

However, some foster carers have commented that they find the LA experience a little “brusque” or “bureaucratic” and less of a personal process. The remuneration is also much less than that received through an IFA.


Independent Fostering Agencies

Independent fostering Agencies developed as the LA’s struggled to meet the demand for recognised and trained carers. The IFA’s operate closely with LA’s but work with their own network of carers to provide placements.

Many of the agencies are specialised and highly trained in the care of children with special needs, or children looking for long term placements. These children can be hard to place, so the IFA’s work hard to train and maintain a list of specialised and approved carers.

Because the work load is often more intensive with these children, the allowances paid by IFA’s are higher than that received from the LA. The practical support is also good, to ensure the carer never feels daunted by any situation. The supervisor to carer ratio is also higher, ensuring the supervisor can step in during an emergency.

However, if you go through an Independent agency you may have to travel further. IFA’s can cover a much wider geographical area so meetings, appointments and family contact may be a distance from your home.

Another consideration is that IFA’s do not tend to have as many younger children to place. Younger children are generally easier to find foster homes for, and in many cases IFA’s are taking on children the LA cannot place, either due to behavioural challenges or age.


In summary

Fostering is a personal decision; if you are looking for short term, straightforward placements then the LA route may be for you. However, if you feel you have a lot to give a child with more challenging issues over a longer term, then consider an IFA.

Whichever option you choose, rest assured you will be guided and supported throughout the process; you will never be alone.