Fostering must be a public service for the public good | Letters

Clive Sellick writes that by allowing the private sector to flourish in fostering, a two-tier service has been created; plus a letter from a reader who is on the verge of collapse for want of support for her son with Huntington’s disease

The foster carers quoted in Anna Bawden’s article (Councils face a huge hike in costs as foster carers jump ship, 31 January) expressed the same sentiments and experiences of many foster carers I interviewed over a 20-year period in a series of research studies. It is indisputable that, generally, Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) provide far better support and training opportunities to their foster carers and smaller workloads for their social workers. As a result, their retention and recruitment of both are far less problematic than those that local authority fostering agencies face, and have generally faced throughout that period. However, this does not mean IFAs need to be in the private sector to achieve such foster carer and social worker satisfaction. In fact, before the implementation of the Care Standards Act in 2002, most IFAs were voluntary, not-for-profit organisations, and some still are.

The central issue linking Bawden’s article and Aditya Chakrabortty’s (How private equity barons turn children’s pain into profit, 30 January) is that an effective and fully functioning fostering service can and should be one where accountable local authorities, supplemented by the voluntary sector, provide a public service for the public good. Instead, by allowing the private sector to flourish, a two-tier service has been created at considerable additional costs, but with little evidence of improvement to fostered children’s long-term outcomes.
Dr Clive Sellick
Reader emeritus in social work, University of East Anglia

• My career was in social work. We were good at fostering, concentrated on preventing family breakdown and keeping people living independently. My husband had Huntington’s disease and I looked after him through 23 years of physical and mental illness, while doing a stressful job and bringing up two children.

I am 88, with the usual complex of elderly medical problems. I am trying to support my 53-year-old son who has inherited the disease. He is going through a mental health crisis and I am teetering on the verge of collapse. Now and over the years I have called for help in every direction, but we fail to “meet the criteria”. I’ve had plenty of advice which involves me, with my limited mobility and stamina, chasing dead-end solutions. We should have had a support worker years ago but social and mental health services are so underfunded that they have developed strategies to avoid taking on work. He lives independently and could remain so given social support.

The GPs are wonderful; perhaps because, unlike fostering, they have remained small private businesses. But they are terribly overworked and not able to provide social support. How long before their funding is handed over to private equity as part of the secret privatisation of the NHS? Without journalists to follow the money, how would we know?
Name and address supplied

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