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25 Sep 2013

"Invest to save" in support care and keep families together, local authorities urged

Local authorities in the UK should invest in support care schemes as a cost-effective way of supporting families and keeping children out of more expensive full-time care, the Fostering Network is urging today.

The charity's call comes with the publication of new research by Loughborough University showing that support care, including the accompanying support services for families, has a far lower unit cost than the foster care it replaces and aims to avoid longer term.

Support care is short-term preventative foster care aimed at families in crisis with a view to avoiding a child being take into care full time and long term. Support carers look after the child on a part-time basis, for example one night a week or one weekend a month, for a time limited period.

At the same time a package of other support services is offered to the family, giving them space, guidance and help to work through their problems.

The research, by the university's Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR), studied two real life case studies, and for the first time estimated and compared the annual unit costs of providing support care and accompanying services - for example attending a parenting programme or being given housing support and budgeting advice - with full-time foster care for the same children. It found that foster care was four to nine times more costly than support care, which had an annual cost per supported family of between £10,800 and £14,400.

Even more importantly, support care is effective - the input of the support carer and the help provided alongside support care can often mean that the child does not need to come into full-time care. It is estimated that just two or three children end up in the care system for any length of time out of every 100 support care referrals.

However, despite the low cost and effectiveness, very few local authorities have support care schemes. Currently there are around 16 local authorities in England and four in Wales running support care schemes.

Philippa Williams, who runs the Fostering Network's support care project, said: "At a time when local authorities are facing budgetary pressures and too often cutting support services for families, this research shows the real value of investing in support care.

"Unfortunately the "invest to save" mentality is not prevalent at the moment, and we are seeing local authorities cutting early support services such as support care. This research shows that this is a false economy. The more innovative fostering services are already recognising the value of support care, and we are urging others to do the same."

Lisa Holmes, Assistant Director at Loughborough University’s Centre for Child and Family Research comments: "Making use of CCFRs unit cost estimations can provide local authorities with a clear evidence base to inform their decision making processes regarding invest to save decisions for children's social care as our work for the Fostering Network clearly demonstrates.”

Support care is an extremely flexible service, and helps families to grow in confidence and skill, as well as introducing them to wider support. In addition to helping struggling families stay together, support care can help family and friends carers such as grandparents who report that they struggle when children are first placed with them. Support care is also effective in helping to prevent adoption breakdown, especially during teenage years, as well as supporting families whose children do not hit the criteria for short breaks for disabled children but desperately need help.

The Unit Costs of Support Care is available to download from http://www.fostering.net/unit-costs-support-care

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Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 13/177

1.      The Unit Costs of Support Care was written by Lisa Holmes, Assistant Director, Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University.

2.      The research made use of the Centre's existing methodology and a range of pre-existing process unit costs (for example referrals, reviews and ongoing support), and focused two individual case studies as illustrative examples. Unit costs for one year were estimated, and compared with the unit costs if the children had been placed with full-time foster carers. For case study A the annual unit cost of support care for one family with three children was £14,378 compared with £128,657 for foster care over the same period, and for case study B the figures for a family with one child were £10, 822 compared with £45,777 (based on costings applicable to England and Wales).

3.      The Fostering Network's Strengthening Families Through Support Care project is funded by the Big Lottery in Wales. The project aims to encourage and support fostering services to establish of new support care schemes, and to empower support carers to be more involved in the development and delivery of support care services.

4.      The Fostering Network is the UK's leading charity for all those involved in foster care, and exists to make life better for fostered children and the families that care for them

5.     The Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) is an independent research unit directed by Professor Harriet Ward, and based in the School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences at Loughborough University in the UK. Established in 2001, CCFR has an international reputation for high quality, policy relevant research.
CCFR research is funded by a wide range of government departments, regional and local public agencies, charities and other organisations. In addition to major research projects, upon request CCFR also undertakes short-term, small scale and urgent pieces of responsive research and development.
Our research has both national and international influence and provides the evidence base for the development of a wide range of policy initiatives to respond to diverse issues with an emphasis on those related to vulnerable children and their families.

6.     Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the Best Student Experience in England every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 11 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

Contact for all media enquiries

The Fostering Network
Media Team
T: 020 7620 6425
E: media@fostering.net
Twitter @fosteringnet

Additional contact information

Alison Barlow
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T:01509 228696
E: A.J.Barlow@lboro.ac.uk