HSE paid UK firm €28.8m for fostering service

One firm has received €28.8m from the HSE for providing private foster care over the past four years, new figures show.

According to figures released by the HSE, UK-owned Fostering First Ireland Ltd received €28.8m between 2009 and 2012. They show the firm got €9.36m for providing care to 135 children and €7.7m in 2011 for providing care for 132 children.

The figures provided show that €48m have been paid to five foster care companies over the past four years.

Last year the HSE paid out €19.1m to four private foster care firms to care for 347 children — representing a 49% increase on the €12.8m paid out to the private firms who cared for 360 children placed in private foster care in 2011.

According to the HSE, a second firm, Five Rivers Ireland, has received €12.9m in fees over the past four years that incl-uded €5.9m for the care of 132 children last year.

Orchard Children’s Services received €4.8m over the four years, with Oakland Residential Services Ltd receiving €1.34m.

The most recent accounts for Fostering First (Ireland) Ltd show that the firm increased its pre-tax profits by 53% from €467,000 to €715,000 in the 12 months to the end of Dec 2011.

According to the directors’ report “the company continues to provide high quality, value for money family placements to children and young people while maintaining a satisfactory financial performance”.

The report states that the firm provides value for money care, delivering positive outcomes and this is evidenced by Health Information & Quality Authority (Hiqa) reports.

According to a spokeswoman for the HSE, the higher rate in respect of placements with Fostering First Ireland is due to a Vat charge of 23% — the other companies are not- for-profit organisations.

She said: “These agencies must be fully compliant with all childcare regulations and standards as well as requirements under company law.”

She added: “Placement of children in foster care via these agencies requires prior approval by local HSE foster care committees. Agencies enter into service level agreements with the HSE in respect of the services provided.”

The private foster care company costs include the recruitment, assessment and training of the foster carer. The private company also provides the link worker (professional social worker) to provide support and supervision to the carer, ongoing training, and depending on the circumstances of the placement, support may be available on a 24-hour basis.

The HSE generally utilises private foster care companies where children have a higher level of need, including stepping down from high support placements. The vast majority of foster care services are directly provided by the HSE with a minority of placements being provided by the voluntary and private sectors.

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