Issue details

21/00077 - External Fostering Placements Commissioning Strategy

Proposed decision:

 

a)       Direct Award of a two-month contract on existing terms and conditions of existing Framework by two months from 1 February 2022 to 31 March 2022.

b)       Competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement for Independent Fostering Providers, jointly with Medway Council, from April 2022.

 

Decision required because total value of contracts will exceed £1m and affects more than two Electoral Divisions.

 

Reason for the decision

 

The proposed decision is regarding the commissioning of external fostering placements through a Framework Agreement with Independent Fostering Providers jointly with Medway Council, from April 2022.  This will be done through completion of a competitive tender process, and this will support KCC in meeting its Sufficiency Duty. 

 

Background

 

KCC has a significant in-house Fostering Service, and the vast majority of new fostering placement starts are provided by our own provision.  However, there is still a need to search externally for approximately 20% of our fostering placement needs in order to meet our sufficiency requirements. 

 

Externally commissioned fostering placements are called-off from the current Kent and Medway Independent Fostering Provider (IFP) Framework Agreement which is a joint arrangement between KCC and Medway Council.  It went live on 1 February 2018 and is due to end on the 31 January 2022.

 

It is proposed that a short contract will be awarded (effectively an extension) to the existing Framework Agreement taking the expiry date up to 31 March 2022.  This will enable the new Framework Agreement once it has been tendered and awarded to be aligned to financial years which will greatly assist in the reporting of performance and financial data, and internal budget build processes.

 

Through the commissioning and tendering of this contract, we will support the following strategic outcomes of KCC:

 

         Kent children have the best start in life and families get the right help and support when they need it.

         Kent children get the education, skills and experiences they need for a successful future.

 

In addition, this service will support achievement of the following priorities in KCC’s Children in Care and Care Leavers Strategy 2018-2022:

 

         Work more closely and innovatively with providers of accommodation.

         Review our approach to current spot purchased services and, where appropriate, develop new contracting models.

         Improve the matching process to create greater placement stability.

         Review mental health support for children in placements with Health colleagues.

         Deliver a new value model for placements which are highest cost.

         Explore the potential for collaboration with other authorities.

 

Available Options

 

1.       Do Nothing

 

Fostering placements would continue to be sourced via spot purchase arrangements. no additional staff resources would be required.   There is likely to be a decline in availability of placements due to IFPs working closely with contracted local authorities, thereby limiting choice and availability for our children in care.  In addition, this option does not comply with the Public Contract Regulations 2015.

 

2.       Competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement

 

The proposed decision to competitively tender for a new Framework Agreement will cause the least disruption to KCC and to the market. It allows for clear pricing mechanisms linked to placement types and categories of need. Strong contract management arrangements ensure the service is delivered in accordance with agreed performance and quality levels.  This type of arrangement makes it easier to maintain and develop strong supplier relationships.                        The local market has expressed a view that they favour this type of arrangement and there is a willingness to continue working and collaborating with KCC.

 

This is the preferred and recommended option which was presented to CYPE DMT and they agreed this recommendation.

 

3.       Establish an alternative approach to a Framework, for instance a Qualified Provider List (QPL) or Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS)

 

Working with a QPL to source fostering placements will require additional work on negotiating individual placement costs based on child needs to be carried out by the Total Placement Service (TPS).   For referrals not planned with sufficient time and of a more reactive nature there is the potential to be pushed into an “emergency” price.

 

Using a DPS would allow new providers to join the Framework, however it would also allow existing providers to leave and re-join with a different indicative pricing mechanism which would reduce any cost leverage with this market.

 

4.       Agree a block contract arrangement with a select group of Providers

 

This type of arrangement lacks flexibility and does not take into account increases in demand and service pressures.  Individual providers can feel they are being forced to take placements which may be unsuitable and there is a risk that matching a child’s needs to the skills and expertise of individual foster carers becomes less important.   Close monitoring would be required to ensure maximum use made of the block arrangement.  Engagement with the market on different contracting models has shown that there is little appetite for block contract arrangements.

 

5.       Join a Regional Arrangement

 

The Department for Education and relevant national bodies are generally supportive of regional arrangements as they bring consistency of approach to the market.  However, it would be considerably harder to maintain and manage provider relationships in their current guise.  It is difficult to evidence that combined buying power as part of a larger regional arrangement would bring savings. 

 

Responsibilities in terms of contract management differ between models; this would either be carried out by the agency running the arrangement or each local authority would take responsibility on behalf of the region for provider inspections in their respective geographic boundary.  For an Authority the size of Kent with a sizeable provider market, this could be a big commitment which would require dedicated resources. 

 

Decision type: Key

Reason Key: Expenditure or savings of more than £1m;

Decision status: For Determination

Division affected: (All Division);

Notice of proposed decision first published: 09/09/2021

Decision due: Not before 8th Oct 2021 by Cabinet Member for Integrated Children's Services

Lead member: Cabinet Member for Integrated Children's Services

Contact: Sarah Challiss, Commissioning Officer Phone number: 03000 415356 Email: sarah.challiss@kent.gov.uk.

Financial implications: The majority of the funding for external fostering placements is in existing budgets within Integrated Children’s Services, with some in Disabled Children and Young People’s Services. The spend per annum over the last 3 years on external fostering placements, including UASC, is: Financial Year 18/19 £11,253,664, 19/20 £12,069,419, 20/21 £11,090,868. This is reported within the following Key Service Lines in the budget: Looked After Children - Care & Support, Looked After Children (with Disability) - Care & Support, and Asylum. These budgets are funded by either the UASC Grant or the Council’s revenue base budget, as appropriate. As part of the tender, clear pricing for different age cohorts and placement types will be sought. The prices submitted will form part of the overall evaluation criteria and they will be firm for the length of the contract. Agreeing prices at the tender stage for a period of time gives certainty to the market. As part of the terms and conditions we

Legal implications: KCC is obliged to fulfil its statutory responsibilities regarding fostering as set out in The Children Act 1989 (Section 22G), the Sufficiency Duty and other regulations and guidance such as the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services. In summary local authorities are required to take steps which meets the needs of children that the local authority is looking after, and whose circumstances are such that it would be consistent with their welfare for them to be provided with accommodation that is in the local authority’s area (“the sufficiency duty”). KCC’s own Sufficiency Strategy supports the use of KCC foster care prior to accessing placements through IFP’s, recognising that good placement matching should be paramount in searching for placements.

Equalities implications: An Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) screening has been completed and has concluded that the proposed decision does not present any adverse equality impact.