How Shadow Foster Care Is Tearing – Private capital has turned care for the vulnerable into a racket that exploits both carers and taxpayers.
‘There are 72,000 children in care in England, with the number increasing every year for more than nine years.’ Photo: ballyscanlon/Getty Images
How Shadow Foster Care Is Tearing
Three daughters were born elsewhere, but he calls them his daughters. They are all family here. He helps them with their homework and hugs them through the inevitable tears. Their home is now her Liverpool porch, her books interspersed with African art. Maria is his foster mother. For more than 10 years, she took care of the children, disturbing enough that it is painful to hear the bare details. They come to her after being sexually abused at home and then by strangers. Teenagers are so restless they can’t even use the toilet – instead they urinate behind sofas and put sticks in shoeboxes. Ten-year-olds speak only with their fists, which they sometimes use on them.
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Maria’s life can be counted on police calls, urgent calls to see her handlers and sleepless nights. It’s a 24-hour job that requires every bit of physical and emotional effort: the two children were so troubled that they never got a full night’s sleep for four years. This means she is paid less than the minimum wage of £7.50 an hour. But it’s never about the cash. These kids come to him with no hope, smiles and joy, “and then you see them for who they really are — and that’s the crack that makes it worthwhile.”
I was visiting Maria and her daughters just a few days ago when Carillion made the announcement. Her world, both tea in the tub and love, looked no further than PFI hospitals and HS2 tunnels. However, in the last few years, unknown to the public, foster care has become completely Carillion. Like a failed construction company, it is now a big business completely parasitic on the state and dependent on dubious financial engineering.
I understand why politicians and pundits are now predicting the end of expensive private sector entry into public services. But to look at what is happening in foster care is to realize a terrible truth: the debt-ridden business model that has crippled Britain is intruding into the private sphere of our lives. It also allowed the deprivation of raising a child.
Thrift is at the heart of the new academic profession. Due to spending cuts, the sector is growing and taking more money from councils, making the cuts much bigger. Limits on household benefits, the two-child limit for poor families, a volatile low-paid job market: all help break up families and push more children into care. There are 72,000 children in care in England, with the total increasing every year for over 9 years.
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For most of us, such numbers are depressing. However, they have opportunities among financiers. In 2013, the Financial Times reported that private equity barons were sniffing around this “growth market”. Analysts called the move a “classic private equity game”.
Certainly, barons nurtured the industry. There were once hundreds of private outfits, usually small and set up by former social workers, but many are now taken over by financial firms. As a result, oligopoly is costly.
Take Maria’s hometown of Liverpool, where nearly 900 children live with foster parents. Private agencies look after just one-third of them – at a cost of more than two-thirds of the council’s £15m £10.5m budget. An austerity-hit city on the brink of bankruptcy now spends so much on private nursing care that it has been forced to cut more vital services.
“Liverpool” is not alone. In a 2016 report, government adviser Martin Neary found that private care facilities “charge around 92% more” than local authorities.
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The National Association of Foster Care Providers (NAFP), which represents all the other major chains, can see “little evidence comparing the costs of placing children in foster care.” But Liverpool Council offered me such a comparison. He recently hired a nanny from a commercial agency to look after two girls and one boy aged seven and under. The agency charged the council £1,956.40 a week for this. Now he is at home, the payment has dropped to £758.34. Unsurprisingly, Barry Kushner, Liverpool’s cabinet member for children’s services, is recruiting more carers for the council.
There is a difference between paying for childcare that is labor intensive and making a profit on the backs of children. Big money certainly doesn’t reach parents. Before joining this council as a foster mother, Maria worked in a private agency – at equal pay.
One reason agencies charge more is because they take on older children with more complex needs. NAFP argues: “Local governments tend to place less complex children at home with their caregivers.” However, Kushner reported that a senior manager at a large private equity agency told him: “We want the big kids. We want complex needs.” This is a business model based on monetization vulnerabilities.
These are children who suffer from more concentrated trauma than most adults. They should all be important. Instead, they are cogs in huge financial machines. Take the biggest company of all, the National Fostering Agency. Over the past six years, it has moved between three private equity stores. It is currently owned by Sterling Square Capital Partners, who also own businesses that manufacture “fancy pants”, host holiday parks and deploy armed guards.
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National Fostering Agency SSCP is held by a division called Spring Topco. According to the latest published accounts, it is burdened with so much spending and so much debt that it has paid no corporation tax in the 18 months since March 2016. A £62.5 million loan from another division of Luxembourg-based Sterling Square Capital. The annual interest rate of this loan is 14%, which is valid for 10 years. Neither the National Fostering Agency nor Sterling Square Capital were willing to answer my list of questions, but it appears that millions of dollars spent by British taxpayers on poor children are being diverted to tax havens. As the Guardian reports, such anecdotes are common among funders who are currently in foster care.
I ask Maria what she makes of it, and she seems surprised. He is self-employed: no paid vacation, no company pension. Women love their work around the clock to give troubled children the best possible start in life – and their labor is exploited by financial engineers for profits they will never make, for whom foster care is just another business. is in the portfolio. “Oh my God,” he says. “I feel like a mug.” ‘They Tour Us Away’: Within America’s nationwide shadow foster care system, unregulated “shadow” foster care separates parents from children—who are often abandoned by the system. for their protection.
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This story was published in association with The New York Times Magazine and is not subject to our Creative Commons license.
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When Molly Cordell’s mother died of a staph infection just before Halloween in 2015, Molly felt almost immediately as if she had been cut out of her life. At 15, he and his sister Usman, who was a year younger, did not know where they were going. His father was in and out of his life for most of his childhood. When his mother lay dead, his grief made him dizzy. The girls thought he was high on meth and became abusive and crazy whenever he used. On one occasion, he convinced Swarga to set his mother’s Chevy on fire. Their older brother, Isaiah, left their home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains while their mother was still alive, and the teenage girls depended on each other. Molly was deaf in her left ear and her sister always asked others to speak for her. They shared a group of friends, a tank and capri pants. Although Molly had her own bedroom, she slept on a bed in Paradise.
The girls moved with their grandmother from their log home to Cherokee County, North Carolina, a poor and sparsely populated area in the southwest corner of the state. His father lived in a camp in the yard. Her grandmother was also in a mourning rage, blaming someone for her daughter’s death. She kept telling Molly and Skye that it was their fault – if they had taken better care of their mother, she might still be alive. Molly began to believe it.
In January 2016, Skye found Molly on the bathroom floor
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