Democratic Children's Services?
Fairhurst Children's Services wants to combine the best of the not-for-profit ethos with an ability to run commercial services, while involving people from the communities being served. An IPS rather than a registered charity, adding to the growth of social enterprise, was the answer.
We took some pics at a fun day in August organised by the organisation as part of summer activities, aimed at Thanet 'looked after children'. The energy and commitment in making it a great day tended to discourage questions about constitutions and objectives, so we followed up by email ......
The founder members of Fairhurst Children's Services have backgrounds in fostering and children and families social work. Living in East Kent and watching the rise and rise of the independent fostering agencies in the area gave such cause for concern that they took the decision to campaign for better outcomes for looked after children.
The organisation was launched in September 1999, a year later establishing as an Industrial and Provident Society (see notes) for the benefit of the community as part of the new social enterprise movement.
An obvious question is why an IPS, rather than a charity? They wanted a structure which would be inclusive, democratic and had legal recognition, but allowed a trading arm.
Its still early days in gaining funding, and Gill and Steve are expecting some questions soon from the Community Fund on their structure. So far, the co-op movement has been supportive and a London borough with whom they are discussing contracts seems to have an understanding of what being an IPS involves.
The turning point for Fairhurst was when Thanet foster carers approached them in May of this year asking for assistance in organising support groups and activities for looked after children. Over 140 carers have become members and three of their representatives sit on the management committee. "The word is beginning to spread. Now we need London Boroughs to contact us with a view to contracting the service of recruitment & assessment of foster carers in London."
Gill says "We have no regrets about choosing the IPS structure. We would like to work co-operatively and in partnership with other organisations. This structure suits this type of working." However, she does also say that being 'democratic, inclusive and transparent' clearly challenges the mindsets of some organisations.
Contact Fairhurst Children's Services, 52 Beacon Hill, The Downs, Herne Bay, Kent, CT6 6JN, phone 01227 741401, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(The children in the photos are a mixture of fostered and not.)
Notes: Fairhurst used model rules produced by ICOM. See our page on Registration. There is very little on the web about IPS/Friendly Society companies at present.