This paper presents the findings of a survey of independent fostering agencies (IFAs) in England, Scotland and Wales. Information was gathered about their operational arrangements, services, fees, staffing, foster carers and the children and young people in placement. This information is supplemented by an earlier evaluation of one large English IFA and by reference to the available relevant literature. The expansion of the IFAs has been generally greeted with hostility by local authority managers because of what is perceived as the loss of foster carers to the independent sector, the costs of the IFAs and their position outside the public welfare sector. This paper questions the validity of these views following an examination of the status of the agencies, the background of their foster carers and the circumstances surrounding the placements of the children and young people. It concludes by identifying gaps in our knowledge and areas for future research.