Caring for Children

Provided by the Children's Services Department

Information for professionals working with children and families

Professionals working in education, health and social care are often the first people to become aware of children who are living away from their parents. Some of these arrangements will be private fostering.

What is private fostering?

Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (18 if disabled) is cared for and accommodated for28 days or more by someone who is not their parent, another person with parental responsibility or a close relative.

This is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer. Close relatives are defined by the Children Act 1989 as step-parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.

It is not private fostering when the:

  • carer is the child’s parent

  • carer has parental responsibility

  • carer is a close relative, as defined by The Children Act 1989

  • placement lasts for less than 28 days, unless the child returns to the same carer after a short break back home

  • young person is 16 (or over 18 if disabled)

  • young person is a ‘looked after child’ and has been placed by Children’s Services with an approved foster carer

If their parents or carers do not inform the Local Authority, the child and carer will be without support. Although most private foster carers do an excellent job, often stepping in when a family is in crisis, all privately fostered children are potentially vulnerable. Private fostering is a safeguarding issue for everyone working with children and families. Everyone has an essential role to play in identifying privately fostered children.

Vulnerable children

Many privately fostered children do not receive the services and protection they are entitled to because they are not known to their Local Authority. By law, parents and carers must notify the Local Authority of these private arrangements but most are unaware of this legal requirement and do not, leaving potentially vulnerable children at risk. Privately fostered children are not the same as fostered children. They are not in the care of the state. children safe and support families.

Reasons why children become privately fostered

A child might be privately fostered if:

  • their parents have a long term illness or mental health problem

  • their parents have substance misuse problems

  • their parents are in prison

  • they are staying with friends or extended family due to a family crisis

  • they have had a row with their parents and are staying with friends

  • they are staying with friends to complete a stage of education

  • their parents have gone overseas or to another part of the country to visit extended family, or to work

  • they have been sent to the UK from overseas for a ‘better life’ e.g. education or safety

  • they are an overseas student who is staying with a ‘host family’ for over 28 days

  • they are attending a boarding school and stay on, or go to live with another family, during school holidays

  • they are staying with a ‘host family’ for more than 28 days while attending a sports, music or dance academy

  • they have been brought to the UK from overseas with a view to

  • adoption

  • they have been trafficked into the UK from overseas

Signs to watch out for

You may notice that:

  • someone else starts collecting the child on a regular basis

  • the child mentions that they are being cared for by someone else, or that their parents have gone away

  • the young person mentions that they are staying with friends or extended family due to a row or problems at home

  • it is unclear from the child’s record what the child’s home situation is and what their relationship to their carer is

  • the child’s carer seems vague about the child’s routines, health or education history, family history, development checks or immunisation record

  • the child is reluctant to give details about their home situation

  • someone else mentions that the child is not, or may not be, living at home

Safeguarding children in private fostering arrangements – roles and responsibilities

By law, parents and private foster carers must notify the Local Authority of a private fostering arrangement. It is an offence not to. This is to ensure the Local Authority can carry out its legal duties.

To help keep children safe and support families, it is the responsibility of everyone who works with, or has contact with, children and families to make sure the Local Authority has been notified about any private fostering arrangements they are aware of. Teachers, health and other professionals have a duty to notify the Local Authority of a private fostering arrangement that comes to their attention, where they are not satisfied that the Local Authority has been, or will be, notified of the arrangement.

A private foster carer does not have parental responsibility for the child but is responsible for providing day to day care of the child in a way which will promote and safeguard their welfare. Overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child remains with the parent/s. Parents have a responsibility to ensure that their child is in a suitable and safe private fostering arrangement. Parents retain parental responsibility while the child is living with the private foster carer and will continue to be involved in all decisions about their child’s life.

Local authorities have a legal duty to:

  • raise awareness of the legal requirement to notify them of private fostering arrangements

  • satisfy themselves that the welfare of the privately fostered child is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted

  • advise and support children who are privately fostered, their parents and carers

What you can do in your workplace

All practitioners and colleagues need to:

  • make sure everyone understands what private fostering is and their responsibilities regarding safeguarding

  • put up a private fostering poster in your staff room and public areas

  • share this information leaflet with colleagues

  • watch and encourage colleagues to watch the BAAF Adoption and Fostering short film about private fostering

  • check what a child’s relationship is with their carer when you have contact with them for the first time - do not take at face value terms like ‘aunt’ and follow up any circumstances that are not clear

  • follow up any information you have about a child living away from home

  • say if you think you have identified a private fostering arrangement. Do not ignore it, speak to the parent or carer and make sure they are aware of their legal duty to notify the Local Authority

  • follow up and let Children’s Services know if you are not satisfied that the Local Authority has been notified

  • follow up if you feel it is not appropriate to speak to the parent or carer. Do not ignore it, pass the details on to Children’s Services, who will follow up for you

Notifying the Local Authority about private fostering arrangements is about identifying and safeguarding vulnerable children.

What Children’s Services will do

Children’s Services will:

  • treat all information passed to them in confidence

  • follow up all notifications

  • appoint a social worker to make contact with the family, child and carer

  • check that the carer, accommodation and arrangements for the child or young person are safe and suitable

  • check that the child is safe and their needs are being met

  • take action to protect the child where the arrangements are not safe or suitable

  • make sure the young person is happy with the arrangement

  • visit the child and carer regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly and the arrangement remains safe and suitable for the child

  • offer support and advice to the child, carer and parents

How to notify

Contact Children’s Services or call 0845 603 5620.

If you are not sure, always notify or contact Children’s Services professional’s line for advice.

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