Some children come to the UK to attend language schools. They often stay with a host family for more than 28 days. This is private fostering.
Many language schools are very responsible and check out and support host families although some language schools do not always appreciate how vulnerable a young person can be while they are away from their family and living in a country where they do not speak the language well.
Parents of these young people, however, should be very pleased to know that the private fostering laws do exist in the UK as it means that the welfare of their child will be safeguarded. It is very important in these cases that the local authority is notified by the parents and the private foster carers.
There are probably many children who are brought into the UK either illegally, or to stay, not with friends of their families, but to enter domestic service, or to be exploited in the sex industry. These ‘trafficked’ children are very hard to identify by the very nature of the exploitation they are suffering, but the legislation governing private fostering might assist.
If a child age 16 or under is found to be living apart from their parents, not with a close relative, for 28 days or more, then the Local Authority must visit and check that the welfare of the child is being safeguarded. If the Local Authority finds that the child is at any risk, then the parents must remove the child from the carers and the carers will be prohibited from caring for that child.
Jessica’s parents work and live abroad but Jessica attends a boarding school in the UK. Jessica was unable to go and stay with her parents for the long summer holidays so her parents arranged for her to stay with her school friend Laura’s family.
This arrangement was considered as private fostering because it lasted more than 28 days.
At first Jessica’s parents thought it was very strange that a social worker got involved because they considered that they, as responsible parents, can make safe arrangements for their child – but they did appreciate it when they learned that the friend’s family were happy to be going through checks and assessments – especially as they had not actually been able to meet the friend’s family or visit their home.
Jessica’s parents also found that Jessica’s social worker was a very useful point of contact. They could ask the social worker to check that Jessica was happy and this made Jessica feel less isolated.
Tracey‘s best friend Rachel suddenly landed on our doorstep very late one evening. Tracey was in bed and I was really cross to think that Rachel just thought she could come and call her up at that late hour. However, when I realised how upset she was- she was sobbing and saying her step-father had thrown her out after a big family bust-up- I took her in, sat her down and heard the story.
Basically Rachel was saying she couldn’t live at home any more: her mother had been drinking heavily for years and her Mum and step-father had massive rows and always blamed her for all the upsets in the house and this had come to a head this evening and they had thrown her out. I wasn’t surprised as Tracy had been telling me things were very bad for Rachel at home
By this time Tracy had woken up and she begged me to take Rachel in. I said OK but that I’d have to ring her Mum the next day to talk it over.
I spoke to Rachel’s Mum the next morning. She was still pretty angry with Rachel, but said it would really help the situation if Rachel could stay with us for a couple of months- just until the end of term- so that all the family could all have a ‘cooling off’ time. I said that was fine. We agreed that we’d let the girls’ school know what was going on.
When I spoke to Rachel and Tracey’s teacher she said what Rachel’s mother had arranged with me is called ‘private fostering’ and the law says, if Rachel was going to stay with my family for 28 days or longer, then Rachel’s Mum and I both had to contact our local Children’s Services office and tell them about the arrangement.
Rachel’s Mum and I were both a bit reluctant to inform the social workers as we couldn’t see why it was any of their business, but the school had explained to us that this is the law and that it’s about protecting children and checking that, if they are living away from their parents, they are being properly looked after and are not in any danger or risk.
The social workers visited me and Rachel and Rachel’s family and we all filled in lots of forms and had police checks done. The social worker had a long chat with Rachel and said she would be seeing her regularly while she was staying with us. Rachel found her easy to talk to and I am really glad that she now has someone outside of our family and her own family to share things with.
I feel very conscious that looking after someone else’s child is a big responsibility (even though Rachel’s mother remains legally responsible for her whilst she’s staying with us) and so I’m glad that we’ve been ‘checked out’ and told we’re OK and also that we’re not the only people providing support for Rachel.
I’m hoping that Rachel and her Mum and step-father will be able to sort things out soon, but in the meantime I feel we can help by having Rachel be part of our family.
Some private foster carers have links with, for example, some African countries, countries in the Far East, India, Bangaladesh and Pakistan and so are contacted by parents, who may wish their child to have a period of education in the UK, or they themselves are coming to the UK for work or study and they need full time child care for their child.
Some children are very young when they are placed by their parent with a private foster carer. If they have been born overseas it is quite likely that their private foster carer’s cultural or racial background will be different and so the carer will have to be in close touch with the child’s parents to make sure all the child’s needs are appropriately met.
Private foster carers also need all the other information about a child’s health and educational needs so that they can care properly for the child.
George is from Nigeria and was placed by his parents with a private foster carer, Janet, when he was 16 months old. His father stayed in Nigeria and his mother had come to UK to work and study.
Janet knew she must let her local Children’s Services office know when she had another child come to live with her and so she contacted the social worker about George‘s planned arrival. The social worker then visited her and got in touch with George’s mother to make sure that any important information had been passed on.
One night, everyone involved in the private fostering arrangement realised how important it was that Janet had all the information about George. He was suddenly rushed to hospital because of a severe allergic reaction. Luckily the hospital was able to give him the right treatment immediately because his private foster carer knew all about his medical history.
George’s mother visits him frequently, and she says she is really pleased that social workers keep in regular touch with George and his private foster carer. George’s mother has been told that all private foster carers go through checks and assessments with social workers, and so she says she can be confident that she has found a safe place for him.
Janet also says that if she receives enquiries about privately fostering any other children, she can tell parents that she has gone through these checks and assessments and that helps put parents’ minds at rest about the care that their children will receive.
George’s social worker has put George’s carer in touch with toddler groups and other activities going on in her area and also with other private foster carers caring for children from Nigeria. George is becoming very sociable and loves playing with other children.
When she finishes studying and so is not working so hard, George’s mother plans for him to go and live with her in London. Janet says she will miss George terribly, but she feels that the best place for him will, of course, be with his Mum.
Four months ago I had a call from the mother of one of my son’s friends, asking if we could have her son, Pete, aged 15, live with us until he finished his GCSEs. She said she and Pete’s Dad were separating and moving away from our neighbourhood, but they wanted Pete to remain at school to take his exams.
Of course I said ‘yes’ and she told school what was happening. Pete’s now been with us for 3 months and we’ve all loved having him around.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that what we had agreed was Private Fostering and that by law we and Pete’s parents should all have notified our local Children’s Services Department about the plans being made for Pete to live with us.
I’ve now learnt that Private Fostering is an arrangement made by a child’s parents for their child to be looked after by someone who is not a close relative, for 28 days or more. A child can be privately fostered up to the age of 16 (or 18 if the child is disabled).
The law says that all involved in the private fostering plans must inform Children’s Services who will then carry out assessments and checks to make sure that the child will be properly looked after.
I’ve since met other people who, like me, had not realised that they are private foster carers. Currently, I understand that Hampshire Children’s Services have only been notified about 17 private fostering arrangements in the County, so it is likely that there are many more privately fostered children in our communities who are not yet known about. These will be children who are potentially vulnerable, who are living away from their parents and whose parents may not be resident in the U.K. We all need to take responsibility to ensure the welfare of these children is safeguarded.
So if you are like me, and are caring, or planning to care, for someone else’s child for 28 days or more – or you know someone who is – please let your local Children’s Services Office know.