Private fostering is very different from the care of children provided by local councils under the Children Act 1989.
Children under 16 (or 18 if disabled) are classed as privately fostered when they are cared for on a full-time basis by adults, who are not their parents or a close relative (brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or grandparents by birth or marriage) for a period of 28 days or more.
Usually a birth parent chooses and arranges private foster placements, which could take many forms. These include:
children coming from abroad to access the education and health systems
children living with a friend's family after separation, divorce or arguments at home
teenagers living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend
people who come to this country to study or work, but antisocial hours make it difficult for them to care for their own children.
Sometimes it's the young person themselves who chooses to live elsewhere and their parents do not object.
There are many reasons why a parent may be unable to look after their child full time, such as:
- Being admitted to hospital
- Going abroad for lengthy periods
- A breakdown in relationship between a parent and young person
Telling the council about a private fostering arrangement
The council has clear duties towards privately fostered children to make sure they are well cared for in a safe and suitable home. We also have a duty to parents and children to offer any advice or help which will assist the arrangement.
If we think that a placement is unsuitable, and the child cannot be returned to the parents, then we would have to decide what action to take to safeguard the child's welfare. This may include providing support to the carer, but may also, in some circumstances, mean taking the child into care.
Private foster carers are legally required to notify us but many do not, or do not know that they have to. This means that social workers are unable to check whether children are being properly cared for and may not be in a position to protect privately fostered children who are at risk of abuse or neglect.
This is such an important issue, that any professionals working with families also have a responsibility to notify us of any private fostering arrangements they become aware of.
You can find out more information about these legal responsibilities through the national private fostering website.
To then notify the arrangement, ideally with notice, contact a social worker on 01925 443400 or send an e-mail with basic details about the arrangement to firstname.lastname@example.org
What the council will do?
Within seven days, a social worker will visit the carer and child, and contact the parent in order to:
- Gather information for welfare checks
- Inspect the accommodation
- Check the carer and parents are clear about the length of the arrangement and how the child is to be supported financially
- Interview the child alone to check they feel safe and well cared for
- Check that arrangements have been made for the child’s health and education
- Check that arrangements have been made for the child to keep in contact with parents
The social worker will ask the carer to sign forms that allow them to carry out reference checks with police, probation service, local council and GP. This is to make sure that suitable adults will look after the child. Everyone in the household who is over 16 years old will also be asked to agree to be checked in this way.
If the private foster carer or others in the household do not agree to this process then the social worker will not be able to check whether the private fostering household is safe and may not be able to consider the arrangement agreed between parents and carers as suitable.
The social worker will write a report (known as an assessment) and will include information given by the parent and child, as well as the child or young person’s views about the arrangement.
A senior manager will be asked to make a decision and a letter will be sent telling the parent and carer what the decision is.
A child or young person can be removed from a private foster placement if there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
Although the primary responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child rests with the parent, the regulations are intended to help protect vulnerable children who are likely to be cared for longer term in households other than their own.
Once an arrangement has been set up
If the child or young person needs support in their health or education for example, which it would be difficult for the private foster carer to access without support, the social worker will facilitate regular meetings (called children in need meetings) to discuss and make suitable arrangements. These will continue as long as they are helpful to all concerned.
Whether these are held or not, a social worker will visit the child and see them alone at least every six weeks in the first year and then three monthly thereafter.
The arrangement automatically ends on a young persons 16th birthday (unless they have a disability, in which case it’s 18).