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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.
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.
We have 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 return to their parents or carers, 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 our 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 us of the arrangement, ideally with notice, contact a social worker. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with basic details about the arrangement or call 01925 443400.
Within seven days, a social worker will visit the carer and child, and contact the parent in order to:
The social worker will ask the carer to sign forms that allow them to carry out reference checks with the police, probation service and GP. This is to make sure that suitable adults will look after the child or young person. Everyone in the household who is over 16 years old will also be asked to agree to be checked in this way.
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.
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 meetings 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 every three months thereafter. The arrangement automatically ends on a young persons 16th birthday (unless they have a disability, in which case it’s 18).