What Is ‘Private Fostering’?
A ‘Privately Fostered’ child is a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) who is cared for and accommodated by someone other than a parent or close relative for more than 28 days. Close Relatives are Step Parents, Grandparents, Brothers/Sisters or Aunts/Uncles (brother or sister of the parent).
A private foster carer could be for example:
- a family friend
- a parent of the child’s friend
- an individual who is unknown to the child’s family and is willing to care for the child
- an extended family member
There are a variety of reasons why a parent may be unable to care for their own child on a short or long term basis and a private fostering arrangement can be a positive response from friends and the local community to a family in need of support. However, any child separated from their parents is potentially vulnerable and we all have responsibilities to ensure the alternative care they receive meets their welfare and safety needs.
What a parent or private foster carer should do?
Private fostering arrangements are often made directly between the child’s parents/guardian and the people who look after them; often this is the case during summer holidays. It is a legal requirement for people who make arrangements for a child to be privately fostered to notify the local authority of their intentions at least 6 weeks in advance, or in emergency cases, immediately after the child becomes privately fostered.
The Parents and the private foster carers are responsible for notifying the local authority.
Private foster carers should also notify the local authority of any changes in their own circumstances whilst they are caring for the child or young person. They also need to let the local authority know when a child or young person leaves their care, giving the name and address of the person they are moving on to.
What Professionals should do?
Private foster carers are legally required to notify the local authority but many still don’t know that they have to. This means the local authority is unable to make sure the child or young person’s welfare is safeguarded. Private fostering is a key area of child protection and privately fostered children are particularly vulnerable if arrangements are not notified to local authorities. Workers from all agencies need to help by ensuring they are proactive in identifying and reporting private fostering arrangements that they are aware of. If you know a child or young person is being privately fostered and you think Children’s Services are unaware, please notify them or support the parent/carer to do so.
What the Local Authority Will Do?
There is a legal duty for the local authority to make sure all private fostering arrangements are safe for the child or young person, but they can only do this if they are aware of the arrangement. Once the local authority has been notified, they have to:
- Visit the home where the child lives and carry out some checks
- Make regular visits to make sure the child continues to be safe and well cared for
- Make sure that advice and support are available to the private foster carer, and
- Say whether or not they find the arrangement acceptable.
Please also refer to the Private Fostering chapter in the London Child Protection Procedures.