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Research with young people reveals alarming numbers of ‘invisible children’ and their anxieties

New independent research reveals that more than 1 in 10 children living in England and Wales could have been privately fostered. Nearly half (46%) of the privately fostered children surveyed said they have had anxieties while in those arrangements. 42% said they didn’t think anyone outside of the family was told that they were being privately fostered, creating large numbers of ‘invisible children’.

Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts for 28 days or more, where a child is cared for by someone who isn’t a close relative. This means someone who isn’t a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. By law, parents and carers must notify local authorities of any private fostering arrangements. While most privately fostered young people will be well cared for, some may not. In some extreme cases they may be subjected to abuse and exploitation.

This latest private fostering research was conducted by specialist youth research agency Dubit, and commissioned by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) as part of their Somebody Else’s Child awareness raising campaign. It reveals that while most of the children who had been privately fostered said they have had a positive experience and were well cared for, 46% said they felt worried, lonely or sad. 6% of the children felt they were not well looked after by their private foster carer.

Other key findings include:

  • 8% of children being privately fostered said they didn’t know why they had been sent away

  • 14% of these young people said they felt confused while being privately fostered

  • While 80% of children felt they were well looked after, 15% said the care was only okay, and 6% felt they were not well looked after

Private fostering spans most age groups, but this latest research suggests that it most commonly occurs with young people aged between 13 and16. It is fairly evenly split between genders and social-economic groups. The survey found a particularly high predominance in London.

The reasons children become private fostered can vary greatly. In the survey 25% said they became privately fostered because their parents were on holiday; 17% said they were privately fostered because their parents had long term health problems; another 17% said their parents were working away from home; 10% said their parents were living somewhere else; 9% said they’d had a row with their mum and dad; and 5% said their parents were in prison. A further 34% cited ‘other’ as the reason they became privately fostered.

David Holmes, Chief Executive of BAAF said: “This research is important because it tells us what children and young people think about private fostering. It also gives us important new evidence about the potential prevalence of these arrangements.

“The possible extent of private fostering as revealed by this survey is concerning, but it is encouraging that so many people seem to be telling someone about their arrangements. However with less than 2,000 notifications to local authorities last year it could indicate that this information did not get through to the local authority. We are urging anyone working in schools, hospitals, GPs’ surgeries, mental health services, and probation services to learn about private fostering, and work together with local authorities to ensure that children are safeguarded.”

The charity is also encouraging private foster carers and parents to notify their local council directly. In addition members of the community are being urged to talk to someone if they are aware of a private fostering arrangement.

“Talking to someone is so important,” continued Holmes. “There still are too many who are not telling anyone and some of these invisible children could be at risk. The survey shows that 79% of the children who said someone was informed had a positive experience in the care of that professional. We also know that a third (31%) of the children said they would welcome support from a social worker. Please help us keep children safe and support families by speaking up about private fostering.”

Somebody Else’s Child runs from 22nd – 28th February with local activities taking place across England and Wales.


Notes for editors

  1. For more information please call BAAF press office on 020 7421 2632/3 or email For out of hours enquiries, call the press office mobile on 07767 444 589.
  2. Regional statistics and case studies are available upon request.
  3. The legal definition of private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) is placed in the care of someone who is not their parent or a close relative or someone with parental responsibility, through a private agreement made between their parent and a carer, for 28 days or more. Close relative is defined as step-parent, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of full blood, half blood or by marriage or civil partnership). Children are privately fostered when they are cared for and provided with accommodation in the carer’s own home.
  4. The research was conducted by Dubit. Dubit is a specialist youth research agency. The survey was conducted online with a nationally representative panel of 1021 young people aged 9 to 16 from Dubit's Informer Panel - a panel of 37,000 young people aged 7-25 across the UK.
  5. BAAF is one of the UK’s leading charities for children separated from their birth families. We provide services to meet the needs of some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people. In 2008/2009 we helped find families for over 500 children through our family finding services, we responded to 8,225 enquiries from professionals and the public across the UK, we sold 46,000 books on adoption and fostering, and ran 2,000 workshops and training days UK-wide. For more information visit