Identifying and notifying private fostering arrangements
Know the legal definition of private fostering
Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) is cared for by someone who is not their parent or a 'close relative'. This is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer, for 28 days or more. Close relatives are defined as step-parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts (whether of full blood, half blood or marriage/affinity).There is a duty on the part of parents and prospective carers entering into private fostering arrangements to notify their local authority. This is in order to safeguard and protect the child’s welfare as well as ensuring that the child, carer and parent are receiving appropriate support and help.
Know what to do if you suspect that a child is privately fosteredAll those who come into contact with children and families in their everyday work have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. As a member of a faith or cultural community you will encounter many children as part of your activities. If you think that a child is privately fostered, you should discuss this with the child’s carer and parent (if you are in contact with them) and encourage them to notify the local authority of the arrangement. If you suspect that neither party has been in touch with the local authority, you should request their permission to contact them yourself. If consent is not given and you still suspect that the child is privately fostered, you should notify the local authority children’s services duty team. Where the child is of an appropriate age and understanding, you should consult with them and, if possible, obtain their consent. A member of your community may be a known private foster carer and have looked after a number of children. It is still important to ensure that they have notified the local authority of this particular arrangement. If you suspect that a child is being harmed or is at risk of significant harm (this includes suspecting that a child may be trafficked) and urgent action is required you should follow your community’s Child Protection procedures. This will include making an urgent referral to either children’s social services or the Police.
Follow guidance about 'What to do if you are worried a child is being abused' published by the Department of Education.
Understand the rules about confidentialityAre you worried about breaching confidentiality? If, after advising the child’s carer to notify the local authority of a private fostering arrangement, you believe that they have not done so, by contacting the local authority you are ensuring that the child’s welfare and safety come first. This is a tricky area as you will want to balance your responsibility and loyalty to your community members with the welfare of the child. A child in a private fostering arrangement who is not brought to the attention of the local authority is a child who may be in need or at risk of harm. You will be acting appropriately by informing the local authority. Be aware that, for some people, barriers resulting from differences in ethnicity, culture, language or religion make it difficult to contact the local authority. At the same time, for others resistance to notify the local authority may be due to concerns that the arrangement will be seen as unsuitable, because they have something to hide or simply because they think that it’s nobody’s business but their own. Your assistance, through mediating and liaising with the local authority, can help break down some of these barriers.
Look for signs that a child might be privately fostered?
- Is the child under the age of 16 (or 18 if disabled)?
- Has the child mentioned that they are no longer living at home or living with someone else? Listen to experience of a young people who was privately fostered
- Is the child accompanied by someone other than a parent/recognised carer?
- Has a child who has been part of the community disappeared?
- Is it clear who the child is living with, and what relation the person is to the child?
- Has the child been living, or is likely to live, away from home for more than 28 days, or a series of days totalling 28 days or more?
- Has the child come from overseas? Do you know the reason for the child’s entrance to the UK? Is the child in the UK for the purpose of education?
- Is the child an unaccompanied asylum seeker?
- Do you think that the child may have been trafficked?
If you visit the child or young person’s home, consider the following:
- Are you clear about who the members of the household are and their relationship to the child?
- How much does the carer know about the child’s needs, routines and whereabouts? Do they seem vague?
- Does the physical condition of the home or the number of occupants or the general standard of care give rise to concerns about the child’s welfare?
- Has the carer attended services/meetings with a new child or a series of different children?
Try and find out who has parental responsibility for the childOne way of ascertaining the relationship between the child or young person and the person who looks after them is to ask the latter whether they have parental responsibility (PR) for the child. A private foster carer does not have parental responsibility.
- Who is looking after the child and what is their relationship to the child?
- Do they have parental responsibility for the child? Can they provide documentary evidence?
- Ascertain who does have PR, their relationship to the child, their whereabouts and whether they have given their agreement to this arrangement.
- Do not confuse a privately fostered child with a child who is ‘looked after’ and is in local authority foster care.
Be alert to signs that a child may have been traffickedTrafficked children are particularly vulnerable and will often be reluctant to disclose details of their living arrangements. View these case studies. Ask yourself the following questions. Does the child:
- appear not to have any money but has a mobile phone and/or is expensively dressed?
- receive unexplained or unidentified phone calls?
- possess money and goods not accounted for?
- Exhibit self assurance, maturity and self-confidence not expected in a child that age?
- Have a prepared story very similar to those that other trafficked children have given?
- Show signs of physical or sexual abuse, or of concealing an unwanted pregnancy?
- Have a history with missing links and unexplained moves?
- Go missing for periods that are unexplained?
- Appear to be malnourished?
- Work very long hours and appear very tired?
- Appear to be misusing alcohol, drugs or other substances?
- Live with adults who are not their parents and with whom they do not appear to have a good relationship?
- Appear to have limited freedom of movement?
- Live with a number of other unrelated children?
- Appear not to be registered with a GP or enrolled in a school?
- Appear excessively frightened of being deported?
- Dress in a manner inappropriate for her age?
- Have a boyfriend much older than her?
- Regularly get picked up by adults who wait for them?
- Self-harm, including cutting self and overdosing?
- Appear to have an eating disorder;
- Appear to be sexually promiscuous?
- Appear to have been brought into the country illegally for the purposes of adoption? (ref: Safeguarding children you may have been trafficked, DCSF 2008)
Work in partnership with local servicesKeep channels of communication open and meet with representatives from key services including:
Ensure that you and your colleagues know how to contact the local authority private fostering officer and duty teams.
- Children’s social care
- Adult services, such as domestic violence, substance misuse and mental health services
- The police
- Benefits agency
- Other faith and cultural communities
- Immigration authorities.
Know what happens after you notify the local authorityWhen the local authority receives notification about a private fostering arrangement they must arrange for an officer to visit within seven working days. The officer must see the premises, interview the child, carer and all members of their household, and at least speak to the parents. The local authority must carry out an assessment to ensure that the private fostering arrangement is suitable and can meet the welfare needs of the child. If the arrangement is deemed unsuitable, the parents may have to make alternative arrangements. In some cases this can mean the child coming into care. Where the arrangement is deemed suitable, the local authority must continue to visit and monitor the arrangement for as long as it continues.
Find out more about private fosteringInvite the local authority private fostering officer to PCT or team meetings in order to help raise awareness about private fostering and forge professional links.
Ensure that you and your colleagues carry the telephone numbers of the local authority private fostering officer and duty teams. Link to case example 15
Attend multi-agency LSCB training.
Get further information about private fostering by visiting the following websites: