Private fostering is the term used when someone who is not a parent or a 'close relative' (eg. great aunt, cousin, mum's friend or a neighbour) is looking after a child or young person under the age of 16 (under 18 if they are disabled) for 28 days or more in their own home. It also covers children who stay at a residential school for more than two weeks of the school holidays.
A relative is defined in the Children Act 1989 as a grandparent, uncle or aunt (whether by full-blood, half-blood or by marriage or civil partnership), sibling or step-parent.
Common situations in which children are privately fostered include:
- Children with parents or families overseas
- Children with parents working or studying in the UK
- Asylum seekers and refugees
- Trafficked children
- Local children living apart from their families
- Adolescents and teenagers
- Children attending language schools
- Children at independent boarding schools who do not return home for holidays
- Children brought in from abroad with a view to adoption
In these situations the local council’s Children’s Services department must be informed. A social worker will visit the home to speak to the carer and the child to ensure the child is safe, carry out background checks and make sure support is being provided.
Birth parents, private foster carers and persons who are arranging for a child to be privately fostered are required by law to notify the local council’s Children’s Services department of the arrangement. If you know someone in a personal or professional capacity who is privately fostering or is about to, you should encourage them to notify Children’s Services and if they are not able to do so then you should take responsibility for notifying them.
Support available for private foster carers may include:
- advice on benefits and possible funding for some essential items
- parenting support and advice
- help in bringing families in crisis back together
For more information about private fostering you can visit your local council’s website.